McCarthy Highway // Alaska

July 12, 2021

Caravan Sonnet Blog
Happy Monday friends! I hope that you had a lovely weekend! Today I am excited to continue recap my Alaskan Road Trip Adventures from 2019. As I have shared, I wanted to do this because I hope that it encourages you to consider taking a road trip of your own this summer to this beautiful part of the world!

Today I am so excited to share a bit about our adventure on the McCarthy Highway in Alaska. If you read my review post of Alaska 4x4 Rentals on Saturday (click HERE) then you may remember how I stated that you needed a rental car that is legally allowed to be driven on McCarthy Highway (which after driving I totally understood!)

As a bit of background to this adventure, I had been so intrigued by the Denali Highway and McCarthy Highway area after learning about them as I researched for the 2018 road trip throughout Alaska. I spoke at length with a couple of people who had lived in Alaska and was discouraged from doing both truthfully, but knew that I wanted to at least do one and so I ended up choosing the Denali Highway. When I was over in the Thompson Pass area and we drove on Alaska 4-South I saw the sign for McCarthy and still debated doing a spontaneous adventure over. 

I decided to not change the travel schedule due to my travel companion (unfortunately a woman who was very difficult to travel with (you can read more HERE) and who was struggling with a lot of issues and fears and not enjoying the adventure already of Alaska), decided it was wisest to just plan a separate trip that included the McCarthy area and not deviate from the original plan. In the end I didn't regret my decision because I fell in love with the Thompson Pass area (click HERE) and would recommend it to anyone who is taking a road trip through Alaska. I would definitely go back to that area in a heartbeat to explore again and look forward to doing so someday. 
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But... I fully admit that there was a part of me that still wanted to see the elusive Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and to take a road trip on the McCarthy Highway. I think it is the adventurer in me that thought that there was something so beautiful to be explored in this area of the world. So when I was planning the trip for this year to Alaska I definitely put it in. And yes... with another trip on the Denali Highway because I think we well established how much I loved it. *smiles*
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Caravan Sonnet Blog
Caravan Sonnet Blog
Am I glad that we did it? Yes.

Is it for the adventurous spirit. Absolutely yes. 

I do think it is important to note though that if you are traveling with someone (like I did last year) that really doesn't like adventure or being outside cities, or not having constant and reliable cell service than I would highly recommend avoiding this section of Alaska. This is an adventure for those with real adventure souls as I would say.

Was it like I expected? Hmm... yes and no. In some ways I would say yes and in other ways this post will show why my concept of it was different before traveling it and after driving it. 
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As a bit of background for those who are not familiar with this infamous road that I am talking about, McCarthy Highway (or McCarthy Road as it is referred to often by local Alaskans) is a road that starts at the end of Edgerton Highway in Chitina and goes to the Kennecott footbridge at the edge of McCarthy/Kennecott. I had been told before I drove it that the road is gravel-surfaced and that it can be "rough". I am giggling a bit as I type this because I would say that is an understatement... I would say "very rough" hahaha. I am laughing a bit as I remember the way that I had to use the training that I received for offensive driving/off roading training while working in Washington DC. I never had to then, but I felt like it was the perfect driving preperation. 

At first I honestly felt like I was "fighting the road" but after we went around another sharp turn bumping along and went through a huge water puddle area. I stopped the Jeep and just got out of the car. It sounds dramatic but we were about 20 minutes in and I though there is NO WAY this is how it is supposed to be for the next 6-8 hours. At that exact moment a truck went by me and I realized that instead of going 5 miles an hour like I was he really was driving the 15-25 miles an hour that I had been told you could and weaving a bit to follow the previous tire tracks (not just sticking to the right side of the "road"). I kind of giggled with anticipation and got back in the car all excited as Emily and Sue looked at me like I was crazy. Haha. Thankfully they were up for an adventure so as I basically said something dramatic like "hang on" and started driving like I owned the road. 

It is the best advice that I can give someone who is going to drive on McCarthy Highway. Drive it like you own it and follow the tire tracks that are already there (not as much the "right side of the road") because it is the way that you survive it.
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McCarthy Road follows the railbed side of the now non-exsistant Copper River and Northwestern Railway. The railroad was built in 1904 and then worked on for a couple of years in 1906 and was used to transport supplies and also materials back and forth from Chitina and Kennecott/McCarthy. 
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The McCarthy Highway also includes driving the Kuskulana Bridge, that was built in 1910. When I was first hearing about this road and driving it all I kept hearing about was the "scary bridge". As a lady who tackled driving the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island, I imagined a scary bridge that would test the mental strength and be crazy compared to the Confederation Bridge. I had heard there was no side rails, no guard rail, and it was the scariest bridge that was around. I even assigned Sue to driving it because I had been convinced it was that nerve-wracking. And then we got there... and it was NOTHING like I had been told. 
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We tentatively approached and I started to record where we were going... and then we started over the bridge (one car only) and it was... nice. Y'all... I didn't even ever share the bridge video because we all started laughing... this had been the most talked about thing before the trip and then... it was fine. 

