Roadtrippin’ 2022: Beyond the end of the road in McCarthy

“The dogs run the town, we just live in it.” It’s a sentiment echoed through the tiny town of McCarthy, Alaska.
Published: Jun. 10, 2022 at 3:27 PM AKDT
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MCCARTHY, Alaska (KTUU) - “The dogs run the town, we just live in it.”

It’s a sentiment echoed through the tiny town of McCarthy, Alaska.

A town with no more than 100 permanent residents during the summer months, McCarthy is a sight to behold — a quintessential Alaskan town where the roads are 60 feet wide to accommodate dog sled teams, shipments of food come weekly and the locals make you feel like family.

The drive is long, but breathtaking. To get there, one must road trip to the roots of the Wrangell-St. Elias mountains, cross an impressive one-way bridge over the Copper River and drive down 60 miles of dirt road.

Once at the end of the road, it’s time to park the car and continue on foot. Only those who live in the town are allowed to bring their cars onto this private property. Everyone else has to walk or take a shuttle in.

So what makes this town so special?

“Dogs mostly,” Neil Darish, owner of Ma Johnson’s Hotel, said. “People, wilderness, the old stuff, the connectivity, the self reliance, the ability for us to be assured that we can navigate even though it’s unpredictable.”

And while the mosquitos eat the people who visit (bring the bug spray), the people eat potatoes, or at least a variety of different dishes with potatoes in them.

”We work with what we have because sometimes getting supplies in here is hard,” Rebecca Bard, owner of The Potato restaurant, said. “And then we have some local gardeners that produce some really beautiful vegetables and greens for us.”

Aptly named, The Potato is the perfect place for potato lovers. The restaurant started out as a food truck in 1995 and was decorated with potato head toys.

Since then, it has moved into a building and grown into a McCarthy staple.

”A lot of inspiration and creativity comes from necessity up here, it’s not like they have this plethora of product that I can choose from,” head chef Scott Whitus said. “It’s kind of like whatever we can get, and I like rummaging through our stock and am like, ‘What can I make? What do we have? How can I put this together and piece it together using my past experiences?’, and it’s really fun. That’s why I like the challenge.”

Whether deciding to explore the national park, visit the old copper mine a couple miles away or simply read a good book in the sunshine, everyone gathers at the end of the day to share a beer together at the Golden Saloon.

”If people are wondering about coming out to McCarthy in general, it’s a great experience off the beaten path, and while we don’t have all the stores and amenities, we have people doing a great job with the cuisine and there’s beautiful flightseeing and it is a destination that I wish I had found even earlier,” Bard said.

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