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Kennecott copper mine

Last Updated on September 2, 2020

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.

This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.

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

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the van escape

Hi, we are Agnes & Chris! Welcome to The Van Escape! We are travelers, photographers, and bloggers. Our goal is to share travel & photo experience and inspire you to outdoor adventures through America. We love wildlife, off the beaten path places, soaking in hot springs, and van life. We also like cities by night and tasting local food & wine. We give you ready itineraries, hints, and essential tools to prepare you for your unforgettable lifetime journey. We only describe the places we have been, which we know and recommend without hesitation. All photos are also ours. We are so glad you’re here!

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