Wrangell-St. Elias Overview

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, located in eastern Alaska of the United States, is an awe-inspiring testament to the raw power and beauty of the natural world. Covering an immense area of over 13.2 million acres (53,320 square kilometers), it is the largest national park in the United States, offering a wilderness experience on a scale that is nearly incomprehensible. Established in 1980 as part of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the park encompasses a vast range of ecosystems, from the Gulf of Alaska’s coastal rainforests to the mountaintops of the Saint Elias Range, making it a place of unparalleled natural diversity and scenic majesty.

The park is named after two of the major mountain ranges that dominate its landscape: the Wrangell Mountains and the Saint Elias Mountains. These ranges include some of the highest peaks in North America, such as Mount Saint Elias, which rises to 18,008 feet (5,489 meters), making it the second-highest peak in both the United States and Canada. The park is also home to massive glaciers, including the Malaspina Glacier, one of the largest piedmont glaciers in the world.

Wrangell-St. Elias is a wilderness park with few roads and marked trails, offering a true backcountry experience for those who venture into its expanses. Activities such as hiking, mountaineering, kayaking, and camping allow visitors to immerse themselves in its vast landscapes. The park’s rich history is evident in its historic mining sites and indigenous cultural sites, adding a layer of human history to the natural spectacle.

The park’s size and remote location mean that it remains one of the least visited national parks in the U.S., offering solitude and a sense of adventure to those who explore its wilds. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve represents the very essence of wilderness, challenging visitors to confront the sublime scale and beauty of the natural world.

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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Highlights

Wildlife of the Wilderness

Wrangell-St. Elias is the epitome of Alaskan wilderness and the wildlife reflects then wilderness.  Here are some of the more popular species:

Grizzly Bear

Grizzlies, icons of Alaskan wilderness, roam Wrangell-St. Elias. Fishing for salmon, foraging plants, and scavenging carrion, they maintain ecosystem balance.


Majestic moose, largest in deer family, inhabit Wrangell-St. Elias. Herbivores browsing aquatic plants and shrubs, shaping landscape and enriching biodiversity.

Dall Sheep

With striking white coats and curved horns, Dall sheep navigate Wrangell-St. Elias’s rugged mountains, displaying agility and grace in steep terrain.


Caribou, or reindeer, migrate across Wrangell-St. Elias’s tundra. Forming large herds, they endure harsh Arctic conditions, undertaking epic migrations.


Wolves, apex predators of Wrangell-St. Elias, exhibit complex social behaviors. They hunt in packs, preying on caribou, moose, and smaller mammals.

Bald Eagle

Symbol of American freedom, bald eagles soar over Wrangell-St. Elias’s landscapes. They hunt fish and scavenging carrion, embodying wilderness majesty.


In Wrangell-St. Elias’s rivers, salmon undertake epic journeys, spawning upstream. They’re vital for ecosystem health, sustaining bears, eagles, and other wildlife.

Arctic Tern

Arctic terns, master migrators, grace Wrangell-St. Elias’s skies. They travel from Arctic to Antarctic, covering vast distances, embodying endurance.

Red Fox

Red foxes, adaptable predators, inhabit Wrangell-St. Elias’s forests and tundra. They hunt rodents, birds, and carrion, displaying cunning and agility.


Ptarmigans, arctic grouse, blend with Wrangell-St. Elias’s snowy landscapes. They feed on buds, berries, and insects, camouflaging against predators

Continent's #2

Mount St. Elias, towering at 18,009 feet (5,489 meters), stands as a sentinel of grandeur in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

As the second-highest peak in both the United States and Canada, it commands awe and respect from mountaineers and nature enthusiasts alike. Named after the apostle St. Elias by explorer Vitus Bering in 1741, its sheer vertical rise from the icy Gulf of Alaska is a testament to the titanic geological forces that shaped this landscape.

Mount St. Elias presents a formidable challenge to climbers, with its treacherous weather conditions and complex terrain. Its summit, often shrouded in swirling clouds, is a beacon for those who seek adventure and conquest.

Yet, beyond its mountaineering allure, the mountain serves as a vital part of the ecosystem, influencing weather patterns, supporting diverse flora and fauna, and providing a majestic backdrop to the vast wilderness of the region.

Mount St. Elias, with its imposing presence, embodies both the raw power and delicate beauty of the Alaskan wilderness.

Malaspina Glacier

One of the most iconic glaciers in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the Malaspina Glacier is a sprawling river of ice covering approximately 1,500 square miles (3,900 square kilometers). This massive glacier is known for its impressive size and intricate network of crevasses, icefalls, and seracs.

It is a piedmont glacier, meaning it spills out from the mountains and spreads across a broad plain, making it one of the largest piedmont glaciers in the world. At its thickest point, the Malaspina Glacier reaches depths of over 1,000 feet (305 meters).

Visitors can marvel at its sheer scale and beauty from various viewpoints within the park.

Nabesna Glacier

Another notable glacier within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the Nabesna Glacier, stretching approximately 53 miles (85 kilometers) in length. As one of the longest glaciers in the park, the Nabesna Glacier offers stunning views of its icy expanse, rugged terrain, and surrounding mountain peaks.

It descends from the high peaks of the Wrangell Mountains and flows into the Nabesna River Valley. Visitors can explore the glacier’s terminus area, where ice caves, seracs, and glacial streams create a dynamic and ever-changing landscape.

