• Winter in the Wrangells

    Wrangell - St Elias

    National Park & Preserve Alaska

Frequently Asked Questions

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve
Statistics, landmarks, visitation, dates, etc.


How and why was Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve made?

Wrangell-St. Elias National Monument (10,950,000 acres) was established along with 16 other national monuments on November 16, 1978. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of November 12, 1980 established Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve and nine other national parks, and designated 56,000,000 acres of wilderness, more than doubling the acreage in the National Park Service and the Wilderness Preservation System.

The purpose of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve was and is to maintain the natural scenic beauty of the diverse geologic, glacial, and riparian dominated landscapes, and to protect the attendant wildlife populations and their habitats;to ensure continued access for a wide range of wilderness-based recreational opportunities;to provide continued opportunities for subsistence use.

What is the difference between National Park and Preserve?

A national park is an area of unusual scenic or historic interest owned by the federal government and administered by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, to conserve the scenery, the flora and fauna, and any natural and historical objects within its boundaries for public enjoyment in perpetuity. A national park usually has more than one type of national significance.

A national preserve is similar to a national park, but allows other human activities to occur, such as sport hunting. ANILCA directed that preserves be administered “in the same manner as a national park…except that the taking of fish and wildlife for sport purposes and subsistence uses, and trapping shall be allowed.” Future access to Dall sheep for sport hunting and protection of certain visitor corridors from hunting were some of the controversial issues involved in drawing the boundaries between park and preserve

Where did the park get its name?

Wrangell-St. Elias is named for two of the mountain ranges that form its rugged backbone. The Wrangell Mountains were named after Baron Ferdinand Petrovich von Wrangel (1796-1870), who was a Russian Naval officer, arctic explorer, and government administrator. He was a governor of the Russian colonies in Alaska (1829-35), director of the Russian American company (1840-49), and minister of the navy (1855-57).

The St. Elias Mountains were named by explorer Vitus Bering (1681-1741). Bering was a Danish explorer in Russian employ that was selected in 1725 by Peter I to explore far NE Siberia. In 1728 Bering oversaw the exploration and mapping of the far reaches of Siberia and headed an expedition across the sea (which later was to bear his name) to Alaska. Bering sighted massive coastal mountains on July 16. The lofty summit of Mt. St. Elias was the first piece of Alaska mainland to catch Vitus Bering’s eye. That day was the feast day of the Saint Elias. The area where they made landfall was named for Elias. Eventually the mountain too came to be called Mount St. Elias.

What are public use cabins? Who can use them?

Currently, there are 14 public-use cabins located within Wrangell-St. Elias. Most of these cabins were old mining, trapping, or hunting cabins that are located on public land and have been restored by the National Park Service. These are remote locations and require hikers/campers to make appropriate plans. Many of these cabins are accessible only by aircraft. Some cabins require reservations but most are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Are there landing strips in the park?

There are three improved airstrips in Wrangell-St. Elias. One, located at McCarthy, is maintained by the State of Alaska. The other two, at Chisana and May Creek, are maintained by the park. There are unimproved strips, requiring requisite pilot skill, at numerous locations throughout the park, many adjacent to public use cabins. It’s best to contact the park Operations Center and Hangar at (907) 822-7425 for detailed information on specific landing areas. Public airport facilities are located near the park at Gulkana and Chitina.

What is subsistence hunting/fishing?

Many Alaskans live off the land, relying on fish, wildlife and other wild resources. Alaska Natives have used these resources for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, handicrafts and trade for thousands of years. Other residents living in rural Alaska depend on local harvests as reliable and economic food sources. When Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) in 1980, which established Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, it recognized the important connection between local rural subsistence users and the land in allowing for a continued opportunity for a subsistence lifestyle by rural Alaska residents. As long as resources and their habitats are maintained in a natural and healthy state, traditional subsistence hunting, trapping and fishing are allowed in the park and preserve.

Are permits required for backpacking?

Backcountry permits are NOT required, but travelers are encouraged to complete an optional backcountry itinerary form at any park office. Additionally, leave your route and expected time of return with a friend or family member. If you fail to check in from a backcountry trip, rangers will not initiate a search until a specific request from a friend or family member is made. Assistance may be days or miles away, so be extraordinarily careful in this vast region. While backcountry permits are not required, Bear Resistant Food Containers ARE required.

Are Bear Resistant Food Containers available at the visitor centers?

Bear Resistant Food Containers are currently available at the visitor centers at Slana, Kennecott, and Copper Center. A deposit is taken and will be refunded upon return of the container.

How dangerous are river/stream crossings on the trails?

