McCarthy Alaska is located inside Wrangell – St. Elias National Park & Preserve
McCarthy Alaska, its sister town Kennecott, are adjoining eastern Alaska towns with famous mining and mill history dating back to 1900.
The famous towns of McCarthy and Kennecott Alaska, at the turn of the 20th century, were flooded with prospectors, miners, and investors. The two towns are interconnected; Kennecott was the old mill town on the northern side of McCarthy, which became the vice mining town. As a result, the gold rush of the Klondike and the shores of Nome were in full swing. The port town of Valdez was a jump-off point for many making their way inland to the interior in search of precious minerals. The Copper River and its drainages were a rich copper country. Interactions with local natives, copper tools, and jewelry told interested parties that the mineral was somewhere upriver.
McCarthy Alaska History – Railroad & Copper Mines
The Right Land for a Railroad Turnaround
While the wheels were turning on creating the “Copper Town” that became Kennecott, five miles down the road, the idea for McCarthy was forming. A shrewd fellow named John Barrett was homesteading 296 acres along McCarthy Creek. Barrett theorized that his land was the best location for a locomotive turnaround for the railroad being constructed to haul the copper ore to the port town of Cordova, Alaska. From Cordova, the copper would be shipped to Guggenheim-owned smelters in Tacoma, Washington. Barrett’s theory turned out to be correct and he leased a portion of his land to the railroad for their turnaround.
Vice Town for the Company Town
When gold was found up the country in Chisana, and rumors of other mineral deposits brought squatters onto Barrett’s land, he divided some of the lands into leasable parcels. That is how the town of McCarthy, Alaska was born. McCarthy played the vice town to Kennecott’s strict company policy of no booze, brothels, or gambling. A red light district sprung up on the banks of the creek and, to avoid prohibition-era regulations, the railroad engineers devised a special train whistle to alert the local saloons that a US Marshall was on board. After the mines of Kennecott closed in 1938, McCarthy quickly became a ghost town. It is with the interest in outdoor recreation and adventure tourism that McCarthy as slowly come back into a small, friendly, definitely still “frontier” town!
Learn more about the mill town of Kennecott, Alaska.
Where is McCarthy Alaska?
McCarthy, and its adjacent historic mill town of Kennecott, are only 80 miles from the western edge of Canadian border of the Yukon Territory. Kennecott is located on the southern edge of the Wrangell Mountain range, and McCarthy sits just south at the toe-end of the Kennecott and Root Glaciers. Both towns are inside the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. The “Preserve” aspect of the national park enables the town of McCarthy to have privately owned land and operate as an off-the-grid, Alaskan frontier town. There are several other national parks in the United States with Preserve in their title, including Denali National Park and Preserve. The coast on the south side of the Chugach Mountains receives hundreds of inches of precipitation per year. In contrast, McCarthy Alaska averages less than 30 inches of rain annually. snow stays year round high up in the mountains in the park.
Traveling to McCarthy
To get to McCarthy by land, travelers must use the famous McCarthy Road from Chitina to McCarthy. McCarthy is a 315- mile drive from Anchorage, Alaska, and a 370-mile drive from Fairbanks, Alaska. Both drives are stunningly beautiful through mountain ranges, along rivers, past glaciers, and alpine lakes. Learn more about getting to McCarthy Alaska and the famous McCarthy Road. Charter flights are available from many towns in Alaska to McCathy. In Alaska, traveling by small plane is almost as ubiquitous as driving by automobile!
See more tips for planning your trip to McCarthy.