Article Overview: Visiting Chitina, Alaska
Driving through Chitina, Alaska sort of reminds me of where I grew up in the south; just without the massive mountains, waterfalls, gushing rivers, and large mammals. The broke down cars, the disheveled cabins tucked away against the forests edge, the divisive political signage, and the shotgun holes in the street signs all warm my frozen heart and make me feel like I’m driving through rural Georgia again.
This little town by the river on the edge of civilization shouldn’t be overlooked. Nestled amidst the towering peaks of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and cradled by the mighty Copper River, Chitina, Alaska, holds a special place in the state’s history. It isn’t the bustling bomb town it once was, instead it serves travelers and explorers as the gateway to America’s largest national park.
Why Trust Us Regarding Chitina, Alaska
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My Experience with Chitina, Alaska
I passed through Chitina, Alaska every couple weeks for a year while working in McCarthy for National Geographic Channel. Wether we were coming or going, hitting Chitina was a big deal, it was either the last liquor store going in or the end of the rough McCarthy road coming out! After 3-4 weeks of living in dry cabins, hitting a paved road and finding the edge of civilization always felt good.
While we never spent much time in Chitina, Alaska my crew and I always appreciated it. During the winter months it was more of a symbolic mile marker, but on the shoulder months and in the summer its amenities were an oasis in the frozen Alaskan desert.
Furthermore, as a cinematographer always looking for a pretty shot, passing through the mountain and crossing the copper river always offered some inspiration. The area, no matter the time of year, is stunning and super unique. The copper river is always doing something wild and I could watch the salmon fish wheels for hours. Chitina, Alaska is strange bird all its own, I hope you enjoy this article about it.
Table of Contents: Chitina, Alaska
Table of contents
- Why Trust Us Regarding Chitina, Alaska
- My Experience with Chitina, Alaska
- Chitina, Alaska
- Chitina, Alaska History
- Things to do in Chitina, Alaska
- The Road to McCarthy, Gateway to the Wild
- When to visit Chitina, Alaska
- Chitina, Alaska Hotels and Amenities
- Getting to Chitina, Alaska
- Dip Netting in Chitina, Alaska
- Chitina, Alaska Map
Chitina, Alaska History
From Indigenous Echoes: Chitina, Alaska boasts a rich and storied history that dates back thousands of years. The area, originally inhabited by the Ahtna Athabascan people, was a vital hunting and fishing ground long before the arrival of European settlers.
The Lure of Copper: In 1900, the discovery of copper near Kennecott Glacier sparked a gold rush, drawing prospectors and homesteaders like moths to a flame. Chitina, strategically located at the foot of the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, quickly blossomed into a vibrant boomtown. The iconic Copper River & Northwestern Railroad, completed in 1911, became the town’s lifeblood, transporting ore and supplies while fueling its growth.
Bustle and Bust: For nearly three decades, Chitina bustled with hotels, saloons, and general stores catering to miners, and railroad workers. However, the prosperity of Chitina, Alaska was short-lived. By the 1930s, the copper mines began to decline, and the railway fell into neglect, leading to a decline in population and economic activity. The town became somewhat of a ghost town.
Beyond the Boom: In recent decades, Chitina has experienced a small resurgence, fueled in part by the growth of tourism and outdoor recreation in the region. Today, the town serves as a gateway to the vast wilderness of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, attracting visitors from around the world eager to explore its rugged beauty.
While much has changed since its early days, Chitina, Alaska retains its frontier spirit and rugged charm, offering visitors a glimpse into Alaska’s rich history.
Things to do in Chitina, Alaska
There ain’t a ton of stuff to do in Chitina, but there are some pretty unique things this little hamlet offers. It’s a great place to break up the long drive between Anchorage and McCarthy, or to stock up on supplies before heading down the bumpy McCarthy road. Here’s a list of some things to do while visiting Chitina, Alaska:
Watch the Fish Wheels
These weird contraptions look like something out of Kevin Costner’s Waterworld. You’ll see these ingenious devices on the banks of the copper river as you pass over the blank bridge, just outside of Chitina. These mechanical fishing devices are used by Alaska Natives to catch migrating salmon swimming up the river. I’ve been all over Alaska and I’ve never seen them anywhere else.
