Wrangell–St. Elias National Park: Exploring America’s Largest National Park

Wrangell–St. Elias National Park: Exploring America’s Largest National Park

Discover Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

Have you ever imagined trekking through an expanse so vast it eclipses entire countries? Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska offers you just that – an unbridled wilderness adventure that makes other destinations pale in comparison. Stretching over 13 million acres, this Alaskan gem outmatches Switzerland, Yellowstone, and Yosemite put together and holds the title of America’s largest national park.

Within its vast borders lie towering peaks, vast glaciers, and untamed rivers, creating a landscape of unparalleled beauty and diversity. From the mighty Mount Saint Elias, one of the tallest peaks in North America, to the sprawling Kennicott Glacier, each corner of the park beckons exploration and discovery.

Home to a rich tapestry of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, and eagles, Wrangell–St. Elias is a sanctuary for biodiversity, providing a glimpse into the untamed wilderness that once dominated the American frontier.

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Top 3 Facts About Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

01

Size and Scale

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is not only the largest national park in the United States but also one of the largest protected areas in the world, covering an area larger than Switzerland.

02

Glacial Giants

Within the park’s boundaries, you can find some of the largest glaciers in North America, including the mighty Malaspina Glacier, which covers over 1,500 square miles.

03

Diverse Wildlife

Wrangell-St. Elias boasts a remarkable array of wildlife, from iconic species like grizzly bears and Dall sheep to more elusive inhabitants like wolverines and lynx. Birdwatchers also flock to the park to spot rare species such as gyrfalcons and golden eagles.

Camping and transportation in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

info_iconBackcountry camping permits required for wilderness camping opportunities.

How to Get to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Getting to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park involves some planning due to its remote location. Here are the primary ways to access the park:

  • By Car: The park can be reached via the Richardson Highway (Alaska Route 4) from Anchorage or Fairbanks. You’ll need to take various local roads from the highway to reach different areas of the park. However, be prepared for long drives and rugged terrain, especially if you plan to explore deeper into the park.
  • By Air: The nearest major airport is in Anchorage. From there, you can take a smaller regional flight to airports in nearby communities like McCarthy or Yakutat. These communities offer access points to the park, either by road or by arranging transportation with local operators.
  • By Bus or Shuttle: Some tour companies offer bus or shuttle services from Anchorage or other nearby towns to specific areas of the park. These services can be a convenient option for travelers who prefer not to drive themselves or who want a guided experience.
  • By Boat: If you’re exploring the coastal areas of the park, such as the Yakutat Bay or the Gulf of Alaska coastline, traveling by boat or kayak may be the best option. However, this method of access is typically more suitable for experienced boaters and requires careful planning due to the remote and often challenging conditions.

Places to Stay Near Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

There are several options for accommodation and camping near Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, ranging from established campgrounds to lodges and cabins. Here are a few:

  • Campgrounds within the Park: The park offers several campgrounds for visitors looking to immerse themselves in the wilderness. These include the Kendesnii Campground near the Copper Center Visitor Center, the McCarthy Campground near the Kennecott Mines, and the backcountry camping options for those seeking a more remote experience. These campgrounds often have basic amenities such as pit toilets and fire rings.
  • Lodges and Cabins: There are lodges and cabins located near the park that offer a more comfortable stay while still providing access to the wilderness. McCarthy and Kennecott have a few options, including historic lodges and cozy cabins. These accommodations may offer hot showers, kitchens, and guided activities.
  • RV Parks and Campgrounds: If you’re traveling with an RV or camper, there are RV parks and campgrounds in nearby communities, such as Glennallen and McCarthy. These facilities typically offer electrical hookups, dump stations, and restroom facilities.
  • Backcountry Camping: For adventurous travelers seeking a more secluded experience, backcountry camping is an option within the park. Permits are required for backcountry camping, and visitors should be prepared to practice Leave No Trace principles and be self-sufficient during their stay.
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Best Time to Go to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Summer

Summer

Summer is the peak season for visiting Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, offering long days filled with endless opportunities for exploration and adventure. The weather is generally mild, with temperatures ranging from comfortable to warm, making it ideal for hiking, camping, and sightseeing. Summer is also the best time for accessing higher-elevation trails and alpine areas, as snowmelt opens up more routes for exploration. However, be prepared for crowds, especially at popular attractions and campgrounds, and make reservations well in advance for accommodations and guided tours.