Most backcountry routes in Wrangell-St. Elias require numerous creek and river crossings. Bridges and log crossings are virtually non-existent. These crossings can be VERY dangerous without preparation, patience, and planning. Hikers must be familiar with safe techniques for crossing rivers and streams. Many are impassable, even for experts. Other can change quickly from trickling creeks to raging torrents, so be especially cautious.

When did Mt. Wrangell last erupt?

Eruptive activity has been noted in Mt. Wrangell in 1784, 1884-5, and 1900. Mt. Wrangell is still an active volcano. On clear, cold, and calm days, steam plumes are often visible.

What is the McCarthy Road Like?

The 59-mile McCarthy Road offers Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve visitors a unique opportunity to explore interior Alaska. Driving this road is an Alaskan adventure. Its gravel and dirt surface makes for slow travel-it can take 3 hours or more. Other hazards can make it even longer: heavy rain can make the road muddy and slippery; sharp rocks can cause flat tires; narrow and one-lane bridges make maneuvering large vehicles difficult. Always check check on current conditions before heading out.

What is the Nabesna Road like?

This 42-mile gravel road from Slana to Nabesna traverses the headwaters country of the Copper and Tanana drainages. It is a dusty, gravel road that is short on services but big on wilderness! The Nabesna Road offers Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve visitors a unique opportunity to explore interior Alaska. Camping, hiking, wildlife viewing, fishing, and hunting are just a sampling of the activities available just off of the road. Always check on current conditions before heading out.

When will the roads into the park be improved?

The roads inside Wrangell-St. Elias are owned and maintained by the State of Alaska. The Alaska Department of Transportation makes decisions on when and if the roads will be improved. The National Park Service completed a "Scenic Corridor Plan", incorporating the State of Alaska's plans for a major upgrade to the McCarthy road. The plan called for opening of scenic overlooks, construction of pullouts and interpretive waysides, and development of trails, including a bike-path. The State's plan for a road upgrade is part of an Environmental Impact Statement that was released for public comment in 1997. Alternatives ranged from no-action to paving. The State also replaced the Kennicott River tram in the fall of 1996 with a footbridge as an improvement to public safety and to make the area more accessible. Ultimately, it is the decision of the State of Alaska on when and how the roads within the park will be improved.

What services are available to access the park?

Access into the Park/Preserve is usually by private vehicle along unpaved gravel roads, via watercraft, or by chartered air taxi service from Glennallen (Gulkana), McCarthy, Valdez, Tok, Cordova, or Yakutat. With the exception of Yakutat and Cordova, these communities can be reached by private vehicle or bus lines from Anchorage. Yakutat and Cordova can be reached by Alaska Airlines, which offers daily jet service from both Juneau and Anchorage. Cordova and Valdez are accessed via the Alaska Marine Highway (State Ferry). Glennallen, the largest community near the park, is located at the junction of the Richardson and Glenn Highways.

Interior Alaska Bus Line runs a shuttle from Anchorage to Tok, with multiple stops along the way, including in Glennallen. Contact them directly for days and schedules. Seasonally, the Kennicott Shuttle makes daily runs between Glennallen, Copper Center, Kenny Lake and Chitina to McCarthy. Seasonally, Wrangell-St. Elias Tours provides daily transportation from Chitina and Kenny Lake to McCarthy. They also provide transportation from Anchorage all the way to McCarthy. Shuttles depart Anchorage on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8:00 am and arrive at McCarthy 5:00 pm.

Copper Valley Air has scheduled flights from Anchorage to Glennallen and McCarthy on Wednesdays and Fridays. Contact them directly for prices and flight times. Wrangell Mountain Air offers three daily trips (Mid-May to Mid-September) between Chitina and McCarthy with advance reservations.

How bad are the mosquitoes?

Mosquitoes emerge as the snow melts and peak from mid-May through mid-July. Depending on the temperatures and weather, there can be swarms of mosquitoes. A headnet and bug spray are recommended for backcountry exploring.

Is the park open all year?

The park is open year round. The hours of each station vary by season with some being closed for the winter.

Wrangell-St. Elias is a great place to cross-country ski, snowshoe, snowmachine, and flightsee during the winter months. With most rivers frozen, the backcountry is often more easily accessed in the winter than the summer. Although both the McCarthy and Nabesna Roads are generally passable, four-wheel drive is recommended from October through April due to snow and ice conditions. It’s not unusual for temperatures to dip to minus 50F, so plan accordingly. Carrying winter survival gear in your vehicle is extremely important, as traffic on remote roads, such as the McCarthy and Nabesna, can be quite sparse. All in all, winter in Wrangell-St. Elias is breathtakingly beautiful and a rewarding experience.

What fish are in the Copper River area? Is there good fishing in the area?

