Wrangell – St. Elias National Park is the largest National Park in the United States. It is 13.5 million acres and is about the same size as the country of Switzerland. We knew that any trip to the park would only scratch the surface. There are two common ways to visit Wrangell, and both are by roads that are not paved. On the north side of the park there is the Nabesna Road, which goes in 45 miles and ends near the Nabesna Mine. On the southwestern side of the park there is the McCarthy road, which goes in 60 miles to the town McCarthy and the Kennecott Mine. The land is rugged and secluded. The only real reason these roads exist is mining activities. Without private corporations, there would be little desire or funding to overcome the challenges of building in this extreme territory.
Our first trip to Wrangell was a stop on the Nabesna side of the park. There is a Ranger Station at a place called Slana—and I hesitate to call it a town because it is so tiny. It has a post office, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily a town. We received a grand reception when we stopped at the Ranger Station. At most of the other parks, there are so many people coming and going that the rangers are efficiently trying to do business and directing the traffic of visitors to where they need to go. Slana was much different:
Would we like a hot cup of coffee? (Why yes, we would, thank you! Is there creamer?)
Absolutely, powdered or should I break out the hazelnut? (We should probably go with hazelnut.)
I am not trying to say that rangers at other places care less, or were less nice, but the Slana park rangers were top-notch. After we had loaded up on hot beverages, we opened up the Nabesna Road map. The park map lists the sites and hikes by road mile, so it is actually quite easy to plan what you are going to do. We talked to the ranger and got recommendations about hikes, she told us which ones to skip and which ones she thought we would like. With all this new knowledge in hand, we headed down the road.
One of the other great things about the Nabesna side of the park is that they have a CD audio tour. You pop it in your player and it gives you a history of the park and surrounding area. Since there is only one road, it tells you when to start specific tracks and you get to hear the history as you are driving the road.
Most importantly, though, they had wolf pelts that we got to model!