Kennicott, Alaska Visitor Guide
Kennicott, also spelled Kennecott, is a historic mining town located in the heart of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska. This remote destination offers visitors a unique glimpse into the past, along with opportunities for outdoor adventure and exploration. In this guide, we’ll cover Kennicott’s latitude and longitude, directions from Anchorage, things to do, history, famous people, RV and camping information, and annual festivals and events.
Latitude and Longitude: Kennicott is located at approximately 61.4847° N latitude and 142.8867° W longitude.
Getting to Kennicott from Anchorage
Kennicott is not directly accessible by car from Anchorage, as there are no roads connecting the two cities. The most common ways to reach Kennicott from Anchorage are by air or by a combination of driving and shuttle service.
Several airlines operate flights between Anchorage and McCarthy, the nearest town to Kennicott. The flight time is approximately 1.5 hours. Upon arrival at McCarthy Airport, you can arrange for a shuttle or guided tour to reach Kennicott, which is about 5 miles away.
By Car and Shuttle
Another option is to drive from Anchorage to Chitina (approximately 315 miles), and then continue on the McCarthy Road (approximately 60 miles) to the town of McCarthy. The drive from Anchorage to Chitina takes about 6-7 hours, depending on road conditions. Once in McCarthy, you can park your vehicle and take a shuttle or join a guided tour to reach Kennicott.
Things to Do
Kennicott offers a variety of activities and attractions for visitors.
Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark
Explore the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark, which includes the impressive 14-story concentration mill and other mining structures. Guided tours are available, offering insights into the history of the mine and the people who worked there.
Take a guided hike or ice-climbing excursion on the nearby Root Glacier, an easily accessible glacier with stunning blue ice formations and crevasses. Tours range from half-day to full-day adventures, and no prior experience is required for most trips.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve
Kennicott is located within the vast Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, the largest national park in the United States. The park offers endless opportunities for hiking, backpacking, wildlife viewing, and photography.
Visit the nearby town of McCarthy, a small community with a colorful history tied to the mining era. The town offers a handful of restaurants, shops, and accommodations, as well as access to various outdoor activities, such as river rafting and flightseeing tours.
Kennicott’s history is deeply connected to Alaska’s copper mining industry. In 1900, two prospectors discovered a rich vein of copper ore in the area, leading to the establishment of the Kennecott Mines Company in 1903. The company built the town of Kennicott to house workers and support mining operations, which included the construction of a railroad, mill, and other infrastructure.
At its peak, the mine employed over 600 workers and produced millions of dollars’ worth of copper ore. However, by the late 1920s, the quality of the ore began to decline, and the mine ceased operations in 1938. The town of Kennicott was largely abandoned, and the buildings and infrastructure were left to the elements.
In 1980, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve was established, and in 1986, the Kennecott Mines were designated a National Historic Landmark. Since then, efforts have been made to preserve and restore the site, allowing visitors to explore this unique piece of Alaska’s history.
Famous People from Kennicott
Given its remote location and relatively short period of active mining operations, there are no well-known figures who originate from Kennicott. However, the town’s history is filled with miners, engineers, and other workers who contributed to the success of the Kennecott Mines Company and helped shape the region’s history.
RV and Camping Information
There are no RV parks or campgrounds within the town of Kennicott itself. However, several camping options are available in the nearby town of McCarthy:
McCarthy RV Park
McCarthy RV Park offers basic RV sites with no hook-ups. The park is within walking distance of McCarthy’s restaurants and shops and provides access to a bathhouse with restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities.
Glacier View Campground
Located about 1 mile from McCarthy, Glacier View Campground offers tent camping sites with picnic tables and fire pits. There are no hook-ups available, but there are vault toilets and potable water on-site.
Annual Festivals and Events
Kennicott and the nearby town of McCarthy host several annual festivals and events that celebrate the region’s culture, history, and natural beauty:
McCarthy Road Lottery
The McCarthy Road Lottery takes place in September and offers a unique opportunity for visitors to drive their vehicles across the Kennicott River Bridge and into Kennicott. This event is held only once a year and requires participants to obtain a permit through a lottery system. The lottery allows visitors to experience the stunning scenery of Kennicott up close and personal.
Fourth of July in McCarthy
The Fourth of July celebration in McCarthy is a fun-filled event that includes a parade, games, live music, and a potluck dinner. Residents and visitors alike come together to celebrate America’s Independence Day in this remote Alaskan town.
Wrangell Mountain Music Festival
Held in McCarthy in July, the Wrangell Mountain Music Festival is a three-day event that brings together musicians and music lovers from across Alaska. The festival features live performances, workshops, and jam sessions in a relaxed and intimate setting.
