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Kennecott copper mine

Are you planning to go to an abandoned town of Kennicott, Alaska? It’s located in America’s Largest National Park Wrangell—St. Elias National Park and Preserve. This article is about our trip to Kennecott copper mine, and we share here our story and practical information on how to get there. And you will find answer to the question if it is worth to take Kennecott copper mine tour and visit Kennicott glacier.

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kennicott mine building alaska

Our Story

– We have to turn back. We can’t do it! – said Chris after driving heavy and unstable camper truck 10 miles on a poor gravel road.

– 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, so the car has terrible gas mileage. We can’t get to 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 to damage the camper!

Kennicott Kannecott view from the mine to the mountains in snow
River on the way to Kennicott mine

Finally, after about 3 hours of severe driving and 60 miles done 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 or take the shuttle. Finally, we arrived at the Kennecott copper mine itself. 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.

kennicott mine buildings alaska
kennicott mine buildings alaska
kennicott mine buildings alaska
root glacier kennicott alaska
mountains next to kennicott alaska

Little bit of history

The Kennecott copper mine and mill town are an extraordinary relic from 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, World War I politics and economy, the lives of men, women, and children who lived there, and the rise of a multinational corporation. After copper was discovered in the area in 1900, a group of wealthy investors formed the Kennecott Copper Corporation (named when a clerical worker misspelled Kennicott) to mine the incredibly rich veins in the jagged mountains above the Kennicott and Root Glaciers.
The town was full of workers who came there in search of wealth and worked in the mines. There were businesses, shops, a train connection, and a lot of life. Each link in the historical chain connects to another until we realize that this remote Alaska mining venture was intricately connected to the world around it.

Copper expansion and mine termination

The Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark includes the land and mining claims that formed the foundation for the Kennecott Copper Corporation, later the Kennecott Minerals Company. The operation had two components: the mines where ore was extracted 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 operation, approximately 300 people worked in the mill town and 200-300 in the mines. Kennecott copper mine was a self-contained company town that included a hospital, general store, school, skating rink, tennis court, recreation hall, and dairy.

By the late 1920s, the supply of high-grade ore was diminishing, and Kennecott Copper Corporation was diversifying into other North American and Chilean mines. Declining profits and increasing costs of railroad repairs led to the eventual closure of the Kennecott operation by 1938. By that time, the corporation was well on the way to becoming a multinational giant.
Then in 1938, the town was abruptly abandoned by its citizens, leaving most of their possessions behind. As a result, since the middle of the 1950s, the Kennecott copper mine has been completely deserted.

kennicott mine old car
kennicott mine railway
kennicott mine old railway

Nowadays

Today, Kennecott copper mine is an amazing ghost town. You can visit it by yourself or you can take the Kennecott copper mine tour. It’s worth to take it, for the reason that, is the only way to get inside the mine. As well you can spend there a day or more because there are more places to see in the neighborhood.

You can hike to the amazing Root Glacier or choose other trails. We decided for 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 ranges 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 have to visit McCarthy town. But McCarthy is a topic for next, separate post 😊

Before You Go – Practical Information

Transportation

It is difficult to get to Kennecott copper mine. It’s a gravel road for over 60 miles. Even with a 4×4 wheel drive it is not an easy task. But worth the effort. If you don’t have a proper car there is an option to catch the shuttle bus. Kennicott Shuttle Bus offers pick-up service from area lodges, B&Bs, campgrounds, and RV parks from Chitina, Glennallen, and other places. But from Chitina (where the gravel road starts) it costs about 100 USD per person roundtrip.

TRIPTIP: The best photo locations in Alaska you will find in our Alaska Travel&Photo Guide.

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

The MILEPOST 2020: Alaska Travel PlannerMoon Alaska: Scenic Drives, National Parks, Best HikesMoon Anchorage, Denali & the Kenai PeninsulaDeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer: Alaska
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If you go by car, The McCarthy Road ends at the footbridge that crosses the Kennicott River, approximately 5,5 miles from the town of Kennicott. To get to Kennecott copper mine, you must park your car, 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. Roundtrip shuttle costs 15 USD per person. You can go to McCarthy or straight to the Kennecott copper mine. From McCarthy, it is 4.5 miles to Kennicott. You can only reach it on foot or the available shuttles.

First of all, remember, services are limited once you begin your journey along the 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.

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

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Lodging

Camping is allowed near the end of the road. Lodging is available at McCarthy and Kennicott. In Kennicott, you can stay in Kennicott Glacier Lodge, because it’s nice place with great view. Certainly, you should make a reservation. At McCarthy, there are several eating establishments and a bar. There are numerous adventure services 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 of the beginning of September, for the reason that, starts winter season. Finally, if you want to take the Kennecott copper mine tour and visit the mine with a guide, it costs 28 USD per person (August 2019).

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 Kennicott mine:
nps.gov
alaska.org
atlasobscura.com

13 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.

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