What Is Special About Wrangell-St. Elias National Park?

Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Jess

When RV travelers head to northern Alaska, most want to see the towering peaks of Denali or the bears and salmon of Katmai. But if you don’t have Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve on your itinerary, you should add it.

This particular park is spectacularly beautiful, but it’s mostly known for its enormous size. Let’s take a closer look at this Alaskan park and find out what makes it so unique!

Where is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park located?

The largest national park in our country is located in the largest state. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is located in southeast Alaska, just south of Tok. The Copper Center Visitor Center Complex is located ten miles south of Glennallen at the junction of the Glenn Highway and the Richardson Highway.

This is the main visitor center for the national park and is located about 200 miles northeast of Anchorage and 250 miles southeast of Fairbanks.

How big is the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park?

Alaska is home to seven of the ten largest national parks in the United States. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park covers over 13.2 million acres. The Gates of the Arctic National Park follows with around 8.5 million hectares on the list. The Gates of the Arctic National Park is not only the second largest, but also the most northerly national park located entirely north of the Arctic Circle.

It’s hard to grasp just how big this national park is. What’s 13.2 million hectares? You could fit six Yellowstones in this park. Or you could fit Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Olympic, and Yosemite National Parks within its boundaries.

What makes Wrangell-St. Elias National Park so unique?

It’s not just the enormous size that makes Wrangell-St. Elias National Park so special. This park is home to four mountain ranges, thousands of kilometers of glaciers, and the largest ice field in North America. It is also home to the largest population of Dall sheep in North America. Find out more about what makes this national park so unique!

Getting there is half the fun

Most national parks in the Lower 48 can be reached via an interstate or at least a paved highway. Even if they are remote, it is relatively easy to get to the visitor center.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, on the other hand, is unique in that you have to drive 60 miles on a dirt road and then cross a footbridge to get to the towns of McCarthy and Kennecott. It really is in the middle of nowhere.

Keep in mind: The worst part about driving the Alaska Highway is Destruction Bay. But these tips will help you along the way!

Restoration of an old mining town is underway

The National Park Service is restoring the old mining town of Kennecott, and so far it looks great! Kennecott is on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

This 20th-century copper mining town features a general store, post office, Blackburn School, recreation hall, railroad depot, power plant, and more.

The park’s superlatives are breathtaking

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is not only the largest national park in America. It also has the largest wilderness area in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Together with Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, Canada’s Kluane National Park and Reserve and Canada’s Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, it has been designated a World Heritage Site. This region is the largest internationally protected wilderness area in the world.

In addition, Mount St. Elias is the second-highest mountain in the United States after Denali. It towers over 18,000 feet into the air. The Malaspina Glacier is the largest Piedmont glacier in the world, covering an area of over 1,500 square miles.

There are many glaciers

As already mentioned, the Malaspina Glacier is the largest Piedmont glacier in the world. It is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island.

The Nabesna Glacier is about 53 miles long; it is the longest valley glacier in North America and the longest valley glacier in the world. Hubbard Glacier is one of the largest and most active tidewater glaciers in North America.

Don’t forget: If you’re planning a trip to Alaska, we recommend booking a tour to see the Aialik Glacier up close!

There are many mountain peaks

There are four major mountain ranges in this national park: Wrangell, St. Elias, Chugach, and the eastern portion of the Alaskan Range. The national park is home to nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States.

At 14,163 feet, Wrangell is one of the largest active volcanoes in North America. It is also the only active volcano in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

An RV on the edge of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

What can you do in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park?

Many people revel in the natural wonders that surround every view in this national park. It’s overwhelming and awe-inspiring. But you can also take ranger-led tours and attend lectures to learn more about the history and geology of the park. There are day hiking trails in the Kennecott and Nabesna Road areas.

Backcountry climbing and hiking are permitted, but should only be done by experienced climbers and hikers. The rugged and underdeveloped terrain presents adventurers with unique challenges.

Several outfitters offer kayak tours, boat tours, and sport hunting trips. With so much land and water, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is an outdoor playground, but one that must be respected for its challenging wilderness.

Is camping allowed in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park?

Camping is allowed. There are several options in the areas along Nabesna Road, McCarthy Road, and Kennecott. All sites are on a first-come, first-served basis. Most sites are designated for tents or small RVs.

There are private campgrounds outside the national park in Cooper Center. Northern Nights RV Campground offers full hookups for RVs of all sizes. Kenny Lake Mercantile and RV Park offer sites with electric hookups, a portable water filling station, and a dump station.

An RV parked in Wrangell St. Elias National Park.

Are pets allowed in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park?

Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times. They may accompany their owners on backcountry trails and on the grounds of the Kennecott Mines National Historical Landmark. However, they are not allowed to enter any public buildings in the park.

Since trapping is allowed in the national park, be sure to keep your pets on a leash and in full control of them during your visit to keep them safe.

How many national parks are there in Alaska?

There are eight national parks in Alaska. Denali National Park and Preserve is home to the highest mountain in North America. Wrangell-St. Elias and Gates of the Arctic and Preserve are the two largest parks in the country. Directly south of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

Kenai Fjords National Park is located on the Kenai Peninsula and is home to dozens of glaciers. Katmai National Park and Preserve is a popular visitor destination because of its large salmon and brown bear populations. Kobuk Valley National Park and Lake Clark National Park and Preserve round out the rest of Alaska’s national parks.

Plan a visit to America’s largest national park

You have to visit Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve for yourself. Even then, it’s impossible to imagine just how big it is. Most visitors only see a tiny slice of this protected wilderness.

From majestic mountains to vast glaciers, the immensity of this national park will leave you spellbound. And you might even spot a moose, a caribou, a bear, or a Dall sheep during your visit.

What are you most looking forward to when you visit America’s largest national park?

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