Location / Coordinates: Chitina, Alaska sets on the west bank of the Copper River at its confluence with the Chitina River, at the end of the Edgerton Highway, 53 miles southeast of Copper Center and about 65 miles southeast of Glennallen, nearly 120 miles northeast of Valdez.
Coordinates: Latitude 61.52 & Longitude 44.44.
Population / Elevation: At last count, 90 to132 hardy Alaskans live in Chitina.
Description: Almost the end of the road… The pavement ends in Chitina and what used to be the bed for the Copper River & Northwestern Railway begins. Very remote, this old ghost town is the last place to buy gas and snacks.
Most residents in this village called Chitina, which is half Alaska Native, engage in subsistence activities year-round. Employment is primarily with the village council, village corporation, Prince William Sound Community College, State Fish & Game and highway maintenance offices, and the National Park Service. Many Chitina residents are self-employed or work in retail establishments. The summer season brings an influx of fishermen, tourists and campers to Chitina, Alaska, providing some cash income in fish guiding and other services.
What to do there: Backcountry hiking is very popular in the Chitina area. Maps, books and brochures on the surrounding area and the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve can be obtained at the Chitina Ranger Station during the summer season. Bear-proof food containers may also be obtained here. While you’re at the Chitina Ranger Station, take a minute to see the slide show on the McCarthy Road.
In the summer season dip-netting for salmon on the Copper River brings a large number of Alaskans to the Chitina area. Gardening, berry picking, herb gathering and other ”wildcrafting” are popular pursuits as well. Winter season activities include trapping, and all the snow sports: snowmachining, dog mushing, skiing, and ice fishing.
History: Chitina, Alaska was established in 1908 as a railroad stop on the Copper River & Northwestern Railway, and as a supply town for the Kennicott Copper Mines at McCarthy. By 1914, a surveying engineer working for the mines, Otto Adrian Nelson, owned most of Chitina—including a general store, clothing store, meat market, stables, a tinsmith, five hotels, rooming houses, a pool hall, bars, restaurants, dance halls and a movie theater. Chitina also supplied electric power to all structures with a unique hydroelectric system.
Then, almost overnight, in November 1938 Chitina became a ghost town. The ore began to play out and the miners were getting restless at the Kennicott Mine. The company told everyone “You have two hours to pack your things and board the last train out of Kennicott.” The mine and the mill shut down. Everything was abandoned, personal belongings, mining equipment, everything. Chitina was devastated as well, as everyone left the area.
In 1963 a bush pilot named “Mudhole” Smith bought the Nelson estate and promptly sold off the townsite of Chitina and most of its buildings. The tinsmith building, one of the few original buildings remaining, is now the home of “Spirit Mountain Artworks.” It is on the National Register of Historic Places. The current owner of Spirit Mountain Artworks doubles as a tire repairman, plugging and patching tires for motorists driving the McCarthy Road to and through Chitina.
How to get there: Road or air. Chitina is located at the end of the Edgerton Highway. The pavement ends here and the McCarthy Road begins. Keep an eye on your gas tank, Chitina is the only gas for 60 miles. Air taxis fly into and out Chitina.
Facilities: Today Chitina has a grocery store, a post office and a couple of places to get a bite to eat. The Chitina Café’s biscuits and gravy is recommended before attempting the long drive to McCarthy.
Several air-taxis depart from Chitina to McCarthy and back. They also offer flight-seeing tours of the area. This is an excellent way to see the area and the glacier. The pilots are friendly and they’re good at spotting moose on the runway.
RV info: There is an RV “park” across the street from the Chitina Airport. Try to find a level spot before you pay and hook-up.