Fish in the Copper River area include: Grayling, Dolly Varden, Rainbow Trout, Lake Trout, Burbot, Whitefish, Red Salmon (sockeye), King Salmon (Chinook), and Silver Salmon (Coho).

Yes there is good fishing here! The Copper River is famous the world over for the health of its salmon runs and the taste of its fish. Sockeye, Chinook, Coho, Dolly Varden, Rainbow Trout, Burbot, Lake Trout, Grayling, and White Fish are among those that can be caught in the waters within the park and surrounding area. You must obtain a State of Alaska fishing license to fish in the park.

Do I need a special license to sport hunt and fish in Wrangell-St. Elias?

Yes, an Alaska state hunting and fishing license is required for all hunters and anglers age 16 or older. Sport hunting is allowed on preserve lands only.

What is a fish wheel?

The fish wheel is a method of fishing used for subsistence fishing on the Copper River. The typical Alaskan fishwheel has two-basket wheels alternated with two-paddles and is mounted between raft logs or floats. The fish are caught in the baskets and dropped into a fish storage box for harvest.

Does Wrangell-St. Elias contain any coastline?

Yes! The southern border of the park contains over a hundred miles of coast. The park has the same amount of coastline as Everglades National Park, but it is hundreds of miles from the main visitor center in Copper Center. The small town of Yakutat is located near the southern border of the park. Since 1900, four huge tidewater glaciers have retreated to form Icy Bay on the coast of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The protected, blue waters surrounded by spectacular glacial scenery and an abundance of wildlife are ideal for sea kayaking.

Why isn’t the copper in Kennecott still mined?

By the late 1920’s, the supply of high-grade ore was diminishing, and Kennecott Copper was diversifying into other North American and Chilean mines. Declining profits and increasing costs of railroad repairs led to the eventual closure of the Kennecott operation in 1938. It is now a national historical landmark.

What types of wildlife might I see in the park?

While there is a vast amount of wildlife in Wrangell-St. Elias, opportunities to view it from your vehicle are limited due to dense brush and forest along the roads. Therefore, the best spots for viewing wildlife will be from alpine areas above tree line. Wrangell-St. Elias contains one of the largest concentrations of Dall sheep in North America. Look for them along rocky ridges and mountainsides. Moose are often seen near willow bogs and lakes. In the fall, bears and other animals may be sighted near salmon spawning streams. Other species of large mammals include mountain goats, caribou, moose, brown/grizzly bear, black bear, and even two herds of transplanted bison. Smaller mammals found here include lynx, wolverine, beaver, marten, porcupine, fox, wolves, marmots, river otters, and many small rodents. The coastal areas of the park are habitat for abundant marine mammals, including sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, porpoises, and even whales.

Where does the Copper River begin and end?

The Copper River begins on Mount Wrangell at the terminus of the Copper Glacier and flows approximately 280 miles to its mouth at the Copper River Delta near Cordova.

Can I bring a firearm for bear protection?

Firearms ARE allowed in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, but it is illegal to carry firearms in some of Alaska's other national parks, so check before you go. Firearms should never be used as the alternative to common-sense approaches to bear encounters. If you are inexperienced with a firearm in emergency situations, you are more likely to be injured by a gun than a bear. Bear sprays which contain capsaicin (red pepper extract) have been used with success for protection against bears. These sprays may be effective at a range of 6-8 yards.

Are dogs allowed on the trails?

Dogs are allowed on trails within the park. It is the owner’s responsibility to maintain control over the dogs. Keep in mind that a dog running loose might bring an unwanted surprise, in the form of a bear or even a moose, back to the master. Dogs are also allowed in the backcountry.

Will we see the Northern Lights?

An auroral display might be observed from dusk until dawn as long as it is dark, which excludes Alaskan summer nights. The best time to view them is between midnight and 2 am, from September - April. Click here for tonight's aurora forecast.

Do I need a water filter in the backcountry?

All drinking water should be purified either by boiling, filtering, or using a chemical purification system.

Is there private property in the park?

There are about 750,000 privately-held acres within Wrangell-St. Elias Park and Preserve. Always respect private property rights.

Where can I get topographic maps?

Topo maps covering the more commonly visited areas of the park are available at the main visitor center at Copper Center. You can also obtain maps from USGS, as well as many other on-line sources. We cannot guarantee that we will carry the exact map that you will need for your trip. It is best to obtain maps before you arrive at the park.

Can I use my ATV/ORV in the park?

Recreational ATV (all-terrain vehicle) use is allowed, provided a permit is obtained at Slana Ranger Station or the Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center. Use is restricted to established ATV trails. More...

Can I use my snowmachine/snowmobile?

