McCarthy Road – The Challenge


When we planned this trip we hadn’t planned on going to McCarthy.  Our original plan was to enter Wrangell St. Elias via the Nebesna Road and visit the North side of the park.  Since we were in Valdez and so close to accessing McCarthy we decided to try it.


We had overcast skies and some sprinkling rain drops along the way as we headed towards Chitina where the main entrance to the McCarthy Road was located.




Traveling along the road this lake had a little access turnout that we almost missed.  It was a great boondocking spot, but since it was still early in the day we wanted to try and tackle the McCarthy Road.




Chitina is the main access town to the McCarthy Road.  It was a booming town when the railroad operated from the Kennecott Mine.  When the mine closed down and the railroad stopped, Chitina turned into a ghost town.  It currently has about 125 residents, a grocery store, a visitor center and a cafe.  We stopped at the little wayside park and enjoyed lunch in Ruby before we continued our journey.



Right outside of Chitina you will enter the McCarthy Road as you pass through this narrow rocky canyon.  After we passed through and crossed the bridge over the Copper River we pulled into the campground and spoke to a couple of folks about the condition of the road.  It wasn’t sounding promising, most folks with 4×4 said no problem; the folks without decided not to attempt it.


I’m still trying to find the story of the RV owners who parked their rigs on a gravel bar and the rigs got stranded and/or washed into the river !  Always check the river and weather reports before you attempt gravel bar camping.


As we continued along the McCarthy Road, we were a little encouraged that it didn’t seem to be too bad for Ruby to handle. But that feeling of “maybe we can handle this” only lasted for about 20 miles .  The mudslides along the road were intimidating enough-you could still drive around them.  But the washboard, the pot holes and the overall poor condition of the road caused us to turn around.  Apparently they had not been in to grade the road (something they try to do on a regular basis).  It was almost the end of the tourist season so we didn’t know if we could expect the road to be graded again before winter.


We turned around at the first opportunity we had.  We had close to 40,000 miles on our tires and didn’t want to chance the rocky washboard washed out road .  So far no flat tires or cracked windshields and we didn’t want to push our luck.  We headed back to the campground, snuggled in for a rainy wet night.  And when the rain and winds picked up we knew we had made the right decision.  Another spot to put on our “let’s return here next time we visit” list.


As we left the campground the next day, a fellow camper with a Class C stopped to chat and told us he heard the grader was going out that day and he was going to stick around and attempt it-hope he did well and got to Kennecott !



We enjoyed the ride out of the area with the views of the Wrangell St. Elias Mountains and the Copper River.



Storm clouds threatened all day, but none came to fruition.  We cruised along, enjoying the Fall colors and the views.


One thing that Alaska teaches you , always be ready to adapt-flexibility.  You have to be willing to give up on sticking to a plan or route and go with the flow.  I think that’s part of the fun of being on the road-never really knowing where you might end up.  One of the reasons we are actively thinking about a 4×4 is to be able to tackle the places we have read about.  We wouldn’t have thought twice about the McCarthy Road with a 4×4 (and newer tires lol).





I love the Wrangell St. Elias mountains. The park itself is 13.2 million acres-that is more than Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park , and Switzerland combined. Huge ! And incredibly beautiful.


As we left the area the mountains paralleled the highway and we got to enjoy the view for several miles.



You can’t tell from the above photo, but this was an incredible boon docking spot we bookmarked for a return trip. It’s wide open and sits on a ledge overlooking the mountains, the valley and the river.  It’s definitely 4×4 only-there is a steep little hump you have to tackle to access it and 4×4 is needed for clearance.




As we headed further north , we crossed over a little lake on the east side of the highway.  I thought I spotted some swans , so Jim turned around for me and we took the dirt road that led us to the lake.  It was so peaceful and so beautiful.  We just sat there for about an hour, watching the swans and feeling the breezes from the lake on our faces.

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Don’t you just love stumbling across these little surprise spots of beauty during your journey ?   I do, it’s like receiving a secret gift from the Universe.  And it’s a reminder to slow down and smell the roses, or in this case, watch the swans.

Happy Trails and Safe Travels my friends. Don’t let the magic moments in your life go unrecognized.

“I could have.What does this phrase mean? At any given moment in our lives, there are certain things that could have happened but, didn’t. The magic moments go unrecognized, and then suddenly, the hand of destiny changes everything.” 
― Paulo Coelho