Audio Tour -- listen to or download an interpretive tour of Nabesna Road.
This is an extended guide to the Nabesna Road that includes sites of interest, historical information, and geology.
The Nabesna Road offers an opportunity to explore the northern reaches of the park. The drive is an adventure with views of the Wrangell, Mentasta, and Nutzotin Mountains. Along the way you'll find campsites, scenic vistas, hiking routes, and opportunities for wildlife viewing. But you won't find many people here. So if you like taking a road less traveled, the Nabesna Road may be right for you.
Nabesna Road Basics:
Begins at mile 60 of the Glenn Highway (Tok Cutoff), in Slana, AK.
42 miles, allow 1.5 hours EACH WAY.
Unpaved and maintained by the Alaska state DOT. Washouts are common.
This is a remote area with limited services. NO FUEL is available in Slana. Fill up either in Chistochina (28 miles south) or Mentasta (18 miles north).
Drive slowly, carefully, and courteously.
We recommend that you carry a full-sized spare and an adequate jack.
Private land adjoins many parts of the road. Please respect private property.
Cell phone coverage is very limited.
CAUTION! This road was built to access the Nabesna Gold Mine, which operated from 1925 - 1945. Limited, small scale mineral extraction has occurred since then. The Nabesna Mine and its structures are privately owned and situated on private property (located at the end of the road). Please respect this private property. Park visitors should avoid the Nabesna Mine area altogether. The mine tailings extend onto adjacent park lands and these tailings contain high levels of metals and are acidic. Surface waters in the area contain contaminants of potential concern (COPCs) including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, nickel, and lead. Environmental exposure may be hazardous.
Look for the mile-marker posts along the Nabesna Road and follow along with this guide.
Mile 0.2 The Slana Ranger Station is on the south side of the road. Be sure to stop by for current road conditions, maps, ORV and subsistence permits, and park information.
The original Slana Roadhouse (private property) is visible on the south side of the road. This roadhouse was built in the 1930s, but there has been a structure here since 1912. It served travelers on the trail to Chisana, the site of Alaska's final gold rush. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The roadhouse is privately owned and is not open to the public.
Slana River Bridge. The Slana River drains southward off of the Mentasta Mountains. It empties into the Copper River just two miles downstream from this bridge. Looking straight down the road, the glaciated summit of Noyes Mountain can be seen 25 miles away. At an elevation of 8,235', Noyes is the highest peak in the Mentasta Mountains; its summit is on the park's northern boundary. The Mentastas run in a northwest/southeast direction from Mentasta Pass to the Nabesna River. From there the slightly higher Nutzotin Mountains continue into Canada. These two mountain ranges are the eastern edge of the Alaska Range which arches across the state. Mt. McKinley and Denali National Park are also in the Alaska Range, but a few hundred miles to the west.
The first several miles of the Nabesna Road traverse relatively flat landscape underlain by accumulations of relatively young sediment. Much of this material is stream sediment, but a good deal of it, especially the beds of silt and fine sand, was deposited in huge glacial lakes which formed when glacial ice blocked off the stream valleys. Additionally, you will see many deposits of coarse gravel that were laid down by the glacial ice itself.
Mile 2.7 Change in Land Status - Entering Federal Land. On the south side of the road, the boundary of the "National Preserve" begins.
Junction with "4-Mile" Road. This road leads into the Slana Settlement, created in 1983 when the BLM opened over 10,000 acres to homesteading. It was one of the last opportunities for homesteading on federal land. Eight hundred claims were filed, but most were soon abandoned. Alaskan winters took their toll. Many tried to live in hastily-built cabins and tents, with temperatures down to -60˚F. Jobs were scarce and the climate was not suited to farming. Today, about 50 people live in the settlement on private property.
Mile 5.6 Change in Land Status - Preserve to Park. The north side of the road is "National Preserve" whereas the south side is "National Park." Sport hunting is allowed in the preserve but not in the park. Subsistence hunting by local, rural residents is allowed in both the park and preserve.
You may notice that many of the culverts beneath the road have small diameter pipes extending from both ends. These are installed to solve a problem that occurs in permafrost areas such as this. Each fall and winter, the culverts freeze full of ice. This is not a problem during winter, when there is no running water through the culvert. As temperatures warm each spring, however, melting snow sends water down the drainages where it is impounded behind the solidly frozen culverts. Such waters flood the road and may cause damage by erosion or ice. To avoid this, highway maintenance crews connect truck-mounted steam boilers to the small pipes to melt the ice and open the culverts.
Rufus Creek Wayside. This is a primitive camping spot and rest area. There are no vault toilets here.
