Want to experience unique history AND epic views? In this guide we’re sharing how to hike the Bonanza Mine trail in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park!
One of our favorite things about Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the combination of beautiful mountain scenery, glaciers, and history, all into one park. And one of the best ways to experience this unique mix is by hiking the Bonanza Mine trail!
We will say, this is a challenging hike. It was probably the most difficult trail we hiked in Alaska. But it was worth it! If your breath isn’t taken away already by the strenuous trail, it’ll surely be taken away by the views. Along the way you’ll have views of Mt. Blackburn, a waterfall, jagged, snow covered peaks, and interesting historical mining artifacts and sites.
Watch us explore Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, including hiking the Bonanza Mine Trail, walking on a glacier, and camping with one of our best views yet!
Up for the challenge? In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know to hike the Bonanza Mine trail, plus some of its history!
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- About the Bonanza Mine trail
- Where is the Bonanza Mine Trail?
- When to hike the Bonanza Mine Trail
- Things to know before hiking the Bonanza Mine Trail
- What to expect hiking the Bonanza Mine Trail
- What to Bring on the Bonanza Mine Trail
- Looking for more things to do at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park?
About the Bonanza Mine trail
Bonanza Mine was one of five mines on Bonanza Peak in the early 20th century. At the time the President of the Kennecott Copper Company claimed it was the richest known concentration of copper ore in the world. The mines produced 1.1 billion pounds of copper from 1909 to 1938, worth reportedly over $200 million in gross revenues. That’s a lot of moolah!
If you want the full experience, when you reach the mine area, scream “it’s a bonanza!” as the two prospectors (and Adam) who discovered the ore body apparently did in the early 1900s.
At the height of the operation, the Kennecott Copper Corporation employed about 600 people. About 300 worked and lived in the mill camp and another 200-300 lived at the mines.
Miles (roundtrip): 8.3
Elevation gain: 3,943 feet
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As for the actual trail, it’s a doozy! As you can see, you will be gaining almost 1,000 feet per mile! This trail is pretty unrelenting, with very few flat spots to get a break from the elevation.
The first half of the hike goes through the treeline, which we will admit, is mega boring. But once above the treeline, you’ll have fantastic views of the Chugach Mountains, Mt. Blackburn, and glaciers. And as you get closer to the mine, you’ll see a waterfall, mine ruins, and maybe even some copper on the ground!
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
Where is the Bonanza Mine Trail?
Wrangell-St. Elias may be one of the more accessible Alaska national parks, as you can get to it by car. But it’s still not that easy to get to!
Getting to the Bonanza Mine trail is a multi-step process and here is the rundown!
Step #1: Drive McCarthy Road
The first step when getting to the Bonanza Mine trail is to drive the 60 mile (one way) unpaved McCarthy Road. This drive takes about 2-3 hours each way. And while once known for giving many flat tires, the road conditions have improved a lot.
While you could take a large RV on this road (and people have!), we think it’s better suited for vans, Class B or C RVs, and regular vehicles. We had no issue driving our Sprinter van down this road!
To learn more about McCarthy Road, including our experience with the road conditions, some stops to make, and what to bring, check out our guide to driving McCarthy Road.
Step #2: Get to Kennecott
The McCarthy Road ends right at a pedestrian footbridge just outside of McCarthy and about 5 miles from Kennecott. You cannot take a private vehicle past this point and will need to either take a shuttle, bike, or walk, which is what we did!
If taking a shuttle, you’ll find signage at the footbridge with different companies that can take you to Kennecott. There is also a phone you can use to call them and get a ride. Some of these companies do allow dogs on the shuttle.
For walking, you can either walk the road or take the Wagon Road trail. We took the Wagon Road trail both ways. This is where we saw our one and only grizzly bear in Alaska, so be bear aware!
As for where to leave your vehicle while you explore the park, Base Camp Kennicott has a large lot where you can park your car for a day (or multiple days) to explore the park. It costs $10 per day to park ($5 for only 4 hours). You can also camp overnight here, right on the river, for $35 per night. We camped for one night and then moved to a parking spot for two nights while we tent camped in the park!
Step #3: Walk to the trailhead
Once making it to Kennecott, you still have a little bit of a journey ahead until the actual Bonanza Mine trailhead. And there are two options, you can either start from the Kennecott mining town or from the Root Glacier trail.
