We recommend GoNorth Travel and Car Rental. This firm allows their vehicles on gravel roads. There are other national firms that allow their vehicles on gravel roads too.
Over the years, the State of Alaska has performed lots of work along the road and it is in great shape! There is a complete layer of new gravel over the old roadbed that virtually eliminates any rail spikes. This doesn’t mean you won’t have a flat tire but if you do it’ll likely be caused by a sharp stone and not a rail spike. The entire length of the roadway has had the shoulders brushed in the last few years although there are areas that could use another cutting. Besides all of this work, the State has replaced and added culverts in many places and made ditches along the roadway to prevent water from accumulating on the road bed and from washing out the road surface. There are still a couple of areas that have problems but they are few and far between now.
You can now get gasoline at Chitina. They are open 24/7 all year long.
Use caution when driving the road. Watch your speed so you don’t get surprised by a corner or a bump or other traffic or even, if you’re lucky, a moose on the road. Stop and check out the views at pullouts, go for a hike at the Crystalline Hills trail or along the Gilahina River. When you are here at the Gilahina check out the trestle just upstream. This trestle was built in 10 days in January of 1910 during brutal cold weather. It is about 880 feet long and over 90 feet tall in the middle. Not only that, but it burned down in a fire and was rebuilt in 1924, I think!
Try out our new Google Map below. I like to hit the “full screen [ ]” button in the upper right corner and look at the larger map. You can zoom in or out for a more comprehensive view if you’d like. There are also three sets of directions for getting to us at Currant Ridge. The drive from Valdez will take about 4 hours and involves making one right turn toward Chitina and not a single stop light or stop sign in the way! The driving times are conservative and it is likely you’ll take a little less time to make these drives. I encourage you to take your time and enjoy the ride.
McCarthy Road Description
Mile 0.0 Chitina Wayside. This wayside has the first of four state-maintained outhouse facilities on the road to McCarthy. The next available outhouse is at Mile 17.2 at the Kuskulana Bridge. Great news! The entire length of the McCarthy Road has been gravelled by the State of Alaska.
Mile 0.1 This 16-foot wide road-cut was originally the only tunnel on the railroad between Chitina and Kennecott, but loose material kept collapsing on the railroad. After you pass through this road-cut, you are treated to panoramic views of the Copper and Chitina River confluence.
Mile 1.1 Notice the fish wheels up river, operated by residents with subsistence fishing permits. The salmon runs include Copper River red, king and silver salmon. The original railroad trestle was washed out annually during break up and spring floods. The current Copper River Bridge was built in 1971 at a cost of $3.5 million.
Mile 1.5 The Kotsina Bluffs are volcanic deposits, shaped by the winds.
Mile 3.0 Starting here after the Kotsina Bluffs the road now has a hard surface to it all of the way to the Kuskulana Bridge. Keep your speed down and watch out for potholes!
Mile 5.5 A nice Chitina River overlook.
Mile 10.1 Public fishing access for rainbow trout and silver salmon via 0.3 mile trail to Strelna Lake.
Mile 10.8 Public access for good rainbow trout fishing at Silver Lake and Van Lake.
Mile 11.9 Sculpin Lake, with pedestrian access only, also has good rainbow trout fishing.
Mile 14.8 The road to Nugget Creek is located across from the Strelna airstrip, which parallels the McCarthy Road.
Mile 17.2 The Kuskulana Bridge. Built in 1910, is 525 feet long and 238 feet above the Kuskulana River. Before 1988, vehicles had to pass over wide open gaps on the wooden decking of the bridge with only 18-inch safety rails on either side. Now, this 3-span steel bridge has solid wooden decking and sturdy safety rails, along with gorgeous views of a deep river canyon. There is a state maintained outhouse on the east side of the bridge. This is where the hard surface ends and you get back on gravel.
Mile 25 Chokosna Lake area has views of Mt. Blackburn. It is a great place to observe permafrost vegetation (black spruce forest) and wildlife including swans, eagles, and salmon (in late summer).
Mile 29 The Gilahina Trestle This wooden trestle is about 880 feet long and 90 feet high and was built in 1911 with a half million board feet of timber. There is a short hiking trail and a state maintained outhouse located on the downstream side of the road. On the north side, there are chances to view the trestle structure (please respect private property).
Mile 34.9 The Crystalline Hills trail parking area. This is a very nice maintained trail that ascends up on to the shoulder of the Crystalline Hills.
Mile 35 Moose Lake has views of the Crystalline Hills along with wildlife viewing.
Mile 41 Crystal Lake has views of Crystalline Hills and Chugach Mountains.
Mile 44 The Lakina River Bridge. This bridge is likely to be under construction in 2016 so expect short delays on the drive in to McCarthy here. When the salmon are spawning it is common to spot bears along this stretch of the river. Please respect private property along the river.
Mile 46 Wildlife refuge at Long Lake. Please respect private property along Long Lake.
Mile 51 Views of Castle Peak and Mt. Blackburn.
Mile 55 Department of Natural Resources wayside with information about local fire history and spruce bark beetle infestations. There is a state maintained outhouse at this wayside.
Mile 56.7 Driveway to Currant Ridge.
Mile 59.5 The end of the McCarthy Road. Parking and a pedestrian footbridge to McCarthy and Kennecott.