The subsistence fish wheels are essentially water mills made out of netting that turns with the rivers current. The wheel is mounted on a floating platform or anchored to the riverbank, allowing it to be positioned in the current of the river. As the river flows, the fish wheel turns, scooping up fish that swim into its baskets or nets. Once caught, the fish are lifted out of the water and deposited into a collection bin or chute for retrieval by the operator. Freaking awesome.
Soak Up the History
Chitina, Alaska’s rich history seeps through as you wander its rustic streets. Once a bustling boomtown fueled by the nearby Kennecott Copper Mine, the town has seen busier days, but glimpses of what it used to look like still remain. If you’re a history buff, Chitina is certainly an interesting point of interest in the states history.
Explore the Chitina Ranger Station, located in the historic Ed S. Orr Cabin. The historic cabin displays photographs and info from the days when Chitina was a major transportation hub. Then move on and discover the historic tinsmith building in town. It was constructed in the early 1900s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it houses the Spirit Mountain Artworks Building, serving as an art gallery for visitors to explore. Then cap of your history tour with a stay at the Chitina Hotel, the 100 year old lodging hall is dripping in old frontier nostalgia, with updated comforts.
Liberty Falls State Recreation Site offers easy access to its namesake waterfall and creek, creating a serene backdrop for camping adventures. Surrounded by the majestic Wrangell Mountains, the campground operates on a first-come, first-served basis. The nearby Liberty Falls Trail is a scenic two-mile trek with panoramic views of the Copper River and surrounding landscapes.
The Road to McCarthy, Gateway to the Wild
Today Chitina, Alaska primarially serves as the gateway to the vast and untouched Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the United States. While the small town also turns into a bustling red salmon hotspot for dip netting locals, it marks the edge of civilization for everyone else.
Unfortunately Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is one of the lesser visited parks. It’s just not super easy to get to, but Chitina is making it a little easier. Use Chitina to stock up and get ready for an adventure of a life time. The park is a great place to hike through epic valleys, climb mountain peaks, kayak glacier lakes, or embark on a backpacking adventure into the heart of the wilderness. It’s truly one of the worlds greatest hidden gems.
If you want a full guide on traveling form Anchorage to McCarthy check out our article: Anchorage to McCarthy, Alaska: The Journey is the Destination
When to visit Chitina, Alaska
Winter is tough, let me tell ya. For most of the shows I work on, the network wants the “harsh realities of living off the grid in rural Alaska” That means filming when its cold and miserable outside, so thats when I’ve spent most of my time in places like Chitina, Alaska.
I’ve been through Chitina nearly every month of the year, and during the winter months it’s a total ghost town. The folks that stay in town are inside next to their woods stoves. Plums of smoke coming out of chimneys are the only activity you might see for days. If you’re planning a trip to the park, you’ll want to come in the summer anyway, as the conditions can be brutal. Visit Chitina, Alaska and the surrounding areas from May to September.
Chitina, Alaska Hotels and Amenities
Disclaimer: Chitina is a remote location, so be prepared for limited amenities and unpredictable weather, especially during winter months. Pack accordingly, respect the solitude of locals, and don’t assume everything will be open, its best to call ahead.
Chitina Guest Cabins
Located just north of town, Chitina guest cabins offer individual cabin rentals on a beautiful hillside. Every booking comes with an evening salmon snack tray and an optional tour of their fish wheel. Breakfast and freshly ground coffee are severed in the main cabin.
