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Kennecott Copper Mine Alaska

Planning a trip to the abandoned town of Kennicott, Alaska? Near the town is the impressive Kennecott Copper Mine. It is located in America’s largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. This article is about our trip to the Kennecott Copper Mine, and we share our story and practical information about how to get there. And you’ll find the answer to whether it’s worth visiting the Kennecott Copper Mine and the Kennicott Glacier. The Kennecott Copper Mine is one of Alaska’s best-hidden gems.

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Kennecott Copper Mine in Alaska

In the first part of this article, you will find information about the extremely fascinating history of the Kennecott Copper Mine and the modern age of this fantastic abandoned mine. Also, we share our pictures and experiences.
The second section provides detailed practical information and tips on organizing a trip to the Kennecott Copper Mine, Alaska. Use the Table of Contents for more straightforward navigation.

Our Story in Kennecott Copper Mine

– We have to turn back. We can’t do it! – Said Chris after driving 10 miles in a camper truck on a poor gravel road while over 50 miles were still ahead of us.
– What? We have a tremendous four-wheel drive! 
– But the road is so bad, and we have this camper on the truck. In this situation, 4×4 doesn’t help. There is no road, actually. The car has terrible gas mileage. We can’t get to the Kennecott copper mine.
– Let’s try, please. Look! What a view! The Wrangell National Park is so beautiful.
– Views? I must focus on the holes in the road, not damage the camper!

Kennecott Copper Mine
River on the way to Kennicott mine

Finally, after about 3 hours of severe driving and 60 miles on the gravel road, we arrived at our destination. It was a dead end. The only way to get to the Kennecott Copper Mine was to cross the bridge and walk a few miles or take the shuttle. Finally, we arrived at the Kennecott copper mine. The view was stunning! The enormous red wooden structure testified to the splendor of this place years ago. Folds and mining excavations merged with the Kennicott glacier flowing down from the mountains. The excavated rocks were proof of the hard work of miners.
Yes, we were in the mine. But not in the gold mine. It is an abandoned Kennecott Copper Mine with a fantastic story. Hidden in the middle of the mountains, located deep in the largest national park in the U.S., Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, northeast of Valdez.

kennicott mine buildings alaska
Kennecott Copper Mine
kennicott mine buildings alaska
root glacier near Kennecott Copper Mine Alaska
mountains next to Kennecott Copper Mine in Alaska

Little Bit of Kennecott Copper Mine History

The Alaskan Kennecott Copper Mine and Mill Town are extraordinary relics of America’s past. The impressive structures and artifacts that remain represent an ambitious time of exploration, discovery, and technological innovation. They tell stories of westward expansion, the politics and economics of World War I, the lives of the men, women, and children who lived here, and the rise of a multinational corporation.

Kennecott Copper Mine or Kennicott Copper Mine?

After copper was discovered in the area in 1900, a group of wealthy investors formed the Kennecott Copper Corporation to mine the incredibly rich veins in the rugged mountains above the Kennicott and Root glaciers.
According to Wikipedia, Kennecott Mines was named for the Kennicott Glacier in the valley below. Geologist Oscar Rohn named the glacier after Robert Kennicott during the 1899 US Army Abercrombie Survey. A “misspelling” resulted in the “i” being replaced by an “e,” allegedly by Stephen Birch himself. Birch was a mining engineer looking for investment opportunities in minerals in Alaska. He confirmed the Bonanza mine and its surrounding deposits were, at the time, the richest known concentration of copper in the world.

You will find Kennecott Copper Mine spelled correctly in all official documents and official websites, which is correct.

The beginning of the Kennecott Copper Mine, Alaska

Within a few years, the town began to flourish. The Kennecott Mill Town and neighboring McCarthy were full of life. The town was filled with workers who came here in search of wealth and worked in the mines. There were stores, a train connection, and lots of life. Each link in the historical chain is connected to another until we realize that this remote Alaskan mining town was intimately connected to the world around it.