Kennecott Kids’ Day
Kennecott Kids’ Day, held in August, is a family-friendly event that offers a variety of activities and games for children, such as scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, and guided tours of the historic mining buildings. The event aims to educate and inspire younger generations about the history of Kennecott and the importance of preserving its unique heritage.
Fat Bike Festival
The Fat Bike Festival, held in McCarthy in March, is a multi-day event that celebrates the growing popularity of fat-tire biking in Alaska. The festival includes group rides, races, gear demos, and social events, providing a fun and inclusive atmosphere for fat bike enthusiasts of all skill levels.
These annual festivals and events showcase the rich history, culture, and natural beauty of the Kennicott and McCarthy area, offering unique experiences for visitors and residents alike.\
When planning a trip to Kennicott, Alaska, it’s essential to consider the unique aspects of this remote destination. In addition to the activities and attractions already mentioned, there are several other experiences you may want to explore during your visit:
Kennicott Copper Mine Tour
Several local tour operators offer guided tours of the historic Kennicott Copper Mine. These tours provide an in-depth look at the mining process, the history of the town, and the people who lived and worked there. Tours typically include visits to the mill, power plant, and other structures, as well as information on the environmental reclamation efforts in the area.
Flightseeing tours are an excellent way to experience the grandeur of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. These tours, which depart from McCarthy or nearby airstrips, provide stunning aerial views of the park’s mountains, glaciers, and other natural features. Some flightseeing tours also offer glacier landings, giving you the opportunity to set foot on a remote glacier and explore its unique landscape.
The Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and numerous bird species. Wildlife viewing opportunities abound in the park, whether you’re hiking, camping, or simply driving along the McCarthy Road. Be sure to pack a pair of binoculars and a camera to capture the incredible wildlife sightings.
Hiking and Backpacking
There are countless hiking and backpacking opportunities in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, from short day hikes to multi-day backcountry expeditions. Some popular trails in the Kennicott area include the Bonanza Mine Trail, which leads to the historic Bonanza copper mine, and the Jumbo Mine Trail, which offers panoramic views of the Kennicott Glacier and surrounding mountains.
When hiking or backpacking in the park, be prepared for unpredictable weather and varying trail conditions. Always carry a map and compass, as well as plenty of food, water, and appropriate clothing. Additionally, be bear-aware and practice safe food storage and handling techniques to minimize the risk of wildlife encounters.
While there are no hotels in Kennicott itself, several lodges and guesthouses are available in nearby McCarthy, offering a range of accommodations to suit different budgets and preferences. These lodgings often provide a more intimate and personalized experience compared to larger hotels, allowing you to immerse yourself in the local culture and history.
Another option is to stay at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge, a historic building that once served as a recreation hall for Kennicott mine workers. The lodge offers private and shared rooms, a dining room serving home-cooked meals, and a cozy common area with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers.
Overall, a visit to Kennicott, Alaska, offers a unique and unforgettable experience for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and anyone seeking to explore the rugged beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. By taking the time to appreciate the area’s rich history, stunning natural surroundings, and welcoming community spirit, you’ll leave with a deeper understanding and appreciation of this remarkable corner of Alaska.
In summary, Kennicott, Alaska, is a remote and historic destination that offers visitors a unique glimpse into the past while providing opportunities for outdoor adventures in the breathtaking Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. With its fascinating history, stunning natural surroundings, and welcoming community, Kennicott is an unforgettable destination for those seeking an authentic Alaskan experience.
Whether you choose a day trip or decide to stay overnight, the journey to Kennicott is a rewarding experience. The path to this remote town follows the historic railway bed of the Copper River Northwestern Railway (CRNW).
As you wander through the Kennicott townsite, notice the green malachite fragments that pepper the gravel beneath your feet. Nature has reclaimed the area, with trees and shrubs flourishing and the retreating glacier revealing the majestic Fireweed Mountain across the valley. Take a moment to listen to the captivating sounds of the glacier as it creaks and groans.
Location / Coordinates: Kennicott is situated at the end of McCarthy Road, 314 miles east of Anchorage and 178 miles north of Valdez, within the vast expanse of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
Coordinates: Latitude 60.75 & Longitude 142.00.
Population: Ghost town.
Description: A significant portion of the original Kennicott company town still stands, including 40 of the initial buildings. Let your imagination transport you back in time to the bustling sounds of the mill, the pungent smell of ammonia from the leaching plant, and the shuddering vibrations of the shaker tables. The 14-story Kennicott mill, designated as a National Historic Landmark, remains an awe-inspiring structure. Be sure to capture its beauty through photographs both inside and out during the tour.
History: In the early 20th century, two prospectors discovered one of the most abundant copper ore deposits ever found. With financial backing from the Guggenheim brothers and J.P. Morgan, the Kennecott Mines Company was established in 1906, later becoming the Kennecott Copper Corporation.