Phone: (907) 823-2288 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gilpatrick’s Hotel Chitina
If you need a room for the night in Chitina, Alaska, Kilpatrick’s hotel is the place. A relic from a the past, this 100 year old hotel is an operational time-capsule to past life in the old frontier. It’s not all candles and wool blankets though, the local owners have done a nice job of renovating the place. “All rooms have queen beds & private bathrooms. There is a full service restaurant, saloon, and beer garden.” The Chitina, Alaska hotel is open from May 1 to October 15.
Phone: 1-907-823-2244 Email: email@example.com
Wrangell View RV Park
A little outside of Chitina, Alaska and next to the “airport”, is Wrangell View RV Park. They are the sole RV park near the entrance of Wrangell St. Elias National Park offering full hookups. Sites include readily available electric, water, and sewer hookups.
Wrangell view store
The last stop before you exit town and head down the dusty (or Icy, depending on the time of year) McCarthy Road, Wrangell view store carries a variety of grocery and convenience items, as well as fishing and dip netting permits. They say they’re open all year, but sometimes they might be out of gas, so fill up if you can.
Phone: (907) 823-2265
Uncle Tom’s Tavern
Chitina, Alaska’s local watering hole. If you’re in town and need a drink, this is the only spot to get one. It’s chock full of the normal dead things hanging on walls. There’s a pool table, occasional live music, and friendly service. Saddle up partner!
Besides the restaurant at Gilpatrick’s, which you have to be a guest of the hotel to eat at, Grubstakes is THE place to get a meal in town. And they only operate on limited hours during the summer months. So don’t count on getting a meal, but if you do, they serve massive $22 burgers and $16 hot dogs. Gotta love those Alaska prices baby!
Phone: (907) 202-2575
Spirit Mountain Artworks
This seasonal art store in Chitina, Alaska is renowned for its diverse collection of fine art, crafts, and unique gifts from the works of 100 different Alaskan artists. Its situated in a historic “false-front” building and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Getting to Chitina, Alaska
Chitina, Alaska is literally at the end of the road, the paved road anyway. So it takes some time to get here, but thankfully there are some options on how to do that. You could always rent a car and make the trek from Anchorage, its around a 6 hour drive, depending on road conditions.
Just be aware, if you plan on continuing on to the park, some rental car companies won’t allow you to drive past Chitina on the hazardous McCarthy Road.So if you prefer to snap photos out the window and not worry about rental contracts, you could charter a flight or take a bus.
Chitina, Alaska Airport
They use the term “airport” liberally here. The Chitina, Alaska airpot is a strip north of town. Wrangell Mountain Air offers daily flights to McCarthy. Scheduled flights cost around $130 each way.
The Kennicott Shuttle departs from Glennallen and has two stops in Chitina, Alaska. One at the airport and one at the gateway. The shuttle provides transportation to the Kennicott River Footbridge in McCarthy. Roundtrips are around $150.
Phone: 907.822.5292 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dip Netting in Chitina, Alaska
Salmon can be caught from June 7 to September 30, following Emergency Order schedules based on Miles Lake sonar escapement estimates. Participation is restricted to Alaska residents with a valid sport fishing license and Chitina Subdistrict Personal Use Fishing Permit. Which is obtainable online for a $15 fee. Permit funds support maintenance and sanitation services.
Dipnetters must log catches on permits, clip fish tails before leaving the site, and report harvests online by October 15 to maintain eligibility for the following year’s permit. Failure to report will result in permit denial. Check out the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website for more details.
Dip Netting Charters in Chitina, Alaska
If you’re a local Alaskan and want to take advantage of the bountiful natural resource that is, Copper river Sockeye Salmon, Chitina, Alaska is the place to do it. It’s hard to find a more efficient way of harvesting the succulent species.
These guys do it all. They offer multiple different charters catering to full day fishing or an express 2.5 hour option. They also operate a tent campground and RV park with firewood and ice for purchase.
Phone: (907) 903-2329 Email: email@example.com
Chitina, Alaska Map
Here’s a map of Chitina, Alaska and some noteworthy points of interest.