Erie Mine Trail

by Mike Still
Erie Mine Trail

Last summer, Elizabeth and I won a two-night stay at the Kennicott River Lodge with a private kayak tour of a glacial lake in McCarthy, Alaska! You may have seen last week’s post about our stunning hike up to the Bonanza Mine and I wanted to follow up with the Erie Mine Trail, an easier hike that is an offshoot of the Root Glacier Trail. Erie Mine is high above but the trail stays low for and is much flatter than most hikes in the national park.  Instead, the Eerie Mine trail leads you to a stunning view of the Stairway Icefall and nearby Root Glacier in Wrangell St Elias National Park.

Driving from Anchorage to Wrangell St Elias National Park takes 6-8 hours and is a beautiful drive through Alaska on the Glen, Richardson & Edgerton Highways.

The road to McCarthy takes you nearly 60 miles past the Wrangell mountains on what is locally remembered as an awful road.  But, this past trip wasn’t full of as many potholes or frost heaves as my previous two drives from anchorage to McCarthy thanks to a recent road regrading.  The gravel road took us just over 1.5 hours. Kennecott Mill town is a National Historic Landmark and this view of Kennecott Mill & Mining buildings is from the Kennicott River Lodge.

We arrived at the Kennicott River Lodge by midday after camping on the Copper River the night before and ate a quick lunch before checking in and talking to the staff about the different trails. The flattest option was an easy choice for a half-day hike and we hopped on our bikes to ride to the Eerie Mine Trailhead. 

The Eerie Mine bunkhouse is high up above Root Glacier, a few miles beyond Kennecott, and reaching the bunkhouse promises hours of bushwhacking.  We decided that was more intense than we wanted for the afternoon and opted to stay along the Eerie Mine Trail which skirts Root Glacier’s lateral moraine taking you gradually uphill.  Instead of aiming for mining buildings, we would enjoy a glacier view, and hopefully, catch an up-close glimpse of the Stairway Icefall.  

Stairway Icefall is over a mile of vertical glacier ice and a stunning scene that should be on every nature lover’s bucket list. I first saw the Stairway Icefall in 2019 when Ben, Jenae, and I camped at the toe of Root Glacier and enjoyed a guided glacier hike with St. Elias Guides.  The massive icefall climbs 7,000 of vertical ice and captured my attention back then but on this trip, I wanted to try and get a closer view.  

Today’s hike along the Eerie Mine Trail followed the eastern flank of Root Glacier but it started in Kennecott so we biked the 5 miles of gravel road from McCarthy to Kennecott passing the famous red mill buildings and starting on the flat Root Glacier Trail.  The Eerie trailhead is about 2 miles down this gravelly path and was one of my first enjoyable “single track” bike rides.  I was happily stable despite loose rocks and steep downhill sections.  Elizabeth road her mountain bike with a full suspension, while I navigated her cross bike, an off-road bike built more for speed than comfort.  The experience was fun and even though I did just fine on the cross bike, it has me considering buying a mountain bike of my own.  

Throughout Kennecott and along the root glacier trail we saw many other hikers, with one older gentleman who stopped to take a picture of us biking down the trail!  A few miles from Kennecott we came to Jumbo Creek and the bridge combined with a nearby steep trail and loose rocks convinced us to lock our bikes up and hike the rest of the way.   In hindsight, we probably could have walked a few sections and kept biking another mile or two until avalanche debris blocked part of the trail.

Shortly after Jumbo Creek, there is a left turn for Root Glacier with clear signs marking Eerie Mine Trail straight ahead. The Eerie trail heads into the woods and is much less frequented so remember to be bear aware!  We didn’t see anyone else after this fork but thankfully didn’t see a lot of bear or moose signs either. 

The trail is straightforward and easy to follow.  It is well maintained for the first mile after the fork, but had multiple sections of avalanche debris that were not yet cleared.  Seeing huge swaths of forest flattened by an avalanche is a humbling experience that hints at the destructive power of these chaotic events.  Thankfully there wouldn’t be any avalanches in mid-June and the debris that crossed the trail was easy to navigate through.  

We caught glimpses of the Root Glacier through the trees to our left and occasionally Donoho Peak as well. A few more avalanches crossed the trail, this time leaving snow patches that were easy to cross in our sneakers, we didn’t even posthole on the densely packed snow and the trail was easy to follow.  

Mount Donoho is often referred to as the “crocodile peak” and creates a contrasting backdrop to the icy Root Glacier below.

The trail opened to some small bouldering sections with steep embankments sliding down to Root Glacier.  We stayed a healthy distance away from the edge and enjoyed a growing view of the Stairway Icefall.  Snaking past a few more hills I kept saying “Let’s just see the view at the next hill” but eventually decided to enjoy a snack before heading home.   I’m not sure how much further the trail went since it disappeared into the boulders of a landslide but we positively loved the views on the way home too.

Our hike and bike back were easy enough and the Eerie Mine Trail was a great way to start our 3 days in McCarthy!  Stay tuned for a new post with more things to do in McCarthy.  Comment below if you have any questions about the trail.

If you enjoyed this post then read about our last hike to the Bonanza Mine Trail or check out some of the other Alaskan adventures below:

Recommended Reading for Alaska Travel & Hiking

 

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Mike Still
Mike is a travel enthusiast, photographer and teacher. He loves adventure travel, meeting the locals and exploring new culture. As an outdoor enthusiast you can often find him hiking mountains or exploring forests trying to capture the beauty of mother nature. In 2013 he founded www.LiveTravelTeach.com as he left his home in America and has been teaching or traveling around the world ever since!

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