One Of America's Most Underrated And Adventure-Packed National Parks Is Also Its Largest

In addition to boasting more than 2,500 islands, including one with stunning black sand beaches and another that is ideal for nature lovers, Alaska is also home to an enormous chunk of wilderness that even many of the most adept national park visitors have missed: Wrangell-St Elias National Park & Preserve. This park is about the size of the entire nation of Switzerland, and yet, in 2022, the National Park Service reported that there were only 65,236 visitors to the park that year. The park's main attraction is probably also what keeps so many visitors away: Its true wilderness.


There are many U.S. national parks to visit if you want to avoid crowds and admire wildlife, but Wrangell-St Elias is on another level. This park only has two routes suitable for cars, and they're both dirt roads. If you've been dreaming of an adventure that is also a complete retreat from society, this is it. You might see grizzly, black, and polar bears, as well as other wildlife, including lynx, bison, and moose, while traversing the rugged landscape and standing in the shadows of ancient mountains and glaciers. But unless you choose to stick to the most popular trails in the park, you probably won't see very many other human beings — except those you bring with you.

Explore the wilderness at Wrangell-St Elias

Those who visit Wrangell-St Elias make the journey in order to experience unaltered nature. You'll want to bring your best, most reliable hiking gear, because many choose to backpack and hike across the land. You can also climb the icy mountains, kayak and raft on its rivers and along the shoreline, and camp almost anywhere in the park you choose. Because this land is allowed to exist without human intervention, it is always changing. According to the National Park Service, even when you do your research (which you should before venturing into the wilderness) you should always be prepared for the possibility that the movement of glaciers, landslides, and floods may have completely rewritten the land since your map was made.


If you want to explore the park but aren't ready to throw yourself into the wilderness without a safety net, you can always go with a guide to explore glaciers by going ice climbing or delving into ice caves. If you start your hike at the park's Copper Center or Kennicott Visitor Center, a ranger may be able to join you along one of the trails nearby to give you a guided tour so that you can learn more about the history of the region and the wildlife that lives there.

Plan the logistics of your trip to Wrangell-St Elias

There is no easy way to go on this trip, but that's part of what makes it an adventure. Even after you arrive in Anchorage, you're looking at an almost 3.5-hour drive to the Wrangell-St Elias Visitor Center. There are shuttles between Anchorage and McCarthy, which are your cheapest option and arguably easiest option, but leave you without a vehicle when you get there. You can drive into the park, but you should be aware that most rental companies either won't allow you to use their vehicles on the gravel and dirt roads in the park, or will expect you to pay a fee. It's also important to remember that there aren't any gas stations in the park, so you'll have to fuel up before you head in.


You won't need your America the Beautiful National Park Pass to get into this park, as there's no entrance fee. The most exciting way to enjoy the park may be camping in the wilderness (while avoiding the private property lands in the park). There are also extremely basic campsites near Nabesna Road, or you can explore Kendesnii Campground. If you think that you'll be too exhausted after a long day of climbing through ice caves and rafting fast flowing rivers, you might want to unwind in an actual bed, you should look into the park run lodges like Wrangell Mountains Wilderness Lodge.