Cruise Tour Destinations -
Wrangell Copper River Region

The Wrangell-Copper River Region is a relatively new cruise tour destination. This area provides you with the true essence of “wild Alaska.” Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest of the national parks in the United States and one many Americans have never even heard of, the historic mining towns of Kennecott and McCarthy and the memorable adventure of just getting here, are all off-the-beaten-path experiences when compared with the hustle and bustle of other Alaska destinations.

This park, at over 13 million acres, is a mountain wilderness un-like any other. Four major mountain ranges converge here, Wrangell, St. Elias, Chugach and the eastern part of the Alaska Range. Nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States, topped by Mount St. Elias at 18,808 feet, are located here. The Bagley Icefield, part of the largest non-polar ice field in the world, makes the park the most glaciated in North America. Malaspina Glacier, larger than the state of Rhode Island, is the largest non-polar piedmont glacier in North America. Is your sense of scale being re-defined?

Together, Wrangell-St. Elias, Glacier Bay National Park, Kluane National Park in Canada and Tatshenshini-Alsek Park in British Columbia form the world’s largest international protected wilderness at 24 million acres. Opportunities to view wildlife abound in Wrangell-St. Elias. One of the largest concentrations of Dall Sheep in North America call this place home. Everything is larger than life and the list goes on, but enough with the facts – get out there and discover it yourself.

Accessing a park of this size does not come without some difficulties. It is almost entirely road-less and there are no maintained trails in the park. Don’t let this deter you. Immerse yourself in the untamed nature of this park. Plan your budget accordingly and rely on the expertise of local outfitters knowledgeable in the area. Overwhelm your senses with world-class flight seeing excursions, remote rafting trips and guided hiking treks. You’ll definitely appreciate your small but important place in this remote wilderness.

During the early 20th century one of the nation’s richest deposits of high-grade copper ore was discovered in the area of Kennicott Glacier and McCarthy Creek. Due to an early day misspelling the mine and mill town were established as Kennecott. The company town was surprisingly progressive for its time supplying workers with various recreational opportunities, these included a silent movie theater, tennis court, baseball, basketball, ice skating and others.

Alcoholic beverages and prostitution were forbidden in Kennecott, but not in the neighboring town of McCarthy. By offering services not provided in the company town, saloons and of course, a red light district, McCarthy earned its boom town status.

The mill was abandoned in 1938. During its operation over $200 million in ore was extracted and the silver by-product brought in additional revenue. Kennecott was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1978 and is considered to be the best remaining example of early 20th Century copper mining. In 1998, the National Park Service began an extensive program to preserve the landmark for future generations.

Although Kennecott is not easy to reach, it is well worth the visit. The impressive structures and artifacts tell the story of the harsh life on the last frontier and the extraordinary determination of the men, women and children who lived there.

Arriving to and departing from the Wrangell-Copper River Region is a discovery in and of itself. From the south you’ll travel the Richardson Highway, a scenic byway and Alaska’s oldest highway. Highlights include:

  • Worthington Glacier - one of the few glaciers you can drive right up to for close up viewing.
  • Thompson Pass - offers a spectacular view of the lush green valley below, carrying the title of snowiest place in Alaska, it is a popular site for world class ice climbing and extreme skiing.
  • Keystone Canyon - a spectacular gorge cut by the Lowe River where you will encounter the Bridal Vail Falls and Horse Tail Falls.
  • Trans-Alaska Pipeline - a formal viewpoint for the pipeline and pump station 12 where oil is pushed over Thompson Pass.

Filled with breathtaking scenery there won’t be any shortage of marvelous photo opportunities throughout your journey.

In the picturesque towns of Valdez or Whittier, (depending on your direction of travel) you’ll board a high speed catamaran for the scenic trip across Prince William Sound. This is arguably the best place in Alaska to see tidewater glaciers and there is an excellent chance of seeing sea otters, orcas and humpback whales.

From the north you’ll be crossing the high tundra in the heart of the Alaska Range via The Denali Highway. We hate to sound monotonous but this is another trip with stunning scenery. Opened in 1957, it was the only road link to Mt. McKinley National Park (renamed Denali National Park.) Today, it is “the road less traveled,” due to the opening of George Parks Highway in 1971 allowing more direct access from Anchorage and Fairbanks.

The highway is 134 miles long, only the first 21 miles from Paxson and the first 3 miles from Cantwell are paved. The remaining 110 miles is unpaved. The road can be rough and dusty. But before you conjure up any negative images consider the rewards. Traveling in a comfortable deluxe motor coach you’ll discover an unspoiled piece of history that hasn’t changed much. Magnificent scenery abounds, there are good opportunities to view wildlife and best of all, wilderness in all directions.

Most Wrangell-Copper River Region cruise tours include a visit to Denali National Park and an excursion into the park. Either the Tundra Wilderness Tour or Natural History Tour will be a part of your itinerary. Please check with your cruise tour provider.

Visit our Denali National Park page for tour descriptions.

Wrangell-Copper River Region cruise tours are typically longer in length and offer fewer variations. A 7-day inside passage cruise combined with a land program that takes you into the Wrangell-Copper River area, through the interior of Alaska and Denali National Park to Anchorage.

A sample itinerary may include arrival into Anchorage for your first overnight, followed by motor coach service to Denali State Park and an evening at the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. The following day you’ll board the train for the scenic ride to Denali National Park and a 2-night stay. From here your journey continues down the Denali Highway by motor coach to the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge for 2-nights. Then it’s on to Valdez by motor coach to board a high-speed catamaran for the journey across Prince William Sound to Whittier where you’ll board your ship. You’ll enjoy a 7-day inside passage cruise before disembarking in Vancouver and flying home.

Included in this package is the Natural History Tour offering a 4-5 hour excursion that examines the cultural history of the park.

The land package of a Wrangell-Copper River cruise tour can be scheduled pre- or post- cruise. While our preference would still be scheduling the land tour first, the 2-night stays in both the Denali National Park and Copper River areas does make the pace somewhat slower and more enjoyable. Your departure times on land will be reasonable, between 8 am and 9am for the trek across the Denali Highway, around noon for your rail departures and mornings at leisure before the transfer between Anchorage and Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. If you have two weeks of vacation this cruise tour itinerary is a good choice for booking your land tour first and enjoying some savings.

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