Blazing the Trail to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

The new Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge opened in May, 2002. CruiseMates had the opportunity to visit the region and tour the construction site with the President of Princess Tours, Charlie Ball and Project Manager, David Soderlund.
President of Princess Tours, Charlie Ball, inspects the lodge construction site

Princess Tours is blazing a trail to North America's largest National Park with the construction of the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge. It is the first major tourism project for this scenic and historic area which lies northeast of Valdez, accessible via the Richardson Highway.

Six times the size of Yellowstone at 13.2 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve has an impressive geology. It is home to nine of the 16 tallest peaks in the United States, four mountain ranges and boasts the largest concentration of glaciers on the continent. A park for wilderness-oriented activities, in a setting of breathtaking beauty, it is one of Alaska's best kept secrets. Travel services and facilities are limited within park boundaries. With the construction of the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge, travelers now have the opportunity to visit the area in luxury and experience the park on a number of excursions.

Copper River Lodge Artist's rendering Click for Pic
The $10 million, 84-room lodge is situated near Copper Center on 200 acres of land just outside the park. Sitting atop a bluff, in a poplar and spruce forest, the lodge overlooks the Copper and Klutina Rivers. Sweeping vistas of Mt. Drum, Mt. Wrangell and Mt. Blackburn add to the dramatic setting. From the grounds, part of the Trans-Alaska pipeline can be seen in the distance.

Princess studied a number of alpine lodges in Alaska, Washington and Oregon before designing the new Copper River property. Unlike the other Princess lodges, the rooms and public areas are in one main building. A variety of floor levels and ceiling heights along with unusual lighting fixtures add interest to the public spaces.

The focal point is the Wrangell Room with native stone fireplace and two story wall of windows. An open timbered ceiling adds to the characteristic mountain lodge ambience. The grand, curving staircase takes you to the mezzanine level to relax in oversized chairs and enjoy the view. The lodge has been carefully positioned to feature a view of 12,010-ft. Mt. Drum from the 20' window wall. The adjacent lounge, dining and patio areas also offer spectacular valley, mountain and river views.

Rooms are either mountain or forest view. They measure 325 sq. ft. with full bathroom, sitting area, TV, hairdryer, telephone, clock radio, small desk, ceiling fan and excellent sound proofing. Two rooms have been combined to form a suite which will have special amenities, currently being designed. Several rooms are wheelchair accessible.

The dining area is two level with excellent mountain and valley views. Cuisine at the lodge will feature Alaskan specialties. Crab cakes, salmon mouse and halibut appetizers are followed by signature Alaskan entrees which include the famous Copper River Reds, sockeye salmon. (Passengers should note that meals are included on cruisetours only if they are part of a group arrangement. Dinner entrees at the Princess lodges range from $16 to $26.)

Exploring the Area

A trail system is being developed which takes visitors down to the Copper River. Princess has planned a number of excursions from the lodge including guided fishing, river rafting on the Gulkana River, fixed wing flightseeing, a helicopter tour from Valdez and an historic tour of the Copper Center area. A day trip to Valdez with a pipeline tour and glacier cruise on Prince William Sound is also being organized.

View of Kennicott Glacier Click for Pic
The most unusual tour is a flight to the historic town of McCarthy (population 120 in summer; 35 in winter) and a visit to the abandoned Kennicott copper mine, now a National Historic Site. The Kennicott Copper Corporation ran one of the world's richest copper mines and the company town thrived from 1910 to 1938. Situated beside the Kennicott glacier it was known as "glacier city". A wall of ice 300 feet high blocked the view of surrounding mountains. Today you can look across the mix of glacial silt and ice to spectacular views of the region. Climb to the top of the tallest wooden structure in the United States as you make your way through the mill which sits as it did the day the mine was abandoned. The knowledgeable St. Elias Alpine Guides give a most informative tour of the area. This excursion offers the unique experience of visiting a part of Alaska, surprisingly not well known to Americans, but popular with Europeans.

Between the Lodge and Your Ship

The Klondike Express
Passengers enjoy a unique experience as they travel between their ship in Seward and the Copper River. Princess has chartered the high-speed catamaran, Klondike Express, specially for transferring passengers between Valdez and Whittier, across Prince William Sound. The two-hour sailing is a supremely comfortable way to view the scenic waters and fjords and there is an excellent chance of seeing sea otters, orcas and humpback whales.

The Klondike Express is an 8.5 million dollar vessel, owned by Brad Phillips, a legend in Alaskan tourism who has operated the 26-glacier cruise from Whittier for 36 years. Designed in Australia and built in Washington State the vessel is an engineering wonder, capable of sailing at 42 knots (50 miles an hour) with no vibration. The ventilation system is so well designed that the picture windows do not fog, despite the humid glacial conditions, making it ideal for Alaskan waters.

Worthington Glacier Click for Pic
Between the new lodge and the catamaran in Valdez, passengers travel the spectacular Richardson Highway which cuts through the Chugach Mountains. The panoramic vistas of Thompson Pass and narrow cut at Keystone Canyon offer some of the finest scenery in Alaska. This region, known as little Switzerland is home to Worthington Glacier. Your coach will make a stop here with time to walk to the foot of the glacier and learn about the area in the interpretive center.

Cruisetour Options

The Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge is featured on 10 cruisetours offered by Princess for 2003. Two of the tours are fully escorted on some departure dates. The lodge can also be booked by the night at Those choosing to tour independently should note, the new lodge is 300 miles from Seward, a long drive from your ship.

Copper River cruisetour options range from 10 to 15 nights. They include a seven-night Voyage of the Glaciers cruise, north or southbound between Vancouver and Seward with one or two nights at the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge. Depending on the tour you choose, additional nights may be spent at the Denali and Fairbanks Princess Lodges and at hotels in Anchorage and Dawson City, Yukon.

The base price for a Copper River cruisetour in 2003 ranges from $1,549 for 10 nights in May (sailing on Sun or Dawn Princess) to $2,849 for 14 nights in July (sailing on Island or Coral Princess). These are Early Booking discounted rates, booked by February 14, 2003. They include a minimum category stateroom on board ship plus land accommodation and transportation, with Princess personnel assisting you along the way on the land portion. Meals on the land portion and excursions from the hotels and lodges are not included.

On the fully escorted tour departures, a Princess tour director travels with your group and some meals and tours are included. The base price ranges from $1,939 on May 12 for the 11-night tour (Sun Princess) to $2,699 July 28 for the 12-night cruisetour (Island Princess).

For the cruise portion of any cruisetour, passengers may upgrade from the minimum category stateroom to the category of their choice by paying the applicable supplement.

The Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge offers cruise passengers the chance to experience another spectacular part of Alaska.

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