Wrangell St. Elias National Park is located in the southwest corner of Alaska, United States. The park covers an area of 20,587 square miles (53,321 sq km) making it both the largest national park and the single largest wilderness area in the United States.
The park runs along the southeastern border between Alaska and Canada’s Kluane National Park. Glacier Bay National Park is just to the south. Much of the park accounts for significant portions of the Saint Elias Mountains and the entire Wrangell Range. There are four major mountain ranges converging here which include Alaska, Chugach, St. Elias, and the Wrangell.
UNESCO declared the larger Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek transborder park system a world heritage site. Ecosystems of the park and area include lowlands, wetlands, uplands, sub-alpine, alpine, and permafrost.
Mount St. Elias is the pinnacle attraction of the park and the tallest point in the mountain range. Mount Wrangell is an active volcano with a summit of 14,163 feet (4,317 m) and combines with Mount St. Elias for the park’s namesake.
The park features the Bagley Icefield which accounts for about 60% of the Alaskan landscape that is permanently covered in ice. There are also dozens of renowned glaciers located in the park’s boundaries. It is home to North America’s largest subpolar icefield.
There are several significant rivers traversing the park which include Chisana River, Chitina River, Copper River, and the Nabesna River. The rivers, forests, and varying ecosystems are home to an abundance of Alaska’s big game.
Some of the more exciting wildlife sightings include black bear, brown bear, caribou, coyote, cougar, grizzly bear, lynx, moose, and mountain goats.
There are 21 species of fish including chinook, chum, coho, pink, and sockeye salmon. It is a fisherman’s haven for salmon and trout fishing. The coastline waters feature humpback whales, orcas, porpoises, harbor seals, and sea lions.
Wrangell St. Elias Highlights
This is the largest national park and isolated wilderness area in the United States. The park is blanketed with picturesque landscapes and astounding mountain backdrops. Half of the 70 tallest mountains in Alaska are located in the park.
Mount St. Elias
Mount St. Elias is the tallest mountain in the park with a summit of 18,008 feet (5,489 m). This makes it the second tallest mountain in both Canada and the United States. It is accompanied by 8 other mountains that are within the 16 highest mountains in the country.
Mount Sanford is a volcanic mountain with a summit of 16,237 feet (4,949 m). It is the 13th tallest summit in North America and the tallest of the Wrangell volcanoes. It is blanketed with a large icefield at just over 8,000 feet (2,400 m) which serves as a source for several of the glaciers on the mountain.
The Malaspina Glacier is the largest piedmont glacier in North America. The glacier is currently stagnant and at times even retreating.
The Hubbard Glacier is the longest tidewater glacier in Alaska stretching across a distance of 75 miles (121 km). This glacier has advanced which is uncharacteristic for most glaciers in the area. This is one of the most popular cruise ship destinations for those traveling the inward passage of Alaska.
The Nabesna Glacier is the longest valley glacier in the world expanding a distance of 53 miles (85 km).
Trails of Wrangell St. Elias National Park
Hiking can be rather adventurous in the national park with backpacking endeavors being one of the common ways to explore all that this Alaskan gem has to offer those who venture off into the pristine wilderness. Remember this is the largest national park in the United States, so you can expect longer trails and limitless hiking opportunities.
West Kennecott Glacier Trail: This is an easy and one of the shorter trails in the park. The trail covers a distance of 2.4 miles (3.8 km) and provides views of the Kennecott Glacier.
Crystalline Hills Trail: This is another short 2.8-mile (4.5 km) trail out to a waterfall at Crystalline Hills. This trail is a moderately rated hike.
Root Glacier and Stairway Icefall: This moderate trail covers a distance of 6.5 miles (10.5 km). Along with the picturesque landscapes, there is a chance to see wildlife on this expedition.
Nabesna Road Trail: This is a 43.3-mile (69.7 km) that is rated difficult. It provides views of Nabesna and the surrounding landscape as well as a gorgeous lake.
Caribou Creek Trail: This is a 7-mile (11.3 km) that features panoramic landscapes and beautiful wildflowers.
Hole in the Goat Loop: This is a 46.8-mile (75.3) loop trail that is difficult and requires technical mountaineering skills with ice axe and crampons. This is a multi-day hiking endeavor and participants should be in good physical condition with the appropriate skillset.
Wrangell-St. Elias Highlights
- Mount St Elias
- Mount Sanford
- Malaspina Glacier
- Hubbard Glacier
- Nabesna Glacier
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- National Park Service, Wrangell-St. Elias, https://www.nps.gov/wrst/index.htm, retrieved June 2020.
- Travel Alaska, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, https://www.travelalaska.com/Destinations/Parks-and-Public-Lands/Wrangell-St-Elias-National-Park.aspx, retrieved June 2020.
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- US Department of the Interior, 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, https://www.doi.gov/blog/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-wrangell-st-elias-national-park-preserve, retrieved June 2020.