Glacier hiking & a packrafting festival in lawless McCarthy, AK

We made the most of our time in McCarthy, Alaska with a glacier hike, riverside camping, hanging out with the locals, and cheering on a packrafting race.

Base Camp Campground

We stayed at Base Camp Campground at the end of McCarthy Road. It was $20/night with no hook-ups, but there are beautiful campsites right on the river.

base camp campground mccarthy alaska.

The reason for the snarky comment about the size of our rigs is that they tried to talk us into camping away from the river because we were so large and would take up too much prime real estate. They had us park the cars in a different lot for an additional $5/night.

driving to our campsite at base camp campground mccarthy alaska.

Meanwhile, there were long trailers still hooked up to giant Dooley trucks parked parallel to the river. So we made a triangle with our RVs and took up as little space as possible, but you bet your ass we took spots on the river.

our campsite at base camp in mccarthy alaska.

view of our campsite from the foot bridge base camp campground mccarthy alaska.

They have a vault toilet. But that’s the only “service.”

vault toilet at base camp campground mccarthy alaska.

The campground is conveniently located right next to the footbridge into McCarthy. Non-residents aren’t allowed to drive into town.

You can also walk to a lake with some small icebergs from the other side of the campground. You’ll get some beautiful photo ops from over there.

scenery around base camp campground mccarthy alaska.

scenery around base camp campground mccarthy alaska.

scenery around base camp campground mccarthy alaska.

Town of McCarthy

McCarthy has less than 50 residents, but the population can swell quite a bit in the summer with tourists. There are a couple of inns and lodges in McCarthy and Kennecott.

ma johnson hotel mccarthy alaska.

The nearest law enforcement is back in Chitina. So anything goes, to some extent. The closest we saw to lawlessness was the free-range dogs. Because the town is pretty isolated in the winter months, residents have to be pretty self-reliant. If you ask a local, they will know who can help you with whatever problem you might have.

old car by the footbridge to mccarthy alaska.

old car by the footbridge to mccarthy alaska.

community drinking water for mccarthy alaska.

Verizon is the only cell signal in town. The shuttle drivers also serve as a messaging and delivery system. Paul left his credit card in Kennecott, and it came back to him via shuttle.

There’s so much more to say about McCarthy, but you should experience it. It’s on my short list of places to go if I don’t want to be found. I guess I shouldn’t have told you all that.

old general store in mccarthy alaska.

truck in mccarthy alaska.

old building in mccarthy alaska.

truck in front of fallen building in mccarthy alaska.

community garden in mccarthy alaska.

Jökulhlaup

A jökulhlaup is when an ice dam breaks an releases the water and ice chunks. One happened the day before we arrived in McCarthy. The locals celebrate by partying on the bridge until the wee hours of the morning. The jökulhlaup might be why the river was running so hard when we got there. Too bad we missed the big event!

Vegan options in McCarthy

The Potato

The Potato had fries, as you might expect from a place called The Potato. They also had a hummus plate that you can leave off the tzatziki and feta. It was enough to make a light meal. And there was a pickle plate that they make in-house. All of it was good.

Golden Saloon

The Golden Saloon has a vegan option for their banh mi sandwich and pho. Unexpectedly good!

menu for the golden saloon mccarthy alaska.

vegan banh mi at the golden saloon mccarthy alaska.

General Store

There’s a general store in McCarthy that has a couple of vegan staples. We saw Dave’s Killer Bread, Field Roast Sausages, and Hail Mary Tarts among other things. Come prepared, but you won’t starve to death.

Hiking the Root Glacier

To get to the Root Glacier trail [pdf], you can take a van from the footbridge or McCarthy to Kennecott for $5. If you want to ride bikes or walk the distance is about 5 miles. The trail starts at the end of Kennecott.

laura and kevin on the mccarthy footbridge.

root glacier access sign.

view of root glacier.

waterfall on the root glacier trail.

But, if you want to use crampons on the glacier, bring your own or rent them in McCarthy. You can’t rent them in Kennecott.

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Another option is to go with a guide. The folks at Kennecott Wilderness Guides were nice and helpful. That said, we didn’t go too far or do anything crazy, and we didn’t have any problems.

hiking to root glacier.

wearing crampons on root glacier.

kevin posing on root glacier.

kevin and laura on root glacier.

water on root glacier.

a pool on root glacier.

weird chasm on root glacier.

spiral chasm on root glacier.

mini river of runoff on root glacier.

root glacier.

Packrafting Festival and Race

Kennecott Wilderness Guides also hosts a packrafting event, and we just happened to be in town for it.

We rode our bikes into town and cheered on the race participants. After seeing them take those inflatable Alpacka rafts through some rough rapids, we want to get our own!

packraft race in mccarthy alaska.

All in all, we had a fantastic time in McCarthy. Bring your adventurous nature, and you’ll have a blast there.

Next post: vegan items at Costco in Anchorage

Check out all the videos in our Alaska 2018 adventure here.

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Laura Nunemaker

About the Author

Laura Nunemaker

vegan. digital nomad. cycling. scuba. intj. former vegan bakery owner.

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