Kennecott Copper Mine Expansion

The Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark includes the land and mining that formed the cornerstone of the Kennecott Copper Corporation, later the Kennecott Minerals Company. The operation had two components: the mines, where ore was mined from the mountains, and the mill town, where the ore was processed. From 1911 to 1938, nearly $200 million worth of copper was processed. At the peak of operations, about 300 people worked in the mill town and 200-300 in the mines. The Kennecott Copper Mine was a self-contained operating town with a hospital, general store, school, skating rink, tennis court, recreation hall, and dairy.
By the time the operation closed in 1938, the Kennecott mines extracted 591,535 short tons of copper from 4,525,909 tons of ore.

Kennecott Copper Mine Termination

In the late 1920s, the supply of high-grade ore declined, and Kennecott Copper Corporation diversified into other North American and Chilean mines. Declining profits and rising railroad repair costs eventually led to the closure of the Kennecott operation in 1938, by which time the company was well on its way to becoming a multinational giant.
Then, in 1938, its residents abruptly abandoned the town, leaving most of their property behind. As a result, the Kennecott Copper Mine in Alaska has been completely abandoned since the mid-1950s.

Kennecott Copper Mine
Kennecott Copper Mine
Kennecott Copper Mine

Nowadays of Kennecott Copper Mine

The Kennecott Copper Mine camp and mines are now a National Historic Landmark District administered by the National Park Service. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Today, the Kennecott Copper Mine in Alaska is a great ghost town. You can visit it on your own or take a tour of the Kennecott Copper Mine. It is worth taking this tour because it is the only way to get into the mine. You can also spend a whole day or more there because there are more places to see in the area. Check our practical information below.

Before You Go To Kennecott Copper Mine – Practical Information

Where is Kennecott Copper Mine?

The famous Kennecott Copper Mine is located in the southeastern part of Alaska. It is located in the largest national park in the USA – Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The nearest town is Chitina (over 60 miles via gravel road). From Glennallen, it’s 130 miles, 60 of which are a tough gravel McCarthy Road. You can also plan this route from the picturesque Valdez. It’s by more than 180 miles one way.

How to get to Kennecott Copper Mine, Alaska?

It is difficult to get to the Kennecott Copper Mine. It’s a gravel highway (McCarthy Road) for over 60 miles. Even with a 4×4 wheel drive, it is not an easy task. But worth the effort.

Getting to the Kennecott in your own car

We were traveling in our 4WD camper truck. It took us over 3 hours for the one-way trip. The tour was terrible. One of the worst in Alaska (and we were also on the Dalton Highway or the Top of the World Highway). We were afraid the camper would break down at almost every turn.
If you drive your own car, be sure to have a spare tire and tools to replace it. You must have a 4×4 vehicle. Be careful and drive slowly. Check the weather before your trip. Heavy rain or a change in weather may prevent you from making this route.

Getting to the Kennecott in a rented car

You may also want to come to Alaska by plane, rent a car and make your own Alaska road trip in a rented car. There is one essential thing to know before you rent a car. Most rental companies forbid driving this route to Kennecott Copper Mine. It is not easy to rent a car for the Gravel Highways of Alaska, such as Dalton Highway, Elliot Highway past Livengood, Steese Highway past milepost 82, Denali Park Rd (past milepost 15), McCarthy Road, and a few more.

For those highways, you need to rent Gravel Highway Vehicles. Standard rental vehicles are not equipped for traveling on gravel highways. Huge distances, no range, limited access to any assistance, and increased risks make only a few rentals allow you to travel in Alaska on a gravel highway.

Alaska Auto Rental is a rental company that allows you to drive on the Alaska gravel highways if you book a proper vehicle. We used their services and cars on our recent trip to Alaska, where we went to the Arctic Ocean and Prudhoe Bay, the famous Dalton Highway. We sincerely recommend this company because the service and the cars were excellent. You can read our detailed reviews of this rental and see the photos. You can book a car directly on their website.

Services are limited once you begin your journey along McCarthy Road. Good to have a full tank of fuel. Furthermore, in wet weather, the road often becomes muddy and slippery. Portions of the road may be subject to washouts after heavy rains. Soft shoulders have led to numerous accidents and vehicle damage.