From the Kennecott mining town, you’ll notice a trail on the right, just past the wooden bridge. Follow this trail to get above the town. At the top of this hill the trail will T and to the right is a bridge with water rushing below, you can turn right to admire this, but after that go left at the T to get to the start of the Bonanza Mine trail.
From the Root Glacier trail, you will reach a junction towards the beginning of the trail. This junction has a pit toilet and a sign that points to the direction of the Bonanza Mine trail.
If you’re like us and are camping by the Root Glacier, taking the Root Glacier option is the best way to get to the Bonanza Mine. But if you’re just doing the Bonanza Mine trail as a day hike while visiting the park for a day, starting from Kennecott will be your best bet.
When to hike the Bonanza Mine Trail
The best time to hike the Bonanza Mine trail is from July to early September. While Wrangell-St. Elias National Park as a whole is open and accessible between late May and early September, the Bonanza Mine trail is at a higher elevation, so we suggest going a bit more in the summer months to avoid lots of snow.
As of writing this guide in June 2023, recent reports state that there is too much snow the last couple miles. And in our opinion, if you can’t make it until at least close to the end, it’s not worth hiking.
We hiked the trail at the end of August and had fantastic weather. While the weather was a bit gloomy during some parts of our visit, we lucked out and had little to no rain.
Things to know before hiking the Bonanza Mine Trail
This trail is very challenging and strenuous
It is a challenging, uphill hike all the way to the mine. The path can be slick and rocky in some areas, so be sure to pace yourself and take breaks as needed.
Be careful at the mine area
The Bonanza Mine is a historic area with old buildings that have not been stabilized. It is not recommended to enter the buildings.
Although experts have combed the area, there could be abandoned explosives lying around. If you see an explosive, do not touch it and report it to the park.
On top of all the neat old buildings, there are lots of artifacts scattered about. Remember to leave no trace while you’re exploring and leave things as you found them so that others can experience and explore the Bonanza Mine in the future.
Dogs are allowed
Despite most national parks not allowing dogs, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park DOES allow dogs on the trails. However, they must be kept on leash. Please follow this rule! Not all dogs or humans want strange dogs running up to them. We had a less than fun encounter with an off leash dog in the park that sprinted up to us. There are also bears and other wildlife in the area.
Kona hiked the Bonanza Mine trail with us and loved it! But we do want to mention that near the mine is very rocky and there may be broken glass from artifacts. Kona had no issues, but we had to be very careful where she walked.
We had some cell service with Verizon while exploring Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, especially by McCarthy and Kennecott. However, we hear that AT&T does not work as well within these areas. Make sure to download offline Google Maps and AllTrails maps in advance!
Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30 (you must redeem this code on the website, not the app)!
We use AllTrails+ on every single hike and it is the most helpful hiking tool out there! Some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike.
What to expect hiking the Bonanza Mine Trail
We’ll be honest, the first couple miles of this trail are not very fun or interesting. Regardless of which starting point you choose for the Bonanza Mine trail, the first part of the hike will be about the same. You’ll be in the forest with minimal, if any, views and it is an uphill slog.
For us personally, we don’t mind an uphill climb if there are views, but when you’re just among trees, it can be extra tough mentally. Don’t let this stop you though!
Thankfully, after around 2 miles or so, the trail opens up a bit and you can start to see the phenomenal scenery around. You will get to see some pretty wild mountain peaks straight ahead, which are uniquely shaped. As well as have views of the glacier behind you!
Since we needed a bit of a break after the climb, we stopped around 2.3 miles in to make lunch. This area is really easy to find, as it’s pretty open and there are a couple pathways to the right, including a short one to the top of a hill.
We just plopped down right on the ground, boiled some water, and enjoyed a backpacking meal. It was a nice break, but we still had a lot of trail ahead!
Shortly after this spot, you officially make it past the treeline. The views only get better and better, making the climb more rewarding. Make sure to look behind you from time to time!
At mile 3, you will go around a switchback and make it to another more open area. Here you’ll see your first evidence of mining, with the remnants of a tram system that would transport not only the ore, but also the workers.
It’s also the first chance to see where you’re headed! You will be able to see the peaks that surround the mine, plus a beautiful waterfall and mining ruins scattered about through the valley and up in the mountains.
