Getting to Alaska seemed like a far off and lofty goal for most of our trip, so to finally cross the border was surreal. As we'd been heading north since our start in California, we'd watched the landscapes become increasingly remote and dramatic. We hoped this trend would continue as we entered the northernmost part of our trip
We entered via the Alaskan Highway, where Red Zeppelin picked up his fair share of dirt and mud. From the border, we passed through Tok, a small town where we briefly considered adopting a sled dog puppy before loading up on groceries and fuel.
WRANGELL ST. ELIAS—NABESNA RD.
The first decision we had to make was if we would head south towards the Kenai peninsula or north towards Fairbanks. We opted for south, and luck took over. We met a friendly construction worker who told us if we were looking for beautiful scenery without crowds, we should head into Wrangell St. Elias National Park. We took her suggestion and found the first of two roads leading into the park—Nabesna Road.
The 42 mile road is unpaved, quiet, and beautiful. We found ourselves surrounded by the impressive Wrangell Mountains and the boreal forest.
We saw few signs of other people while hiking through the park, but along the road we came across the homes of permanent residents who live a subsistence lifestyle.
WRANGELL ST. ELIAS—MCCARTHY & KENNICOTT
After backtracking along Nabesna Road, we decided to drive south and re-enter the park via McCarthy Road—the only other road entrance into the park. McCarthy Road had previously been a train track for a copper mine in the 1920's, and now visitors can drive as far as the Kennecott River and continue by foot or bike over a bridge to the old mining town, hiking trails, and Root Glacier. We reached the bridge and set up camp at Base Camp, where many other travelers stay the night or leave their vehicles before backpacking in.
We rode our bikes up to the old mining town of Kennicott and were immediately taken with the decaying red structures and relics of industry and technology.
We continued past the town along trails to Root Glacier. Here the landscape became increasingly unfamiliar and beautiful. The glacial moraine transitioned into a clearer ice landscape, where we watched waterfalls created by the melting glacier cascading over itself.
SOUTH TO VALDEZ
After the detour into Wrangell St. Elias, we decided to get back on the Richardson Highway and make our way south to the coastal town of Valdez. We found camping here to be sparse and expensive, so we only spent a couple days here working, walking along the harbor and admiring fisherman's catch.
After Valdez, we backtracked along the scenic Richardson Highway before turning west onto the Glenn Highway to make our way through the Mat-Su Valley towards the Kenai Peninsula. We had planned to drive straight through, but felt like we'd be missing too much, so we stopped to camp and hike Lion's Head trail, a short, steep hike up to amazing views of the Matanuska glacier and surrounding area.
We're finding that more and more our favorite stops are places we have little knowledge of and no expectations for. It was great turning onto both Nabesna and McCarthy roads not knowing what to expect and finding interesting and beautiful things at the end of each. Likewise, we had thought of the Mat-Su valley as an area on our way to somewhere else, but we were blown away by the mountains and glaciers.
The lack of a reputation also helps keep the crowds at bay, so we didn't see anyone else on the hikes and easily found camp sites, including free camping along Nabesna Road.