The Nabesna Glacier provides a captivating glimpse into the power and beauty of glacial processes within the park.

Kennicott Glacier

Nestled amidst the dramatic landscapes of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the Kennicott Glacier is a striking feature of the park’s scenery. Stretching approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) in length, this glacier flows from the towering peaks of the Wrangell Mountains down into the Kennicott Valley.

Visitors to the area can marvel at the glacier’s blue-tinted ice and rugged terrain, as well as explore nearby hiking trails and viewpoints for stunning vistas of the surrounding landscape.

The Kennicott Glacier is also notable for its historical significance, as it played a crucial role in the mining operations that once thrived in the area. Today, it stands as a testament to the park’s natural beauty and rich history.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Pictures

Engaging Wrangell-St. Elias

Hiking in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park: With over 13 million acres to explore, hiking in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park offers endless opportunities to immerse yourself in breathtaking landscapes. Trails range from easy strolls to challenging multi-day treks, showcasing rugged mountains, glaciers, and pristine wilderness. Explore the historic mining sites, spot diverse wildlife, and marvel at the vastness of this remote wilderness.

Experience the sheer scale and grandeur of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park from above with a flightseeing tour. Get a bird’s-eye view of massive glaciers, towering peaks, and remote valleys inaccessible by road.

Fly over the park’s expansive wilderness and witness its raw beauty from a unique perspective. It’s an unforgettable adventure that provides unparalleled photo opportunities and a deep appreciation for the park’s vastness.

Embark on an exhilarating river adventure through the untamed wilderness of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

Whether you’re rafting down the Copper River or kayaking through the park’s pristine lakes and streams, you’ll encounter stunning scenery and thrilling whitewater rapids.

Keep an eye out for wildlife along the riverbanks and immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature as you navigate through this remote wilderness.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Trails

Root Glacier Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: Up to 4 miles round trip with minimal elevation gain

Description: This trail offers hikers the unique opportunity to walk alongside and onto Root Glacier, providing stunning views of the glacier’s blue ice and surrounding peaks. The hike begins in Kennicott and leads through historic mining ruins before reaching the glacier. Ice crampons are recommended for those venturing onto the glacier itself.

Bonanza Mine Trail

Rating: Strenuous

Distance and Elevation Gain: Approximately 9 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 3,800 feet (1,158 meters)

Description: This challenging trail rewards hikers with panoramic views of the Kennicott Glacier, Chitina River Valley, and the surrounding Wrangell Mountains. The trail is steep and rugged, leading to the historic Bonanza Mine ruins. It’s a demanding hike suitable for experienced hikers seeking a glimpse into the area’s mining history and breathtaking landscapes.

McCarthy Creek Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: Variable, up to 8 miles round trip with moderate elevation gain

Description: Following along McCarthy Creek, this trail offers a less traveled path through the heart of the park. Hikers can enjoy the tranquility of the Alaskan wilderness, with opportunities to see wildlife and wildflowers. The trail’s flexibility in distance makes it suitable for a leisurely day hike or a more extended exploration.

Skookum Volcano Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: Approximately 2 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 600 feet (183 meters)

Description: This trail leads through a fascinating volcanic landscape within the Wrangell Volcanic Field, offering views of Skookum Volcano’s lava flows and ash deposits. The trail is well-marked and provides interpretive signs about the area’s geologic history. It’s a unique hike that showcases the volcanic activity that shaped this region.

Nabesna Road Trails

Rating: Varies (Easy to Moderate)

Distance and Elevation Gain: Varies, multiple trails ranging from short walks to longer day hikes

Description: The Nabesna Road offers access to several trails within the park, each showcasing different aspects of the region’s natural beauty, from tundra landscapes to alpine lakes. Trails like the Rambler Mine Trail and the Lost Creek Falls Trail provide opportunities for hikers of all skill levels to explore the northern part of the park and enjoy its scenic vistas and wildlife.


1. What is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park known for?

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is renowned for its immense scale and spectacular wilderness, embodying the essence of Alaska’s raw beauty.

As the largest national park in the United States, it covers an area of over 13 million acres (52,600 km²), making it larger than the countries of Switzerland, Andorra, and San Marino combined.

The park is known for its extraordinary diversity of geological formations, including the volcanoes of the Wrangell Mountain range, the rugged peaks of the St. Elias Mountains, and the vast icefields that feed some of the world’s most spectacular glaciers, such as the Malaspina Glacier, which is larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Wrangell-St. Elias is also home to Mount St. Elias, which, at 18,008 feet (5,489 meters), is the second-highest peak in both the United States and Canada.

Adventure and solitude are in ample supply here, with opportunities for backcountry hiking, mountaineering, kayaking, and flightseeing. Despite its size and the array of activities it offers, the park sees relatively few visitors compared to other national parks, offering an unparalleled sense of wilderness and adventure.

The park is also part of a larger UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its outstanding natural values, including significant glaciology, geology, and ecology components, making it a prime destination for nature lovers, adventurers, and scientists alike.

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  • Britannica, Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • National Geographic, Complete National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Publishing, Washington DC.
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  • National Geographic, National Parks of North America, Canada-United States-Mexico, National Geographic Society, 1995.
  • National Park Service, Wrangell-St. Elias,, retrieved April 2024.
  • Travel Alaska, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • UNESCO, Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek,, retrieved April 2024.
  • US Department of the Interior, 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve,, retrieved April 2024.