McCarthy Road is an epic road trip in a very Alaskan sort of way, located deep in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The road is not maintained during winter.
McCarthy Road is 59 mi (95 km). It runs from Chitina to McCarthy, and follows the path of the historic Copper River and Northwestern Railroad. This road is maintained, but not on a regular basis. The road is recommended for those who like adventurous driving. Watch for sharp rocks, railroad spikes, no shoulders, narrow sections of road, soft spots, washboard, potholes and a few “roller coaster” curves. Carry a spare tire. Not recommended for large RVs.
The McCarthy Road is a gravel-surfaced road. It has been improved the last times. The speed limit for the McCarthy Road is 35mph. If you stay under the speed limit, the risk of a flat tire or car damage is minimal. The road is gravel-surfaced, and often very rough with many washboards and sharp turns. The road has lot of twist and turns and windings etc. Some places it has very sharp turns. Driving this road is an Alaskan adventure! Although regularly maintained by the State of Alaska, the gravel surface makes for slow travel-it usually takes three hours each way. Other hazards can make it even longer: heavy rain can make the road muddy and slippery; sharp rocks can cause flat tires; narrow and one-lane bridges make maneuvering large vehicles difficult.
The construction of the road began in 1907. Watch out for sudden loose-gravel breaks. And that pavement can ripple like a roller coaster track in places where “frost heaves” are caused by seasonal freezing and thawing of the ground. More comfortable with a 4W car.When the need to slow down fast occurs, your vehicle will slide on gravel, and you may find yourself going over very steep embankments and no one will know you're there. As long as you don't get too confident along the good smooth stretches and keep it below 30mph you will be ready for the holes and washes that will come out of nowhere. Under normal summer conditions, most two-wheel drive vehicles can make the trip without difficulty, but be sure to carry at least one spare tire and an adequate jack.
Due its unique location and passing through remote areas, it is important when driving in these conditions to be prepared. Check weather forecasts before leaving home. The road is wide enough for two lanes in most places and the State has brushed most of the road to increase visibility. However, the road is still narrow in some places, so you should to watch out for other traffic. During the summer months the road is passable for most vehicles, however during the periods of rainy weather, the road can become a bit more challenging. At the end of the road, you will find parking areas and two foot bridges that cross the Kennicott River and lead to McCarthy and Kennecott. Access to McCarthy is by foot, bike, or shuttle.
After rain, sections of road can become decidedly hazardous when fast-flowing creek crossings and slippery mud can cause road closures. One of the most challenging parts of the drive is crossing the Kuskulana River Bridge. At 238 feet above the bottom of a gorge this span is known as the biggest thrill on the road to McCarthy. Built in 1910, this historic railroad span is a vertigo-inducing 238 feet above the bottom of the gorge. The bridge is a 775 ft long steel deck truss, built in 1910 as a railroad bridge. The McCarthy road provides access to interesting geology, great hiking, fishing, and camping, as well as the wonderful historic communities of McCarthy and Kennecott.