Suslota Lake Trail. This trail is primarily an ORV trail and is generally not suitable for hiking.
Copper Lake Trail. Only the first 2.5 miles of this 12-mile trail are generally suitable for hiking, then the trail crosses Tanada Creek and trail conditions deteriorate.
Mile 15-18 Along this stretch of road there are several points from which prominent peaks of the Wrangell Mountains can be seen. All of these peaks are built up of the Wrangell Lavas, the general term for lava flows and volcanic rocks of this area. Ages of these rocks range from 10 million years to very recent. The conspicuous high glaciated conical summit to the southwest is Mount Sanford, the fifth highest mountain in the United States with an elevation of 16,237'. It shows the typical form of a strato-volcano (sometimes called a composite cone).
Mount Wrangell is the more distant, rounded and glacial covered dome southeast of Mount Sanford, with its summit of 14,163'. It is the park's only active volcano and occasionally steam plumes can be seen rising from its summit. Mount Wrangell's broad, gentle form is an excellent example of a shield volcano, in fact, it is the largest andesite shield volcano in North America. Stratovolcanoes form from thick, sticky, viscous lava that does not flow readily. Because of its thick nature, development of the volcano is through infrequent, but violent explosive eruptions. The resulting ash, cinders, and lava form steep slopes as they pile up. Shield volcanoes develop from more fluid lava. Because the lava flows more easily, shield volcanoes have more frequent, but less violent eruptions. These eruptions produce only limited amounts of ash and cinders, but large volumes of lava that flows into gentle slopes.
North of Mount Sanford and nearer to the road is the jagged prominence of Capital Mountain, with a summit elevation of 7,731'. The jagged dark colored ridge north and east of Mt. Wrangell is topped by 9,240' Tanada Peak. Capital Mountain and Tanada Peak are both remnants of once large shield volcanoes like Mount Wrangell, but their volcanic activity ceased and their summits have been heavily eroded and sculpted by the force of glaciers. Geologic studies and potassium-argon dating have indicated that the entire Tanada Peak shield volcano was formed between one and two million years ago and eroded to its present shape only during the last million years. On a clear day, Mount Jarvis can be seen over the right shoulder of Tanada Peak. It too is composed of lavas between one and two million years old, and its summit rises to 13,421 feet.
Flowing northward from the great ice fields of Mount Wrangell is the Copper Glacier. Its meltwaters give rise to the Copper River which flows northward off the mountains, and then westward along the end of the Wrangell Range. From there is turns southward and finally reaches Gulf of Alaska near Cordova. It is the only stream that cuts through the coastal barrier of the Chugach Mountains. Along much of its length, the Copper River marks the western boundary of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
Kettle Lake Wayside. This is a primitive camping spot and rest area. There are no vault toilets here.
Dead Dog Hill Rest Area. This is a great site to take a break for wildlife viewing or bird watching. There are views of wetlands, a small lake, and boreal forest. Moose are seen here and caribou migrate through this area in the spring and fall. There is a vault toilet at this primitive camping site and rest area.
Parking for the Caribou Creek Trail.
Caribou Creek Trail & Access to Caribou Creek Cabin. Park at the gravel pit at mile 18.9. The trail is approximately 3 miles long and offers views of the Wrangell Mountains and the lakes and rivers below. The trail ends at a cabin, but you could hike further into the hills. Reservations are required for use of the Caribou Creek cabin. Contact the Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center to sign up for this public use cabin.
Rock Lake Wayside & Access to Viking Lodge Cabin. This is a primitive camping spot and rest area. There is a vault toilet here. The trail is approximately 1/4 mile long to the cabin and departs from the north side ofthe road. Reservations are required for use of Viking Lodge cabin. Contact the Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center to sign up for this public use cabin.
Tanada Lake Trail. This trail is primarily an ORV trail and is generally not suitable for hiking.
Watershed Divide. This is the highest point along the Nabesna Road with an elevation of 3,320'. Waters flowing west and south from here are carried into the Copper River and ultimately the Gulf of Alaska. Waters flowing easterly from here are carried by Jack Creek into the Nabesna River and on through the Tanana River to the Yukon River which empties into the Bering Sea.
Kendesnii Campground. Ten campsites, picnic tables, fire rings, and two vault toilets provide a nice spot for camping. Campground is first-come, first-served and is free. There are picnic sites near the shoreline of the lakes and short hiking trails. Enjoy canoeing, viewing waterfowl, and fishing for grayling.
Toward the northeast in the Mentasta Range is a conspicuously multi-colored mountain. The lower slopes are made up of dark reddish-brown and greenish-gray rock unit known as the Nikolai Greenstone. On top of these dark rocks rests a light colored (gray and tan) limestone. Both rock units date to the Triassic. Stream and gravity transport of limestone rubble down valleys and gullies has produced the prominent light stripes extending down the mountain slopes.
