After our plane landed in McCarthy, we were left with only limited time to spend inside the park before our ride would be picking us up to bring us back to Chitina. With just enough time to do one short hike, we decided to hike to the root glacier, which we had just seen from the plane as we flew into the park.
After a ten minute shuttle ride from the runway, we arrived in the abandoned mining town of Kennecott. Copper was first discovered here in 1900 and the mines churned out millions of dollars worth of copper until they closed in the 1930’s. The mines themselves are tucked away in the mountains, but the abandoned mill town, where the copper was processed, is only a short walk from the Kennecott visitor center. The decrepit yet stately red buildings lining the mountainside are impressive relics of early 20th century Alaska history. There are guided tours of the old mill buildings, but we were short on time and the glacier wasn’t going to walk on itself.
The trail head of the Root Glacier trail is located about a five minute walk beyond the mill buildings. The access point to the glacier is a two mile hike from the trail head and everyone we asked about the expected hike time estimated that you can get to the glacier and back in an hour and a half if you’re moving quickly. Like we mentioned, time was of the essence, and we managed to complete the four-mile round-trip hike in just over an hour. Since there was minimal elevation gain, we were able to maintain a breakneck pace throughout the hike.
The trail passes through a lightly wooded area with lush tree-covered hills to the right and a mostly dirt-covered glacier to the left before reaching the glacier access point. We spent a few minutes walking on the glacier, but if we weren’t in such a rush, we would have done much more exploring.
We would definitely recommend this as a half day hike if you’re spending time in and around Kennecott/McCarthy. There is also the option to hike an additional two miles to the Erie mine if you want to make it an eight-mile round trip hike total. Either way, it’s not very strenuous, the views are extraordinary, and you get to walk on a glacier.