Chitina -- Chitina lost its reason to exist in 1938, when the last train ran on the Copper River line, but it lives on with 125 residents supporting themselves largely with salmon from the river, produce from their gardens, berries from the forests, and the few tourists who stop. There's a general store and a couple of gas stations (the last gas for many miles), a wayside interpretive area at the site of the old depot, a pond where you can often see trumpeter swans, and, down by the river, lazily rotating fish wheels plucking salmon from the river. The Copper River is too turbid for angling, but clear-water tributaries and stocked lakes in the area have fish.
Kennecott -- This has got to be one of the world's greatest ghost towns, with some 40 buildings, mostly in good enough condition to be reused today -- indeed, until the current park service restoration project began, the community still played basketball in one structure. Some historic buildings have become lodgings, and the park service is using others. Locals still pick rhubarb and chives from the company garden. History has the same kind of immediacy here that you get from holding an old diary in your hand, quite different from the sanitized history-through-glass that you're used to at more accessible sites.
The Park Service bought most of the buildings a few years ago. On the eve of the takeover, items remained out on the ground that would be in museums in many places. If Kennecott were an ordinary industrial site, that would be interesting enough, but this place was something well out of the ordinary: an outpost beyond the edge of the world where men built a self-contained city a century ago. The hardship of the miners' lives and the ease of the managerial families' lives also present a fascinating contrast. The stabilization and restoration work continues, so the tour gets better every year.
You can take in some of the story by wandering around with a walking tour booklet available from the Park Service and reading signs, but it would be a big mistake to miss going inside the buildings -- and to do that, you need to join a guided tour with St. Elias Alpine Guides (tel. 888/933-5427 or 907/345-9048). They have an office in the old Chinese laundry right in the ghost town. Tours, which happen three times daily, last 2 1/2 hours and go into real depth on the geology and history, climbing to the perilous 14th floor of the mill building. I've never been on another tour like it: fascinating, challenging, and even exciting; I cannot recommend it strongly enough. They operate mid-May to mid-September and charge $25 per person. Consider making a day of it by adding a glacier-hiking trip with the same company. The guides will arrange a custom tour, too.
McCarthy -- McCarthy feels authentic as soon as you walk down the dirt main street between the false fronts. There are flight service offices to arrange a trip out, a lodge, hotel, and a few other businesses. Then, a street beyond, unbroken wilderness for hundreds and perhaps thousands of miles. On a summer evening, young backpackers and locals stand on porches meeting and talking, laughing loudly, creating a small-town scene from another era. Visitors quickly mix in, as everyone seems eager to talk about the town and its history and their own peculiar wilderness lives. The people here know it's unique, and everyone hopes it doesn't change much. There are no tourist attractions in McCarthy other than a tiny museum with fun old items such as a sewing machine and typewriter, and maps, photos, and a model of a historic mine.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.