McCarthy Alaska, at the dead end of a 59 mile gravel road in the countries largest National Park, with a winter population ranging between 14-45 people depending on who you ask. The town itself is accessible via a footbridge spanning the Kennicott River and a short walk along a dirt road. Locals only can drive across a homemade looking metal bridge further down river if they pay an annual fee. Once in town you can visit several local guide companies offering trips over and under the Root Glacier, flights to view the vast wilderness and some of the tallest peaks in North America, rafting, kayaking and packrafting down the glacial rivers, backcountry tours and first assent expeditions. You can also entertain yourself with a stroll through the free museum or the local artist store.
You can pick up snacks or basic food needs, many at prices reflecting the remoteness of the location, at the General Store. Most locals and visitors alike can be found at The Golden Saloon on the corner for drinks, dinner of a surprisingly fresh assortment of healthy options, conversation on the front deck and dirt road or the late night gatherings for open mic, trivia and other much anticipated weekly activities. Homemade photo collages decorate the bathrooms boasting two rare to find public flush toilets. If you prefer fine dining an award winning menu can be found next to the saloon at the McCarthy Lodge, but the late night rowdy fun next door will likely lure the fine dinners in for an after dinner drink at the saloon.
Friday night is the often talked about, everybody invited to play, community softball game. Special rules include "all kids get on base" and "girls can't strike out". The starting time of the game is loose, but it begins when the crowd wanders from the bar to the field and ends when they return afterwards.
Great food and espresso can also be found at The Roadside Potato, a small truck sized kitchen with a screened in porch and an eating counter stacked with Mr. Potatohead toys to be played with, as well as books, maps and magazines to thumb through. You can also sit a wooden picnic table out front where you can not only share the table with the other locals or travelers but also share in great conversation and plenty of attention from the local dogs who wander the town in what seems to be a pure pup paradise. An area for public notices has a colorful mix of homemade signs offering "Artist for Hire" who suggests "Outhouse beautification, furniture, wall murals or portraits of your dog/kid/four wheeler", a "Free essential oil spa night", "Craft night" at a locals home from "round 8pm 'till whenever or what will work best for all" or a variety of "Homesteading services".
For those not camping or staying on the outskirts of town, either across the footbridge or five miles up the dirt road at the old Kennecott copper mining site, lodging can be found on the one main dirt intersection in town at Ma Johnson's or Lancaster's Backpacker Hotel.
Until recent cell service for Verizon users became available, the only phone to reach local numbers was a free payphone found next to the bar or across the footbridge. These phones still operate for the use of most who do not have phone or internet service in this remote Alaska town.
Power is provided by generators. Several well maintained community outhouses can be found along the walk into town. Bathing is done in a sauna or a dip in the local swimming hole for many who work and live in McCarthy. Community drinking water can be found at two different sources asking you to "respect the area" which allows you to dip your bottles directly into a pool or running stream from nearby spring sources.
The backdrop to this tiny, unique Alaskan town is an enormous icefall, two huge glaciers, and snow capped mountain peaks which includes the fifth highest peak in the U.S, Mt. Blackburn. The landscape is incredibly dramatic, the surrounding wilderness is indescribably vast, the people are friendly and the town is like no other I have ever visited in Alaska. McCarthy is currently one of my two favorite spots in this state, the other I will write about some another time.