McCarthy Alaska is a small town forgotten by the world and hidden in the Alaskan mountains. It’s located in America’s Largest National Park Wrangell—St. Elias National Park and Preserve. It’s close to Kennecott Copper Mine. We got there accidentally and suddenly discovered its charm. The Hearts Gone South band was performing that day in the New Golden Saloon, and my heart stayed in McCarthy forever.This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.
„(…)All your begging and your pleading
it ain’t gonna change my mind
so you can go on and kiss the girlie that you got on down the line
you can go and say goodbye, to everything we had
cuz boy, your actions have got me hopping mad…”*
Our Story with the Hearts Gone South in McCarthy Alaska
We were in a remote, almost abandoned town – McCarthy Alaska. In our ears sounded the melody of the original The Hearts Gone South country song. The Golden Saloon was completely empty when we crossed its doorstep early afternoon. Suddenly it started to slowly fill up with the local audience. And even with four-legged friends. If you consider that only a few dozen people live in the town, we appreciated the company of dogs. After a couple of cheap local beers, the atmosphere got more cheerful. Everyone knew each other perfectly. Dances in the rhythm of the country music began. The band from North Carolina made exceptional and very natural contact with the audience.
It was too bad to leave this place. One of the most magical places in Alaska! And we were planning to get there only for 5 minutes …. But our plans turned out to be wrong, and we changed our minds… In McCarthy lives only a few dozen residents and there are several houses. We wanted to get there on the way back from the Kennecott copper mine to take a couple of photos.
The Hearts Gone South Band
Hearts Gone South is a great band. They play original country and honky-tonk songs in the classic style, full of heart and soul, spiced with wit and wistfulness. They bring fire and emotion to age-old stories of heartbreak, love, and the underdog’s victory. The band members are from Asheville, NC, and hail from both sides of the Blue Ridge. Hearts Gone South has an insane sound that will make you want to run over the ridges and howl at the moon. They play and sing old-school style, expressing the range of emotions that make up the human experience. So far they have released two albums, Little Things and Nothing Left to Burn. Hearts Gone South’s frontwoman, Tricia Tripp, has amazing charm and energy. She enchants with her vocals. The band also consists of JP Parsons (guitar), Casey Saulpaugh (pedal steel), Scott Thomas (drums), and Landon George (bass).
TRIP TIP: The best places & photo locations in Alaska you will find in our Alaska Travel&Photo Guide.
Visiting McCarthy Alaska
It’s worth visiting McCarthy Alaska. You can admire the buildings of the town: Johnson’s Historic Hotel and The Golden Saloon and Magic! With a dramatic story, unfortunately. Abandoned wooden houses, hidden in a deep forest, in the mountains, far from civilization, whispered about the old days …
McCarthy lies 5 miles from the Kennicott Mine (Kennecott Copper Mine). The story connects these two places – Kennicott is a ghost town, and McCarthy has a year-round population of just a couple of dozen people. How to get to McCarthy Alaska, we described in our previous post about Kennecott mine.
Little History of McCarthy Alaska
The Kennecott copper mines and camp were established about 1908 across from the Kennicott Glacier, five miles north of McCarthy Alaska. An early misspelling named the mine and mining company Kennecott. The town, river, and glacier are spelled, Kennicott.
In 1911, the Copper River & Northwestern Railway carried its first carload of ore from Kennecott to Cordova. No gambling or drinking was allowed in the town of Kennicott. Nearby McCarthy Alaska developed as a colorful diversion for the miners as a place where miners could enjoy “wine, women, and song.” It provided a newspaper, stores, hotels, restaurants, saloons, a red-light district, housing over 800 residents. McCarthy Alaska has become a center of entertainment and life for the workers of the mine.
Kennicott became a company town with homes, a school, hospital, gym, tennis court, and silent movie theater. Over its 30-year operation, $200 million in ore was extracted from Kennecott. It was the richest concentration of copper ore known in the world. In 1938, the mines closed, and both towns were abandoned.
A number of the buildings from that era are still used in McCarthy Alaska and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Nowadays of McCarthy Alaska
The population of McCarthy and Kennecott fell to almost zero until the 1970s when the area began to draw young people from the many who came to Alaska in the ’70s for adventure and the big money of the Trans Alaska Pipeline project. In the ’80s, after the area was designated, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (1980), began to draw some adventurous tourists to the new national park. The few people that lived there began to provide a variety of tourist services. There has always been at least one family living in the McCarthy area since 1953.
Murder in McCarthy Alaska
Then a vast tragedy happened. In an attempt to disrupt the Alaska pipeline, 39-year-old Louis D. Hastings, armed with a rifle, murdered six of the 22 citizens of McCarthy on March 1, 1983. He also wounded two people. In July 1984, Hastings was sentenced to 634 years in prison. This case and the town of McCarthy were featured in the Discovery Channel’s episode “Frozen Terror” about the freezing killers of Alaska.
This tragedy is still alive in the memory of the people of the area.
We walked between wooden houses, shocked by the history of this place. Abandoned old cars stand on the side of the road as flower beds. Wooden abandoned houses threaten with emptiness and fluttering with torn curtains. A few buildings are only inhabited. They are colorful, finished with artistic decorations. They attract attention. We enjoyed the silence and beauty of this place.
For us, McCarthy is an absolutely magical place that we highly recommend!
Before you go to McCarthy Alaska– Practical Information
Read our previous post about Kennicott Abandoned copper town because the story connects both towns.
Getting to the town is an adventure itself because the gravel road is challenging. However, it is worth the effort. The city is located among the mountains and glaciers of the largest national park in the USA – Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The drive is approximately 7 hours from Anchorage and 8 hours from Fairbanks, and the final 2-3 hours are on the scenic, rugged McCarthy Road.
When planning our dream trip to Alaska, we used the following books:
|Image||Title||Price||Check on Amazon|
|Top||The MILEPOST 2021: Alaska Travel Planner (Alaska)||$$||Check on Amazon|
|Moon Alaska: Scenic Drives, National Parks, Best Hikes (Travel Guide)||$$||Check on Amazon|
|Moon Anchorage, Denali & the Kenai Peninsula (Travel Guide)||$$||Check on Amazon|
|DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer: Alaska||$$||Check on Amazon|
Where to stay and where to eat in McCarthy Alaska?
In McCarthy, you will find lodging, restaurants, saloon, essential services, the fascinating McCarthy-Kennecott Historical Museum, and outfitters that will take you on a range of activities, from glacier trekking through whitewater rafting to flight-seeing trips to the national park.
We highly recommend The Golden Saloon with great food and an authentic atmosphere, and Alaskan-made draft beers.
You should also visit the beautiful hotel Ma Johnson’s Historic Hotel
Sources of information:
*Lyrics „You Ain’t Sleeping Here Tonight” from Little Things by Hearts Gone South https://heartsgonesouth.bandcamp.com/track/you-aint-sleeping-here-tonight