Did you know that Wrangell-St Elias National Park & Preserve in Alaska is the largest National Park in the United States? Over 13 million acres. But did you know it is the least visited National Park?
Wrangell St Elias has some the highest peaks in the country. Mount St. Elias at 18,008 feet and Mt Bona at 16,421 feet just to name a couple. A gorgeous landscape of volcanoes and long glacier ranges. This is where the Wrangell Mountain Range meets with the Elias Mountain Range, the Chugach Mountain Range and several others. The Wrangell-St Elias Wilderness is the largest designated wilderness in the United States.
The park is home to the now abandoned Kennecott Mine, a National Historic Landmark. From 1911 through 1938 the copper veins running through this area were some the richest in the country. Some of the buildings remain and can be visited. The nearby town of McCarthy came to life during that time and catered to the miners. The town is still functioning today with its own reality show (Edge of Alaska).
The park is accessible by only two roads and both are unpaved, the Nebesna Road and the McCarthy Road. The roads are pretty rough on most vehicles so during the summer months there are shuttles that will take you to the Visitor Center, Kennecott, and McCarthy. Each road will still take a couple of hours.
On this trip I was invited to go on a mail run. In Alaska lingo that’s a small plane loaded with mail and supplies doing drop offs in the park (or remote areas) on some of the most narrow runways, not for the faint of heart. I didn’t think I could top my cruise through the Kenai Fjords National Park but this was incredible! I experienced something few tourists ever do, a sightseeing trip through the park by small plane. It’s a little daunting trying to describe the vastness and grandeur of this beautiful unspoiled park.
Taking off from the Gulkana Airport in Glennallen we begin the work of dropping off mail & supplies. Greeted by wonderful people who either make this area their home or long-term visitors. This alone was a blast, but finishing the task at hand, we continued my flying excursion.
One minute your viewing volcanoes, then glacier ranges and long winding rivers. Mountain ranges from all sizes and lengths. The geography changed quickly with each turn of the plane. It’s amazing how much wildlife you can see so clearly from that high up. Dall sheep, bison herds, caribou, moose, and yes…bears. I saw it all! I think I was speechless for a while and that’s not easy for me! To this day I am simply amazed and in awe by this special place.
The only thing that would top this tour would be to come back and hike it! After exploring as much as we could squeeze in we headed back to the airport. I couldn’t thank my pilot Galen enough for a once in a lifetime trip!
There is year round activities in the park. During the summer a flurry of hikers, mountain bikers, rafting, hunting, fishing and wildlife seekers. The winter you will find cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. This is one park that planning ahead is important and of course the weather always plays a big factor.
If you’re planning a visit to this great state, I would encourage you to take time and explore this awe-inspiring National Park. I can’t wait to go back on foot, but that’s for a future post.
Note: ***Most pictures taken from inside the plane.
For more info please visit: https://www.nps.gov/wrst/index.htm