The final 1.2 miles of the trail are the best of the hike! You will skirt along a mountainside along a sometimes narrow, steep, rocky trail, with each step giving you better and better views. And if you’re like us and look down while hiking (to avoid tripping!), you may also notice some greenish-blue copper glistening in the dirt.
About 3.5 miles in, you’ll finally get views of the Bonanza Mine. It’s a ghostly sight seeing all the old decrepit buildings leaning and clinging to existence.
At the mine, there is a wooden platform where you can take your pack off and take a seat to admire the views. You’ll also see lots of artifacts scattered on the ground and some arranged for viewing. Check out all the artifacts, but make sure to leave them there for others to enjoy. There will be lots of metal and boards laying around that could have nails sticking out, so be sure to watch your step as you explore.
After you have explored the mine site, keep going up the ridge behind the mine for even more views of the surrounding peaks, plus different colors of the mineral deposits. While this is not a maintained and not an official trail, you’ll be able to follow a matted path to the top.
Once you’re done exploring, head back down the trail the same way you came!
What to Bring on the Bonanza Mine Trail
To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit. But for hiking the Bonanza Mine trail, we have a few items we really want to stress bringing with you.
Plenty of water and snacks
We always bring CamelBak bladders when hiking and you’ll want lots of water on this hike. They are easy to drink from while moving and can carry lots of water.
If you run low or out of water, there is a water source close to the mine site where you can get water. But definitely bring something to filter the water if you plan on doing this. We brought the Sawyer water filtration kit and also have the Katadyn BeFree 1L water filter bottle water bottle.
We also brought a couple backpacking meals to eat on the way up. Since we were camping in the park for a few days, this was the best option for us for food, but it did cost us 30 mins-1 hour, since they take some time to rehydrate. For a day hike, we’d suggest something a bit quicker and easier to eat!
Microspikes or crampons
Microspikes or crampons might be a good idea to bring on this hike, especially if you’re hiking early or late in the season. There could be ice or snow at the end of the trail. We’ve had these Kahtoola Microspikes for years and love them! They are easy to put on and light enough to carry around. We feel really secure walking on ice with these–so much so we feel like we could run on the ice!
The last part of the trail has a lot of loose dirt, so good shoes are key! Kathryn rocks Lowa Women’s Renegade GTX on the trails and she LOVES them! Adam wears the ALTRA Lone Peak 6 Trail Running Shoe, which is a trail running shoe, so they are less bulky than boots, but still great for the trail!
Alaska is home to a variety of wildlife, including both black bears and grizzly bears, with grizzlies being the more aggressive of the two.
Carrying bear spray is highly recommended. We encountered our first grizzly on the roadside trail in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Well, only Adam saw it, but it was enough to make us a bit nervous the rest of the walk. We always have our bear spray strapped to our hip or chest when hiking on trails, plus next to us in our tent at night.
Not only is it important to have bear spray on you, but you need to have it readily available and know how to use it. We’d recommend watching this video that explains how to use bear spray, if you aren’t familiar.
We highly recommend having AllTrails maps downloaded, which requires an AllTrails+ membership. The trail is pretty straightforward to follow, but it’s always good to have the trail map if you need it. If you don’t have AllTrails+ yet, you can get 30% off with our code aplusk30.
If you haven’t heard, the common joke is that the state bird of Alaska is the mosquito. Although we didn’t have much of an issue with mosquitos during our adventures in most of Alaska, we may have just gotten lucky. In order to not have a miserable time swatting mosquitoes all day, make sure to bring bug spray with DEET!
While you may have some cell service in the park, it’s good to have a backup option. Some sort of satellite communication device, like a Garmin inReach Mini, will be extremely valuable in case you need help. We take this with us everywhere and it has come in handy several times on our adventures, mostly to text family (not for SOS reasons thankfully)!
Trekking poles may be useful when hiking the Bonanza Mine trail. As mentioned, it is a very steep hike and trekking poles will help in the steep and loose gravel areas. We have the Black Diamond Equipment Distance Z poles and highly recommend them!
Weather in Alaska can be extremely unpredictable. Carry some layers to be prepared for all conditions in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, especially when going up in elevation.
Just like the temperatures can swing drastically in Alaska, rain can also come and go at the drop of a hat, so make sure to pack rain gear! Kathryn wears the Patagonia Torrentshell jacket and Adam wears the North Face Alta Vista rain jacket.
The trail is very exposed towards the end, so bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
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