Wrangell St. Elias (WSE) is the largest national park in the United States. The park covers 13.2 million acres, and is home to 12 of the 20 tallest mountains in North America. It is 6 times the size of Yellowstone! Access to Wrangell St. Elias is difficult, but it is still technically one of the three Alaska national parks you can drive to—Denali and Kenai Fjords being the other two accessible by car.
This was our seventh Alaska national park we were visiting, and it was arguably one of the best experiences we’ve had in any of the parks. We had a full day ahead of us: flight seeing tour into the park, guided hike on Root Glacier, flight seeing tour back out of the park, followed by a 4 hour drive back to Anchorage. Our flights in/out of the park were booked through Wrangell Mountain Air, and our guided hike was with St. Elias Alpine Guides. I honestly can’t say enough positive things about our experience. All of our guides were amazing; from our pilot, to the van shuttle driver, to our hiking guide, they were all super knowledgeable and shared so much of the park’s history with us. I’m definitely a park nerd, so I relished learning all about America’s largest national park all day long.
Our flight seeing tour into the park departed from Chitna, and landed us in McCarthy. The flight was around 30-45 minutes long. On our flight into the park, I got to ride in the co-pilots seat, which was pretty dang cool. My only regret was not getting a selfie with the pilot 😉. After landing in McCarthy, we took a van shuttle along part of McCarthy Road, which happened to be on an old railroad bed. The van shuttle dropped us off in Kennecot, an old Copper Milltown built in 1911. Our hiking tour on Root Glacier was 7 miles round-trip. The glacier was so blue! We trekked up along the glacier for a while, stopping to drink some fresh glacial water, and then watching some ice climbers while enjoying our lunches. Our guide even prepared us some hot beverages to enjoy on the glacier. I learned that an inch of glacier ice can hold up to 150 lbs- its so dense! We also were able to view the Stairway Icefall, which is 7,000 feet tall, making it the 2nd tallest icefall in the world behind the Himalayas.
As if this day couldn’t have gotten any better, on our hike back to Kennecot, a cinnamon black bear crossed right in front of us on the trail!! Which was ironic because on our hike to the glacier, our guide was just saying how she had never seen a bear on one of her hikes before—she said the park is so large so it’s not often bears are in areas of the park where the people are. However, I guess this guy was just really wanting some berries off this specific trail, and we were fortunate enough to observe him for a few minutes. It was truly the cherry on top of the best day.