Are you 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.This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.
Kennecott Copper Mine – Introduction
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!
Getting to the mine
Finally, after about 3 and a half 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, like the Independence Mine at Hatcher Pass, near Palmer. The lands and waters of Alaska are rich in numerous treasures. In addition to gold, oil is exploited (one of the largest deposits in the world), and the route to Prudhoe Bay runs along the picturesque Dalton Highway. In addition, natural gas, platinum, tin, nickel, and uranium ores are mined here. There are also copper deposits in Alaska, where we found ourselves – in an abandoned copper mine.
Kennecott Copper Mine has a fantastic story. It’s a historical landmark from the 30s of the 20th century. It’s hidden in the middle of the mountains, deep in the largest national park in the U.S., Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, northeast of Valdez.
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.
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 and destinations in Alaska in our Alaska Travel&Photo Guide. As we have visited Alaska four times so far, you can also check all our Alaska articles to find more inspirations for your travel. Make sure to download our Alaska Packing List with a printable PDF checklist.
When planning our dream trip to Alaska, we used the following books:
|The MILEPOST 2022: Alaska Travel Planner||Moon Alaska: Scenic Drives, National Parks, Best Hikes||Moon Anchorage, Denali & the Kenai Peninsula||DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer: Alaska|
|View Item||View Item||View Item||View 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.
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.
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