Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
Driving in on one of the main roads to the park presents a spectacular view of the majestic snow-covered peaks of Mt. Wrangell and the St. Elias mountains, the park’s namesake. With 13.2 million acres of land, Wrangell St. Elias is the largest national park and is roughly six times the size of Yellowstone National Park. It houses some of the tallest mountain peaks in the country and boasts of over 150 impressive ice glaciers. Established December 2, 1980, this park is as rugged as it is massive. With only two roads through the park, often harsh weather conditions, and difficult accessibility, Wrangell St. Elias is not for the faint of heart. The unpredictable nature of the park attracts brave explorers seeking a thrilling adventure.
Roughly one fourth of Wrangell St. Elias National Park is covered in snow all year long. The coastal Yakutat region of Wrangell St. Elias receives an average of roughly 200 inches of snowfall each year.The Yakutat region has rather mild summers, with an average high of 53 degrees, and winter averages of 26 degrees. However, the rest of the park receives extremely frigid winter temperatures of around 5 degrees in the daytime and -50 degrees at night. With all of the snow and sub-freezing temperatures comes beautiful and massive icy blue glaciers. In fact, there are 5,000 square miles of glacial ice in the park! Hubbard glacier is the largest at a whopping 76 miles long and 600 feet tall, and is considered an “active glacier.” Through a process called “calving,” the glacier drops large pieces of ice into the nearby Disenchantment Bay, creating an impressive spectacle, dubbed “white thunder” by the native Tlingit culture.
During the clear and icy nights, Alaska’s famous Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights can be seen dancing through the sky in dazzling colors, reflecting off the sparkling snow and ice.
Within the park is the Kennecott copper mine, which was the world’s most profitable copper mine during the years of 1906 to 1938. The now abandoned mine has been awarded the distinction of World Heritage Site, one of only 23 in the United States. Visitors can explore the nearby mining town of McCarthy with its distinctive red and white buildings, and take a tour of the impressive 14 story Kennecott mill.
A favorite activity among visitors is glacier hiking. Take the Root Glacier/Erie Mine Trail for a four mile round trip hike to the Jumbo Creek ice cave, a dazzling frozen cave enclosed with spectacular crystal-blue ice. This cave is as eerie as it is beautiful, for appears as if you are standing within a rip curl wave, with its walls and ceiling all glowing in a magnificent translucent blue. It is not uncommon to see bears or even the occasional moose along the way to the cave, so take caution, and enjoy the rugged and wild scenery. Most visitors utilize the many outfitters in the nearby towns to truly explore and enjoy the park and make the most of their adventure. Outfitters provide tours and supplies needed for kayaking, mountaineering, hiking, river rafting, fishing, biking, and even scenic flights over the park. Wherever your adventure may take you, Wrangell St. Elias National Park is sure to be an unforgettable experience!