There’s no doubt that the state of Alaska is impressive in size, but this park within Alaska is astounding and vast in its own right, and it certainly does impress! Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest of the 59 national parks, and to comprehend the vastness of it I’ll turn to some statistics:
⊗ It is comprised of 13.2 million acres of a vast and pristine wilderness where the Chugach, Wrangell and St. Elias ranges all converge with the Alaska Range
⊗ It is the size of six Yellowstone National Parks
⊗ This mountain wilderness area is larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined
⊗ The park and preserve are larger than the country of Switzerland, and features higher mountains
⊗ Nine of the 16 highest peaks in the U.S. are here in the park, including Mount St. Elias which, at 18,008 feet, is second in elevation only to nearby Mt. McKinley in Denali NP
⊗ Wrangell-St. Elias boasts the greatest concentration of glaciers on the continent; one is larger than the size of Rhode Island!
With all of this going for it, Wrangell-St. Elias NP is arguably the least well-known and one of the least visited national parks in the system. It’s a picturesque five-hour drive from Anchorage to the Visitor Center in Copper Center, but then only two gravel roads enter the park itself. Visitors who make it to Alaska then trek to the park find a vast backcountry landscape of jagged mountain peaks.
The Wrangell mountains are volcanic in origin, but only Mt. Wrangell remains active today. While its last reported eruption was in 1900, steam still arises from vents near the summit.
Several rivers and creeks, whose genesis comes from glaciers and ice fields, flow in the park, including the Copper River which forms the western boundary of the park. This mighty river is known for its prolific runs of wild sockeye salmon, and fortunate were we not only to watch fishermen using dip nets and fish wheels to catch these prized fish, but to eat some of it, too.
The abandoned Kennecott copper mines are an interesting, unique and historical feature of the park, although only a couple thousand people annually bother to make the 60-mile drive (which takes more than two hours) out a pretty rough gravel road to get out to McCarthy. We made the trip and spent the night in the Kennicott Glacier Lodge, and while it rained and was overcast much of the time and we never got to take our flightseeing trip out over the park — we were nixed not once, but twice — we enjoyed our time there nonetheless. We walked all around the now-abandoned mine ruins and learned about the Kennecott Mining Co. which operated there between 1911-1938.
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There is really no comparison to the beauty and rugged grandeur here. This preeminent mountain wilderness that is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is massive but yet inviting, especially when venturing to see all of the national parks as we are. Pleased were we to have spent five days in and around the area and experience this majestic place.