Wrangell–St. Elias National Park

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This week I am taking you to the largest National Park in the country.  Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, together with the National Preserve that borders it takes up some 13 million acres of land.  This is larger than the European country of Switzerland.  The park is home to some of the tallest peaks within the continent (9 of the 16 tallest peaks on U.S. soil are within the park), but very close to the ocean, within 10 miles of tidewater.  This gives the park one the the highest reliefs in the world.

Mt. St. Elias

In the turn of the century copper was discovered in the hills and area.  Soon the boom town of Kennecott sprung up.  But like all mining towns, it became a ghost town when the mines dried up.  Over the 2 decades of it’s service it produced about $100 million worth of some of copper.  Now the ghost town serves as a tourist attraction and gateway at the base of the park.

Wrangell-St. Elias is one of the few parks connected by road to Anchorage.  It may be a gravel road, but you could in theory drive from Anchorage to the McCarthy road, and then get to Kennecott.  There are no loop roads within the park though, and most visitors take flight planes into the interior to camp, or just fly over the beautiful landscape below.

Bering Glacier
Bering Glacier, the largest Glacier in North America. {NPS}

The most prominent features of the park (besides the many multi thousand feet tall mountain peaks) are it’s glaciers.  Indeed, 1,700 mi², or 60%, of the glacial ice in the state of Alaska is located within the mountains of Wrangell-St. Elias.  These glaciers are constantly moving and changing the landscape (albeit at a glacial pace), but combined with the geologic activity below ground which includes volcanoes and earthquakes makes this park an ever changing world.

All the usual Alaskan animals, black and brown bears, wolves, and caribou are present in the park, but in lower concentrations.  Except for Dall Sheep, some 13,000 of them live within the park, the highest concentration on the continent.  The harbor is home to seals, and whales, and the air above hosts common ravens, robins, and owls.  The rivers that the glaciers feed are where you can find river otters, porcupines, beavers, salmon, and rainbow trout, among other fish and mammals.

There are quite alot of different activities that you can do in this park.  You could raft along the Copper River, take a kayak tour of the bay, hike on a glacier, or take a scenic flight over the landscape.  Of course, like most of the other Alaskan Parks, you can pack a bag and start hiking somewhere and make camp.  Wrangell-St. Elias has the unique property of having 14 public use cabins within the park bounds.  These are rustic cabins, that are on a first come first served basis, but reservations are required.  Most of these cabins are a ways into the park, often a plane ride in, but they are a unique thing to think about.  However, bringing your own camping supplies are recommended as the cabins may be occupied, and the people may not want to, or be able to leave.

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