Exploring the Gateway Towns of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park: Local Hotels, Restaurants, and Culinary Specialties
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is a sprawling haven that covers over 13 million acres of pure Alaskan wilderness, making it the largest national park in the United States. The park offers breathtaking views of mountain ranges, glaciers, and rivers, attracting adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts alike. While the park itself is remote, several nearby towns serve as gateways for visitors to explore the vast wilderness and provide essential amenities such as hotels, restaurants, and other services. Here, we'll delve into these towns and uncover some of the culinary delights you won't want to miss.
McCarthy and Kennecott
Nestled within the park's boundaries are the twin towns of McCarthy and Kennecott. Although these communities are small and somewhat isolated, they are the heart of tourism within the park. For lodging, the McCarthy Lodge offers comfort and a taste of history, while the Kennicott Glacier Lodge provides stunning glacier views. Food-wise, The Potato in McCarthy is reputed for delicious comfort food with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Be sure to try their homemade pies, which are a hit among both locals and travelers.
Chitina (pronounced 'CHIT-na') is the last stop on the pavement where the Edgerton Highway meets the McCarthy Road. Tiny as it is, Chitina acts as a critical jumping-off point for many adventurers heading into the park. The Chitina Hotel is a modest establishment that offers rooms with a rustic charm. Dining options are limited, but the Spirit Mountain Artworks provides a combination of local art and homemade Alaska food specialties like smoked salmon and hearty soups – a warm reprieve after a long day of exploration.
Copper Center is a larger community located near the west entrance of the park along the Richardson Highway. This village is a hub for fishing, particularly the world-renowned Copper River salmon. Visitors have a choice of several lodges and bed-and-breakfasts such as the Old Town Copper Center Inn & Restaurant, which not only offers cozy accommodation but also serves delicious meals including local fish dishes. Trying the Copper River salmon here, whether smoked, grilled or in a rich chowder, is a must.
Approximately two hours from the park's entrance is Glennallen, one of the larger towns in the area and a key service hub for travelers. Here, you'll find a range of accommodations from hotels like the Caribou Hotel to welcoming B&Bs. Glennallen provides several eateries that serve up a variety of food options. The Tokyo Restaurant & Sushi Bar is a surprising find in such a remote location and offers an excellent dining experience. Also, be sure to stop by Caribou Hotel's restaurant for a taste of their famous homemade pies.
Though a bit farther afield, Valdez is a picturesque coastal town accessible via the Richardson Highway and offers a different perspective on the Alaskan experience. This town is a bit larger than the others mentioned and consequently provides a wider range of hotels and restaurants. The Totem Inn and Hotel Valdez are two popular places for comfort and hospitality. For food, The Roadside Potatohead stands out with its quirky atmosphere and inventive dishes that highlight Alaskan ingredients. Seafood lovers should not miss out on the local catch, particularly the fresh halibut and shrimp.
While Wrangell-St. Elias National Park remains one of the lesser-visited national parks in the US, the local flavors and hospitality offered by these neighboring towns enrich the overall experience. Each town has its own charm and specialties, making them worth the visit for more than just their proximity to the park's majestic landscapes.
When planning your adventure, it's worth checking out the following websites for more information on accommodations, local eateries, and travel tips:
- Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve official website: nps.gov/wrst
- Copper River Valley accommodations and information: coppervalleychamber.com
- McCarthy and Kennicott visitor information: mccarthykennicott.com
Remember, in these remote areas, it's always best to plan ahead as services can be seasonal and change year to year. Whether you seek unparalleled outdoor adventures or simply wish to savor the unique culinary offerings, the communities surrounding Wrangell-St. Elias National Park await to make your Alaskan journey truly unforgettable.