The ridges north and south of Twin Lakes are composed of gravels deposited along the margins of glaciers. Such glacial rock dumps are called glacial moraines. These moraines were formed during the Wisconsin Glaciation. This was the last great ice age; it reached its maximum advance 18,000 years ago when ice covered much of Alaska, almost all of Canada, and extended well into the northern states.
Change in Land Status - National Preserve. Both sides of the road are now "National Preserve."
BEFORE YOU CONTINUE: Road conditions can deteriorate beyond this point. Trail Creek (Mile 29.8), Lost Creek (Mile 31.2), and Boyden Creek (Mile 34.3) may be flowing across the road. Generally, these creek beds are dry, but during spring run off or following prolonged rain, high-clearance and/or four-wheel drive may be necessary. Carefully evaluate all crossings before driving across.
Mile 29.8 Trail Creek Trail. Trailhead is located where Trail Creek crosses the road. Parking is along the road - do not park within the creek drainage. The trail is approximately 6 miles long and allows quick access to the backcountry. The trail ends within the creek drainage, but you can continue hiking another 4 miles to reach the pass.
Lost Creek Trail. Trailhead is located just after Lost Creek crosses the road. Parking is located at the trailhead. The trail is approximately 7 miles long, but you can continue hiking another 3 miles to the pass. Trail gives you scenery, alpine tundra, flowers, and the chance to see Dall Sheep.
The two flat topped hills south of the road are composed of the Wrangell Lavas partially mantled by rock debris and soils that contain permafrost. During summer thaws of this frozen terrain, surface materials are slowly transported downslope by creep and semi-fluid flow. The hummocky area at the base of the western hill was produced by an ancient landslide.
Jack Creek Rest Area. Several nice campsites with picnic tables and fishing along Jack Creek. There is a vault toilet at this rest area. Look for Dall sheep in this area. These bright white, wild sheep inhabit high altitude ridges, meadows, and extremely rugged terrain. Sheep use these areas for feeding, resting, and to escape predators. Although they usually stay at higher elevations, in this area they are known to descend to springs and mineral licks. Careful observers can usually spot small flocks on the mountainsides over the next few miles.
Skookum Volcano Trail. This trail is 2.5 miles one-way to a beautiful high pass.The trail leads through an extinct, deeply eroded volcanic system with fascinating geology. The elevation at the trailhead is 3,000' and rises to an elevation of 4,800' at the pass. Hikers can explore other routes or expand this hike into a multiple-day trip
As you continue down the road, the jagged peaks south of the road are dominated by volcanic rocks ejected from the Skookum Creek Volcano. Volcanic Ash and hot gasses formed a fiery cloud which flowed down the flanks of an ancient volcano to produce the tan and light gray, conspicuously bedded rocks. Lava which issued from several nearby volcanic vents flowed downslope and solidified to produce the more massive pinkish-tan rocks. Radioactive dating of these rocks by USGS investigators shows that Skookum Creek Volcano was active between two and four million years ago. Deep canyons and steep slopes show that erosion has been very effective in wearing down the land during the last two million years.
Reeve's Field Trail. This 4.2 mile trail leads to views of the Nabesna River. The Reeve's Field airstrip is no longer here, but this area holds important historical significance. During 1941, trucks hauled equipment from Valdez to a rustic strip along the river. Pilot Bob Reeve cut everything into pieces, loaded it into his Boeing Trimotor, flew them to Northway, about 40 miles north, and then had them re-welded. This effort was organized to build the Northway Airport, a critical stopover in ferrying lend-lease aircraft to the Soviet Union during WWII. By November, he had transported all the materials for a full-scale airport. It was good timing. One month later, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor gave Northway new relevance, and it became a critical element in the defense of Alaska.
Mile 42.0 - End of the Maintained Road
The maintained portion of the Nabesna Road ends at the Devil's Mountain Lodge, which is private property. Please respect this property and their privacy. Stay alert, and be careful not to park on the airstrip.
Parking: Approximately a 1/4 mile beyond the lodge, there is a gravel parking area that is located on public land. If you'd like to explore further by foot travel or bike, this is the best place to park your vehicle, as the road is not maintained beyond this point.
Rambler Mine Trail. Approximately 1/4-mile past the parking area, a trail leads south towards the remains of the abandoned Rambler Mine, an area that was active after WWII. The one-mile trail is steep, but the effort rewards you with superlative views of the Nabesna River and Nutzotin Mountains.