Winter

Winter

Winter transforms Wrangell-St. Elias National Park into a pristine wonderland blanketed in snow, offering a unique and serene experience for adventurous travelers. While access to certain areas of the park may be limited due to snowfall and road closures, winter enthusiasts can enjoy activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling in designated areas. The park’s vast expanses and dark night skies also make it an excellent destination for stargazing and aurora viewing during the long winter nights. However, visitors should be well-prepared for cold temperatures and challenging winter conditions, and services within the park may be limited during this time.

Spring

Spring

Spring in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park brings a sense of renewal as the snow melts and nature awakens from winter slumber. During this time, temperatures gradually rise, and the landscape bursts into life with colorful wildflowers blooming across the valleys and meadows. Spring is an excellent time for wildlife viewing, as animals emerge from hibernation and migratory birds return to the park. However, be prepared for variable weather conditions, including lingering snow at higher elevations and occasional rain showers.

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Fall

Fall in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is a time of transition, as the vibrant hues of autumn foliage blanket the landscape in a tapestry of reds, yellows, and oranges. The crisp air and cooler temperatures create pleasant hiking conditions, and wildlife activity peaks as animals prepare for winter. Fall is an excellent time for photography enthusiasts, with stunning views of the changing leaves against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks. Additionally, visitor numbers tend to decrease compared to the summer months, offering a quieter and more peaceful experience in the park.

Must-See Attractions

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Mount Saint Elias

Stand in awe of Mount Saint Elias, one of the tallest peaks in North America, towering over 18,000 feet tall. Even if you’re not a mountaineer, the sheer magnitude of this majestic peak is a sight to behold from various viewpoints throughout the park.

Root Glacier

Embark on a glacier hiking adventure on the Root Glacier, one of the park’s most accessible glaciers. Traverse ice fields, explore ice caves, and marvel at the stunning blue hues of the glacier as you navigate its crevasses and meltwater streams.

McCarthy Road

Traverse the historic McCarthy Road, a gravel road that winds through the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Along the way, soak in the stunning scenery and watch for wildlife such as bears, moose, and Dall sheep.

Helpful Tips: Making the Most of Your Adventure to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Plan Ahead

Plan Ahead

Research the park’s attractions, activities, and services before your visit. Consider the time of year, weather conditions, and available amenities to help you plan your itinerary and pack accordingly.

Pack Appropriately

Pack Essentials

Bring essential gear and supplies for your outdoor adventures, including sturdy hiking boots, layers of clothing for varying weather conditions, plenty of water, snacks, a map and compass or GPS device, and a first-aid kit. Bear spray is also recommended for backcountry hiking.

Respect Wildlife

Respect Wildlife

Practice responsible wildlife viewing by observing animals from a safe distance and never feeding or approaching them. Be aware of potential encounters with bears and other wildlife, and learn how to properly store food and dispose of waste to minimize attractants.

Stay Informed

Be Prepared for Remote Travel

Many areas of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park are remote and inaccessible by road. Be prepared for long drives on gravel roads, limited services, and minimal cell phone coverage. Carry extra food, water, and emergency supplies in case of unexpected delays or emergencies.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park covers over 13.2 million acres, making it the largest national park in the United States.

The best time to visit is typically from June to August when the weather is warmer and the park is more accessible. However, each season offers unique experiences, so the best time depends on your interests.

No, there are no entrance fees for visiting Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. However, there may be fees for camping, tours, and other activities within the park.

Yes, the park is home to diverse wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, moose, Dall sheep, and bald eagles. Wildlife viewing opportunities abound throughout the park.

Yes, there are campgrounds available within the park, as well as backcountry camping options for those seeking a more remote experience. Permits may be required for backcountry camping.

The park offers various outdoor activities, including hiking, backpacking, wildlife viewing, fishing, rafting, kayaking, and photography.

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