Taking Kennicott Shuttle Bus to Kennecott Copper Mine, Alaska

You can catch the shuttle bus if you don’t have a proper car. Kennicott Shuttle Bus offers pick-up service from area lodges, B&Bs, campgrounds, and RV parks from Chitina, Glennallen, and other places. From Chitina (where the gravel road starts), it used to cost about 100 USD per person roundtrip. But call or email them for actual rates. We regret not taking this shuttle bus because the RV ride was very tiring and stressful. We also lost a lot of time on it. In our opinion, such a trip is a great solution. You will be able to concentrate on enjoying the views and taking photos. When Chris was driving a camper, he could not see the surrounding beauty of the landscape at all because he had to be careful about the enormous holes in the road for our safety.

TRIP TIP: You will find the best photo locations in Alaska in our Alaska Travel&Photo Guide.

When planning our dream trip to Alaska, we used the following books:

The MILEPOST 2022: Alaska Travel PlannerMoon Alaska: Scenic Drives, National Parks, Best HikesMoon Anchorage, Denali & the Kenai PeninsulaDeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer: Alaska
View ItemView ItemView ItemView Item

McCarthy Road and Shuttle Bus at the end of the Road

If you go by car, challenging and gravel McCarthy Road ends after 60 miles at the footbridge that crosses the Kennicott River. It’s approximately 5,5 miles from the town of Kennicott. To get to the Kennecott Copper Mine, you must park your car and walk across the bridge with your bags.

You can take a shuttle bus. The bus stop is on the left when you cross the bridge. The roundtrip shuttle used to cost 15 USD per person. You can go to McCarthy or straight to the Kennecott Copper Mine. From McCarthy, it is 4.5 miles to Kennecott Copper Mine. You can only reach it on foot or on the available shuttles. It is best to stop in McCarthy when you come back from the Kennecott Copper Mine. This is one of the most exciting towns in Alaska with a fantastic history. Here you can read our separate article about this magical place.

PROTIP: Check Alaska tour options on viator.com and GetYourGuide.com. You’ll find Alaska cruises, glacier tours, helicopter flights, wildlife spotting, and more.

Lodging at Kennecott Copper Mine Alaska

Accommodation in Kennecott Copper Mine is limited. And as a season is short, book it ahead. Camping is allowed near the end of the road. Lodging is available at McCarthy and Kennicott. You can stay in Kennicott Glacier Lodge in Kennicott because it’s a nice place with a great view. Certainly, you should make a reservation. At McCarthy, there are several eating establishments and a bar. Numerous adventure services are available, such as flightseeing around the Wrangell Mountains Range, rafting, mountaineering, and guided historic and wilderness tours. Seems like prices are good, better than in other parts of Alaska. Most of these services shut down at the beginning of September the reason that starts the winter season.

Kennecott Copper Mine Tour

When you reach the mine after a long journey, you have time to explore it. However, to get inside, you need a guided tour. It is worth booking in advance. It costs 34 USD per person. Details check directly on their booking website.

Hiking to Root Glacier and visiting McCarthy

At the Kennecott Copper Mine, Alaska, you are located in the largest national park in the US and one of the wildest. There are several interesting hiking trails in the area. It’s worth making these trips. You can hike to the amazing Root Glacier or choose other trails. We decided on the 4-mile-long hike to Root Glacier. This trail winds alongside the Kennicott and Root Glacier, and hiking it is a great opportunity to experience the grandeur of the Wrangell Mountains and see more of the valley. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest national park in the U.S. at 13.2 million acres and a crossroads of several mountain ranges. Within the park, the Wrangell, Chugach, and St. Elias range merge to create an alpine paradise that includes nine of the 16 highest peaks in the country. We were rewarded throughout the hike with magnificent mountain and Kennicott glacier views.

And of course, you want to visit McCarthy town. But McCarthy is a topic in the next, separate post.

root glacier kennicott alaska
ice climber kennicott root glacier alaska
root glacier kennicott alaska in autumn colors

Sources of information about the history of the Kennecott mine:
nps.gov
alaska.org
atlasobscura.com

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17 Comments

  1. I have read and watched documentaries about cooper mines but they seemed so far away that I have never thought it would be actually possible to see them. The Kennecott copper mine and mill town are indeed a good example of America’s past and I think that they are also an intriguing historic place of the country. I like that they are made of wood and they all have some kind of architectural style, if we can say that. 