The town and glacier were named in honor of early Alaskan explorer Robert Kennicott. However, both the mine and the company inadvertently misspelled the name as “Kennecott.”
Transporting copper ore from this remote location to Cordova on the coast, for shipment to Tacoma, Washington, for smelting, was a considerable challenge. The Copper River Northwestern Railway (CRNW) provided the solution. Despite the nickname “Can’t Run and Never Will,” the railway was an engineering marvel. Completed in 1911 at a cost of $23 million, it was built under extremely harsh conditions, with crews facing treacherous river crossings, swamps, and ravines along the route from Cordova to Kennicott. Summer mosquitoes and winter temperatures plunging to 50 degrees below zero added to the hardships. Large teams were needed to maintain the railway in the wilderness. The world’s largest rotary snowplows cleared the tracks in winter, and every spring, massive trestles and bridges had to be rebuilt after being washed out during the spring thaw. At its peak, the railway boasted 18 locomotives, 8 passenger cars, and 256 freight cars.
Timing played a crucial role in the success of the copper mine, as the deposit was discovered during a period of high demand due to the industrial age and World War I. The CRNW transported approximately $200 million worth of copper ore from Kennicott during its operation. The value of the copper mined in the area exceeded the value of the gold extracted from the famous Klondike gold fields in the Yukon between 1885 and 1908; it was worth $200,000,000 at the time or over $1,000,000,000 today.
At its peak, the Kennicott Mine and town housed over 800 workers and residents. The company town featured a hospital with dental office, elementary school, recreation hall, silent movie theater, ballpark, skating rink, tennis court, and even a dairy.
In November 1938, the ore began to deplete, and the miners grew restless. The company instructed everyone to pack their belongings and board the last train out of Kennicott within two hours. The mine and mill shut down, leaving behind personal belongings and mining equipment.
How to get there: If driving to Kennicott, be prepared with groceries, bottled water, spare tires, and a full tank of gas. The Park Service recommends traveling the McCarthy Road at 20 miles per hour. Rain can make the road slippery, and railroad spikes may appear on the washboard surface. Expect a bumpy three-hour drive one way to the footbridge at McCarthy. From there, a shuttle can take you the final five miles to Kennicott.
If flying, don’t forget your camera! Charter flights depart from Chitina airport to the 3,000-foot McCarthy airport, where you may need to circle until wildlife clears the runway. From there, a shuttle will take you to Kennicott.
Please respect private property in the area.
Exploring Kennecott, Alaska: A Wide Range of Activities and Attractions
1. Scenic Flightseeing Tours: Experience the grandeur of the 14,000-foot peaks of the Wrangell Mountains from above. A flightseeing tour will give you a unique perspective of the region’s glaciers, sprawling valleys, and diverse wildlife.
2. Historic Hiking Trails: Discover Kennecott’s rich mining history as you walk along the well-trodden paths used by miners in the past. These trails offer not only a glimpse into the area’s heritage but also showcase its stunning natural beauty.
3. Photography Opportunities: Capture the essence of Kennecott with your camera, from its historic structures like the Kennicott Mill to the awe-inspiring mountains, glaciers, and wildlife that call this region home.
4. Guided Walking Tours of Kennicott Mill: Join an informative guided tour of the iconic Kennicott Mill and learn about its crucial role in the copper mining industry during the early 20th century.
5. Root Glacier Adventures: Experience the magnificence of the Root Glacier on guided tours that showcase its remarkable features, including moulins, pressure ridges, ogives, deep blue water pools, and other captivating ice formations.
6. Observing Local Wildlife: Keep a lookout for the diverse wildlife that inhabits the area, such as bears, mountain goats, and various bird species.
7. Thrilling Outdoor Activities: For adventure seekers, the surrounding region offers exhilarating river rafting trips and challenging mountain biking trails that will test your skills and endurance.
8. Discovering McCarthy: Venture into the nearby town of McCarthy, where you can immerse yourself in the local history at the town’s museum and learn about the social lives of miners during the area’s mining heyday.
Accommodations and Amenities in Kennecott:
Kennecott Glacier Lodge: The primary lodging option in the area, the Kennecott Glacier Lodge, provides a comfortable and cozy stay for visitors. Due to its limited capacity of 50 guests, it’s crucial to make reservations well in advance. The lodge features private rooms, shared bathrooms, and showers with an abundance of hot water, welcoming living rooms stocked with games and books, and a dining room that serves delicious, family-style meals. Make sure to unwind on the porch and enjoy the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
Camping Alternatives: For those who prefer a more authentic connection with nature, camping is an excellent option. Ensure you bring all the necessary equipment and provisions and always adhere to Leave No Trace principles to help maintain the pristine natural environment for future visitors.