Glennallen to Valdez via Wrangell-St Elias Nat’l Park, AK

With extra time today we decided to take a detour on our way to Valdez and checkout the Wrangell-St Elias National Park. Covering 13.2 million acres, it’s the largest park in the nation and one of the least visited. Only one road leads into the park and even on it there are signs recommending that you don’t drive it. It seems in many places the railroad bed was paved over and the spikes have a way of working to the surface and destroying tires.

We drove just the first 17 of the 60 miles from Chitina to McCarthy to get a taste of the views and see the one lane converted railroad bridge 238 feet above the Kuskulana river gorge. The road was more paved than not on these first 17 miles. Still, it’s a slow going road with rolls from heaving and numerous pot holes.

On an overcast day clouds blocked some of the vistas but we still had frequent river and snowy peak views. King salmon fishing had started and there was plenty of activity near the bridge over the Kuskulana river.

Richardson Highway

Back on the Richardson highway the way down to Valdez is a gorgeous section of road even on a cloudy day. While some of the mountain tops were covered in clouds, many were not. They are not so tall, but still tower over the road where steep green slopes lead up to black and white striped mountain tops. New peaks emerged from every turn, some with glaciers.

The Worthington Glacier trail was closed but you could see a good portion of the glacier from the road.

The waterfalls along the Keystone Gorge are worth the quick, easy stop as is the start of a hand-dug tunnel.

Lunch at the Tonsina River Lodge

If you are heading south from Glennallen on the Richardson highway (highway 4) the Tonsina River Lodge is the last restaurant before you hit Valdez. It’s a great find.

The menu offers Russian and American fare thoughtfully prepared and tasty in a cozy log dining room. We tried the Cornish game hen and the Machanka, shredded potatoes topped with cheese, roast beef, smoked sausage, ham and vegies. Sides of pickled red cabbage and carrots are served to the table. The game hen was moist and tender but a tad too garlicy. The Machanka is a hearty, tasty dish. Just what you want on a cold drizzly day.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Alaska page.

June 16, 2021