Tips for Driving McCarthy Road in Alaska

Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Jess

Driving the McCarthy Road in Alaska can be an exciting and unforgettable adventure. But it can also be dangerous, especially for those who are not prepared.

While a certain amount of excitement can make for an unforgettable experience, you should only bite off as much as you can chew. Safety should always be your top priority.

Today we’re giving you tips for driving the McCarthy Road in Alaska. So buckle up and let’s go!

What is the McCarthy Road in Alaska?

The McCarthy Road in Alaska was originally built as a railroad to support the Kennecott copper mines. Construction was completed in 1909, but large-scale mining in the region ended in the mid-1930s. When the metal rails became scrap metal, a clear path was left behind. The authorities built a bridge over the Copper River and laid a layer of gravel to create the path.

This narrow route winds through some of Alaska’s most incredible scenery. Those brave enough to walk the trail will experience views of mountains, glaciers, rivers and incredible wilderness. When it comes to the Alaskan backcountry, this is a great way to experience it.

At mile 15.9, you’ll reach the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. This is a federal area managed by the National Park Service (NPS). You can get out at the rest areas and enjoy the view. Be sure to take advantage of them and take as many photos as you can.

When will McCarthy Road open?

McCarthy Road is open year-round, but the State of Alaska does not maintain it in the winter. If you think the conditions are bad in the summer, you don’t want to experience them in the winter.

Heavy snowfall, freezing temperatures and ice can make the route unsafe. The already dangerous route can then quickly become deadly.

Instead of betting, park officials recommend calling before you visit. They can give you an overview of the current conditions in the area. Better safe than sorry.

Where does McCarthy Road begin and end?

Chitna, Alaska, is considered the gateway to the McCarthy Road. This is where the 60-mile adventure begins, ending at the Kennicott River near McCarthy. Along the entire route, adventurers enjoy breathtaking views and insights into the history of the region.

Authorities recommend allowing at least two hours for each route. Conditions are subject to change with or without notice. Drivers must be as careful and courteous as possible when navigating.

7 tips for driving on the McCarthy Road in Alaska

We want you and your fellow travelers to have another adventure. We’ll give you seven tips to give you the best chance. Let’s go on an adventure!

Check road conditions

One of the most important things you can do to ensure safe driving is to check road conditions. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities offers With this service, you can easily check the latest reported conditions for McCarthy Road and other unclear routes in Alaska.

If there are travel advisories or warnings, you can probably find them here. In addition, it can’t hurt to contact the National Park Service. The ranger stations throughout the park can provide more information about current conditions.

View of the McCarthy Road in Alaska.

Prepare your vehicle

In Alaska, it’s important that your vehicle is always in pristine condition. The last thing you want is a problem that leaves you stranded. Inspecting and preparing your vehicle is a good way to avoid this.

Check your engine, brakes, tires and lights. This is also a good time to check all fluid levels. The rough terrain and potholes can take their toll on your vehicle. Also, solid off-road or all-terrain tires can help on gravel and uneven surfaces.

Remember: Want to upgrade your motorhome tires? They’re probably inflated incorrectly!

Fill up and pack supplies

McCarthy Road is a remote road in Alaska, which means there are few services, including gas stations. Before you leave Chitina, fill up your gas tank and take a can or two with you. Running out of gas can be a dangerous experience. However, gasoline is just one of the many things you need to take with you.

If you’re traveling in a remote area, it’s always a good idea to take supplies with you. You will need emergency equipment, a communication or navigation device, food, water, clothing, personal items and camping gear. A first aid kit, blankets and a portable shovel are things you’ll be glad you have when you need them.

Drive carefully

On the McCarthy Road in Alaska, slow driving wins the race. Driving carefully means sticking to the prescribed speed limits and paying attention to the road conditions. When cornering on loose gravel, you can skid or lose control of your vehicle.

The road is littered with potholes large enough to have their own zip code. Watch out for these holes, but also be mindful of other motorists and the danger of wildlife. During the summer, you’re also likely to come across construction sites as builders do their best to make repairs.

View of McCarthy Road in Alaska.

Use a vehicle with high clearance

You can’t try this with just any vehicle. A high clearance vehicle can help you avoid scratches to the underbody or damage to the car. You’ll still have to brake for potholes, rocks and other obstacles, but you’re less likely to get stuck.

Another advantage of a high clearance vehicle is crossing a river. There are several places along the route where a waterway needs to be crossed. The more clearance you have, the easier it is to cross these streams and riverbeds and keep your things dry.

Remember: Eagle, Alaska, has a population of 83! Despite the small population, is it really worth a visit?

Take your time and enjoy the view

One of the mistakes many people make on McCarthy Road is not taking the time to enjoy the view. If you see a place to pull over, take advantage of it. That way the driver can enjoy the experience too. Even if he can see something while he’s driving, he’ll be focused primarily on navigating.

You should also remember to take spare SD cards for cameras and free up storage space on your cell phone. You’ll definitely want to document this trip. You’ll also be taking lots of Instagram-worthy photos.

Master McCarthy Road in Alaska

Now you have our best tips for navigating the McCarthy Road. Now all you have to do is buckle up and set off on your adventure.

If you prepare accordingly and take your time, you’ll have the best chance of navigating the road safely. Enjoy the experience and respect the environment, the wildlife and your fellow travelers.

Have you ever driven the McCarthy Road? Do you have any additional tips?

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