Weekend at Base Camp: Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge

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It’s not surprising that Alaska is home to the nation’s largest national park, but you might be surprised that, unlike Denali, many Alaskans have never even been there. Driving through miles of wilderness to the Copper River Valley towards Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is a steady reminder that you’re headed off-the-beaten path. Yet when you get there, there’s no shortage of amenities. Just south of the Glenn Highway junction and two hours north of Valdez is the 85-room Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge. The brick-red exterior of the lodge pops against the green and blue backdrop of forests and mountains, a sight you’ll see again when visiting the ghost town of Kennicott. Between exploring the once booming mining town, flying over glaciers thousands of years in the making and casting a line along banks that can still be considered a “local” hotspot, it’s a bit like traveling back in time. And you’ll leave wondering why you waited so long to visit in the first place.


9 a.m. No combat-fishing zone

Whether you’re a serious angler or just finally ready to see what all the fuss is about, you’ll want to take advantage of the lodge’s proximity to the Copper and Klutina rivers. Since the area is lesser known to travelers, you won’t see any combat fishing along these banks (we won’t tell if you won’t), which is a refreshing change of pace regardless of how many fish — or fish tales — you’ve racked up over the years. The full- or half-day Salmon Fishing by Raft adventure begins with a float trip through the scenic tributaries of the Copper River to some local hotspots to fish for king and red salmon. If you feel a need for speed, a similar experience is offered via the Jet Boat Salmon Fishing adventure.

3 p.m. Aerial views

While Denali flightseeing offers the chance to view the gigantic beast that is Mount McKinley, this park’s peaks don’t stop at just one. Aside from being the largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias boasts nine of the highest mountains in the country and contains 13.2-million acres. On the one-hour, you’ll fly above the 16,327-foot Mount Sanford and its 9,000-foot vertical wall as well as glaciers, valleys and rare mud volcanoes.

7 p.m. Bar basics and local favorites

The Whistle Stop Bar and Grill is a casual place to load up on local bar favorites from smoked salmon spread and crab cakes to baby-back ribs and frosty Alaska-brewed ales. Open late, the restaurant makes it a point to incorporate fresh fare from the surrounding area including Copper River salmon, halibut, scallops and even the ice cream, which is made at the Matanuska Creamery in Wasilla. Of course you’ll see buffalo and reindeer on the menu with items like the Miners Game Loaf Sandwich, a blend of buffalo and reindeer with bacon, bell peppers and onions served open face and topped with barbeque sauce and cheddar cheese.


7 a.m. Morning views

Grab coffee and pastries from Dragonfly Espresso (opens at 6 a.m.) and head to the Wrangell Room to start the day beneath 25-foot ceilings and two-story windows looking out onto Mount Wrangell. It’s really not a bad way to caffeinate. For a more formal breakfast, the Two Rivers Restaurant offers a selection of pancakes and omelets.

9 a.m. Ghost town

The once booming copper mining town of Kennicott and neighboring McCarthy are the crown jewel of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Day trips will reveal a look back to their heyday when a staggering $200 million in copper was harvested from the hills. Two full-day excursions are available to explore the fascinating history of the town and tour the 14-story mill building where much of the original equipment is still intact. The Fly/Drive to Kennicott and McCarthy begins with a three-hour drive along the McCarthy Road and returns by plane.

7 p.m. Surf or turf

Settle in for dinner at the Two Rivers Restaurant where the name alone gets your mouth watering for some fresh Alaska salmon. But if you’ve had enough salmon back home (or maybe you plan on taking some home), cast your eyes towards the fresh game on the menu, including Wild Game Stuffed Mushrooms, brimming with buffalo and reindeer meat and topped with goat cheese. Or enjoy a 14-ounce “McCarthy cut” of prime rib — big meat for the biggest national park.


9 a.m. Something unique amongst the usual treats

Normally I might agree that gift shops in Alaska are a gold nugget a dozen, but the added flavor of the mining history of this area makes the Copper River Princess gift shop worth a stop. Here you can pick up postcards made from real copper, a testament of the Kennecott Copper Mine, which harvested some of the richest deposits ever found. It is always a treat to browse the ivory and whalebone sculptures and of course, to load up on some fudge for the drive home.

10 a.m. And away we go

Adventures in this region aren’t just limited to mountains and rivers. From the lodge, drive south and wind through some of the most pristine scenery in the state. The Richardson Highway — Alaska’s first road — is one of those before-you-die scenic experiences, with peeks of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and some of the best glacier viewing in Alaska. The staff at the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge can help you book an excursion in Valdez to tack on even more adventure. The marine life in Prince William Sound is prominent and easily seen from a boat tour, such as the Prince William Sound Columbia Glacier Cruise. Or paddle into massive floating ice fields on the Sea Kayaking at Columbia Glacier adventure.

The Basics

The Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge is set against the scenery of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park on 200 acres at the junction of the Copper and Klutina Rivers. A five-hour drive from Anchorage and just two hours north of Valdez, this is the ideal base camp for exploring the nation’s largest national park, Prince William Sound and every place in between.

The Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge will be open this summer from June 3 – Aug. 31.

“Weekend at Base Camp” is a blog series that shares how you can plan a weekend escape full of adventures to enjoy our Alaska-sized backyard.