Did you know that in Alaska, we call snowmobiles "snowmachines"? Visitors may use snowmachines anywhere on public land inside Wrangell-St. Elias, as long as there is adequate snow cover and as long as it is not determined to be detrimental to the resource values of the unit or area. (Please see section 1110 (a) of ANILCA for more information about this regulation.) A permit is not required for snowmachines.

Where can I access air taxi services?

Air taxis for backcountry dropoff/pickup and flightseeing trips are available from Glennallen, Chitina, McCarthy, and Yakutat.

Can I collect rock and fossil specimens and pan for gold in the park?

Recreational (non-commercial) surface collection by hand of rocks and minerals (except silver, platinum, gemstones, and fossils) is permitted. Collection methods that may result in disturbance of ground surface, such as pickaxes, sluice boxes, shovels, and dredges, are prohibited. Use of metal detectors is illegal.

If I find antlers or horns while hiking in Wrangell-St. Elias, can I keep them?

No, removal of skulls, antlers, and horns is prohibited.

Can I build a campfire in the backcountry?

While campfires are allowed, a backpacking stove is the more logical choice for low-impact camping. Much of the backcountry is above treeline, so wood is not available. Use downed or dead wood only and if possible, build campfires in existing fire rings. Further, before leaving the site, make certain that your fire is completely extinguished.

Are there mountain biking opportunities in Wrangell-St. Elias?

The exceptionally rugged terrain of Wrangell-St. Elias makes biking generally quite difficult. However, both the McCarthy and Nabesna Roads are suitable for mountain bikes, as are some routes accessed from these two roads. Mountain biking is not allowed in designated wilderness. More...

What does it mean to be a World Heritage Site?

World Heritage Sites are “such outstanding universally recognized natural and cultural features that they attract the admiration and merit the protection of all people worldwide.” Wrangell-St. Elias and Glacier Bay National Parks, along with Kluane National Park and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in Canada, form a World Heritage Site containing 24.3 million acres, the largest internationally protected terrestrial area on the planet!

When is the mountaineering season in Wrangell-St. Elias?

Typically, April through June is the optimal mountaineering season. Mt. Bona (16,421’), Mt. Blackburn (16,390’), Mt. Sanford (16,237’), and Mt. St. Elias (18,008’) are good candidates for your adventure. Local guide services are available.

I want to walk on a glacier! How difficult is it to access a glacier in the park?

Not too difficult! Of the 5,000 square miles of glacial ice in Wrangell-St. Elias, the Root Glacier is the most accessible. An easy 1 ½ mile stroll from the historic mining town of Kennecott along the Root Glacier Trail leads you onto the glacier.

Is there lodging in the park?

The Kennecott/McCarthy area, accessed via the 60-mile McCarthy Road, offers accommodations in the form of bed & breakfasts, cabins, lodges, and a hostel. Along the Nabesna Road, bed & breakfasts are available at Slana and at the end of the road. Additional lodging is available on the park’s western boundary at Chitina, Copper Center, Kenny Lake, Tonsina, and Glennallen. More...

I can’t take my rental vehicle on gravel roads. What services are available to access the park?

Most major car rental companies do not let renters drive vehicles on gravel roads, and the only roads that access the park are gravel. However, there are a few rental companies that may allow renters to drive on the McCarthy and Nabesna Roads. You can find out more information about these companies on our Driving Park Roads page.

Are there any good rafting rivers in the park?

Wrangell-St. Elias offers many awesome wilderness rafting opportunities. Local river guide services are available to assist in your adventure.

My children are interested in becoming Junior Rangers. Does Wrangell-St. Elias have such a program?

The visitor centers in Copper Center, Slana, and Kennecott administer the park's Junior Ranger Program, where kids of any age, upon successful completion of an activity book, can receive a badge, certificate, and be sworn in as Junior Rangers.

An on-line version of the Junior Ranger Program is available on this website along with many other cool things for kids.

Are ranger programs available at the park?

A variety of guided walks and programs led by park rangers are available at Wrangell-St. Elias visitor centers daily during the summer months. Check the schedule...

Are tours of Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark available?

During summer months, there are a number of guided tours and explorations in the Kennecott Area. Park rangers conduct guided hikes and history programs throughout the day.

A private concession, St. Elias Alpine Guides provides daily guided tours, generally two hours in length, of the world-famous Kennecott copper mill complex during the summer months.

Did You Know?

Mt. Bona

Mount Bona, a 16,421’ peak in the St. Elias range, was named in 1897 by Italy’s Duke of the Abruzzi for his racing yacht, the Bona. The Duke, grandson of the first king of Italy, was the first person to climb towering 18,008’ Mount St. Elias, from which vantage point he could view Mt. Bona.