Y'all the views were incredible, and it was beautiful and it was just lovely. It was NOT scary (I drove back across absolutely fine) and Emily, Sue, and I got a good laugh about how we had been told by someone that it was "the scariest bridge of all time"... which is something that most blogs state too. 

So... drive it and take the bridge. You will be fine.
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Caravan Sonnet Blog
Caravan Sonnet Blog
Caravan Sonnet Blog
Caravan Sonnet Blog
The bridge is about 238 feet high and stands above the Kuskulana River. We stood in the middle of the bridge and I snapped these pictures (above) and it was just lovely. We stood there for a few minutes just marveling in the beauty. 
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Caravan Sonnet Blog
Caravan Sonnet Blog
The drive from Chitina to McCarthy/Kennecott took about 6 and 1/2 hours on the way in and about 4 and 1/2 hours on the way back. I think that there was the difference of two hours just being more familiar with the road, not stopping to take as many pictures, and the fact that we knew that we had a HUGE day of driving still left in front of us. It was simply gorgeous both ways!
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Caravan Sonnet Blog
Caravan Sonnet Blog
Caravan Sonnet Blog
As we continued driving along Emily played music from the Lion King at one point because it definitely looked like a scene from another world. I can see why they say that it is a "drive you must do in your lifetime" because it truly was unlike anything else that I had ever seen or witnessed in my travels or in the United States. It honestly felt like we had stepped into a foreign country. It was completely remote (very very limited service), it was wild, and it was just incredible. Definitely all things that you think of with Alaska, just even on a bigger scale. 

Thanks so much for reading today, please feel free to reach out and leave a comment with any questions about the McCarthy Highway! Happy Monday friends! I hope you have a wonderful beginning of your week!

Want to step forward and plan your trip but not sure how? Check out all of the Alaska Road Trip posts from our trips in 2018 and 2019 which you can find them in the Alaska travel section on my blog by clicking HERE or you can click on the specific links below:

Anchorage: // Hyatt Place Anchorage-Midtown Video // Beluga Point // 
// Hyatt Place Anchorage-Midtown// Room 209 Hyatt Place Anchorage-Midtown //
// Anchorage Travel Guide//

Chugach Mountains (Alaska 1-South Drive): // Seward Highway Drive (Turnagain Arm Drive)//
// Along the Matanuska River on Alaska 1-South// A Beautiful Lake Adventure Near Chickaloon//
// A Cloudy & Beautiful Drive on Alaska 1-South//

Chugach Mountains: // Eklutna Lake//

Cooper Landing (Kenai Peninsula): // Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge Nature Hike// 
// Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge //

Denali State Park Area: //Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge (Pursuit Collection)// Denali Highway Video// 
// One Last Adventure on the Denali Highway// The Denali Highway: Part Two //
// The Denali Highway: Part One// 
//The Drive to Cantwell// Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge //

Girdwood:  // Winner Creek Trail Video// Winner Creek Trail //

Hatcher Pass Area: // Hatcher Pass Video// Hatcher Pass // Little Susitna River //

Homer (Kenai Peninsula) Area: // Homer Video// Homer Spit// Homer Lighthouse// Bishop's Beach//
// A Brief History of Homer //

Kennicott/McCarthy Area: //Root Glacier Hike //Kennicott // Kennicott Glacier // 
// Kennecott vs. Kennicott Spelling // The McCarthy Highway // 
// An Unfortunate Review of the Kennicott Glacier Lodge //

Seward: //Holgate Glacier// Kenai Fjords Whale Watching Tour//
//A Beautiful Morning Walk in Seward/An Evening Walk at Seward Windsong Lodge// 
//Resurrection Roadhouse Restaurant at Seward Windsong Lodge//
//Seward Windsong Lodge/Room 408 at Seward Windsong Lodge//

Seward Highway Area: //Beluga Point// Scenic Seward Highway Drive (Turnagain Arm Drive)//

Talkeetna: //Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge (Pursuit Collection)//

Thompson Pass Area: // Thompson Pass Area Video 
// Worthington Glacier Hike//
//Worthington Glacier//
// Among the Alaskan Fireweed on A4-S: A Beautiful Symbol of Hope in the Hard Seasons of Life //
// A Brief History of & Drive on Alaska 4-South of the Richardson Highway//Klutina River//
// The Beginning Drive to Thompson Pass// 

Whittier: //3 Things to See and Do in Whittier Port on Your Alaskan Cruise /

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