  2. We do know that feeling of taking a detour.  And immediately wondering what we did!  I can see why the Kennecott Copper Mine might be a draw.  If only to see the glacier rolling down the mountains.  We would definitely want to get closer to that.   I am sure it was fascinating to walk through this ghost town.  I bet the tour would be interesting.  But I will remember not to visit the Kennecott Copper Mine without the proper vehicle.  Or take the shuttle from a local spot instead.  

  3. Such an amazing story! It’s so interesting to think about places like this – how busy and bustling they were and now they are, as you said, ghost towns. The buildings give it an eerie but a quaint feel. I love visiting places like this – especially when they aren’t widely known! 

  4. I’ve never heard of the Kennecott Copper Mine, but the views around it look stunning. I actually haven’t heard of U.S. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve either. It seems like such an interesting place, I would think it would be worth it to take the tour to be able to visit the mine and hear the history of the area. It’s good to know that there are some hikes in the area too. 

  5. Wow! I love those views and would be willing to visit this place just for those. Though wandering through the streets of a ghost sounds real exciting. I love visits of this kind. A lot of history and nature thrown in together.

  6. I loved the “quotes” you had at the beginning of the article haha! I can only imagine the craziness driving up to Kennecott. Ghost towns are a favorite of mine and I need to add this one to the list!

  7. The Kennecott copper mine looks interesting to visit as the whole path and views are stunning. Good to know that folds and mining excavations merged with the Kennicott glacier flowing down from the mountains.  Though thisKennecott copper mine is abandoned but it has a  fantastic story and history. Even its location in middle of the mountains, and deep in the largest national park in the U.S. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve makes this visit to Kennecott copper mine more worthy.

  8. First of all, I was all excited to see a travel article to a copper mine! I’ve been to a few coal mines and I’ve been wanting to visit the copper mine in Luxembourg but I still haven’t, coz just as you’ve described, the miserable connectivity here too! I’m super happy to know that inspite of the horrible connectivity you managed to visit the Kennecott Copper mines. Its totally worth it! Indeed the views are impeccable! The possibility to do adventure here including mountaineering is yet another reason not to miss this! 

  9. I’ve never heard of  the Kennecott Mines, but then I’ve only been to Alaska on a cruise, not on land. At any rate the mines are quite a place to visit. I absolutely love ghost towns, but getting to Kennecott Mines seems to be rather difficult. It’s funny too see that your husband wanted to back out of the drive and you insisted. In my family is the other way around: I’m scared to death of difficult drives and my husband is the one who would stick his neck into anything. 

  10. There are so many outdoor sites I would want to visit if I went to Alaska.  It looks like a stop at the Kennicott Copper Mine is something to put on our itinerary when we visit the Wrangell National Park.  Good point about taking the tour to see the mine.  Certainly that view would make the drive down the rough road worthwhile.  

  11. Well, I’m glad to you made it all the way to the mine.  The views are incredible and your photos are gorgeous.  We had been to Alaska on a cruise a few years ago and we decided we have to go back to enjoy the majestic beauty that Alaska offers.

  12. Alaska has surely been on my list for long and I have been planning for that travel. I did not know about the Kennecott copper mine and in fact I have never visited a copper mine till date. I am surely adding this to my list of places to visit and will get there when I plan to Alaska.

  13. I had the unique pleasure of visiting Kennecott last summer. Truly the pictures, while stunning, do NOT do it justice. There is something spiritually magical about the place. You have to see it, smell it, touch it to REALLY get it. The magnitude of what took place here and the people who worked the mine – inspiring. Yep – its not easy to get to but oh soo worth it. And for those of you taking cruises – do yourself a favor and come back and explore on land. There are so may incredibly breathtaking places. I’ve been to Alaska three times now and have only seen a small fraction of all that majestic state has to offer. If you get the chance, GO. You will NOT regret a minute of it.

  14. Kennecott copper mine looks like a fanstastic adventerous place to explore. I would for sure take the shuttle bus rather than driving. As it seems quite time-consuming to get there I would at least stay to days, I guess.

  15. I would definitely want to take a detour to Kennecott Copper Mine in Alaska! What an inspiring destination, especially for photographers. I would love to try and capture it just as you have. What an interesting history and thing to do, and that it’s in the middle of the mountains is very cool.

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