Historic Abandoned Alaska Places
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
This historic abandoned Alaska places road trip is guaranteed to take you back in time. When you combine the scenic beauty found on the Last Frontier’s limited road system, with some of the state’s most influential moments in time, you get this brilliant expedition that will lead you to some of the most fascinating places. In full, this road trip is anticipated to take about one week, as it is 1,500 miles in total length. If you need any recommendations for local restaurants, attractions, or accommodations along the way—reach out! We’d love to answer any of your questions and help you tailor the perfect historic road trip to suit your fancy. The full map is available HERE.
1 – Ohlson Mountain – Homer
We’re kicking off the historic abandoned Alaska places road trip on Ohlson Mountain in Homer, located on the Kenai Peninsula. This off-the-beaten path location roughly eight miles northeast of Homer is where you’ll find old Air Force Station remnants from the 937th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron. It was activated in February 1957 and inactivated due to budget reductions on May 15, 1963. Although remediation cleanup of the old site (including buildings, radars, and communication antennas) was carried out in 2005, historic relics can still be found in this truly unique area.
2 – Portage, Alaska – Turnagain Arm
Make your way north on the Sterling Highway, and turn left onto the scenic Seward Highway. After you drive through Turnagain Pass and arrive in Portage, you’ll likely notice some scattered remnants and sunken house-like structures on the side of the highway. This former settlement town was completely devastated by the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake. The town sunk roughly 6-10 feet, putting it below the high tide level which caused tragic flooding. Unfortunately, residents had to quickly abandon the area, as it was impossible to rebuild. Today visitors can still experience what little remains in the area, as nature is slowly reclaiming what’s left. Read the full story on Portage HERE. If you’re hopping on the ‘abandoned Alaska places road trip’ from this starting point, plug your GPS in HERE.
3 – Buckner Building – Whittier
From Portage, make your way through the historic Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, the longest combined rail/highway tunnel in North America. Read the full story on the tunnel HERE. If you’re hopping on the ‘abandoned Alaska places road trip’ from this starting point, plug your GPS in HERE. Make your way into Whittier where you’ll be able to view the abandoned Buckner Building. This is a former U.S. military building that held almost everything under one roof including a mess hall, sleeping quarters, recreational facilities, medical offices, and administrative professionals. The building withstood the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, but has been abandoned since 1966. It’s rumored to be filled with asbestos and far too dangerous to destroy. A very wow-worthy stop on the abandoned Alaska road trip.
4 – Independence Mine State Historic Park – Hatcher Pass
Head up to Hatcher Pass, deep in the Talkeetna Mountains, where you’ll experience the enchanting Independence Mine State Historic Park. To learn more about this special area and the abundant recreational opportunities, click HERE. If you’re hopping on the ‘abandoned Alaska places road trip’ from this starting point, plug your GPS in HERE. The mining history in this area dates back to 1897, although the most productive years were from 1934-1943 and again from 1948-1950. It was the second largest hard-rock gold mining operation in the Last Frontier, second only to a larger site near Alaska’s capital city of Juneau. In 1974 this destination was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, visitors can tour the abandoned remnants while enjoying the well-maintained paths and educational observation points along the way.
5 – Igloo City – George Parks Highway
Make your way north on the George Parks Highway where you’ll stumble upon this unavoidable roadside attraction near mile marker 188.7. Read the full story on Igloo City’s history HERE. If you’re hopping on the ‘abandoned Alaska places road trip’ from this starting point, plug your GPS in HERE. This igloo-shaped structure was built during the 1970s with the dream of being a premier Alaskan-style accommodation, however, it was never finished due to building code violations. It has sat abandoned for nearly a half-century, and has never welcomed any guests aside from wildlife.
6 – Old Denali Highway
If you’re up for a little ‘off the beaten path’ (gravel) road trip action, turn right onto the Old Denali Highway after stopping at Igloo City. If you’re hopping on the ‘abandoned Alaska places road trip’ from this starting point, plug your GPS in HERE. As the first route to access Denali National Park via road system, the Denali Highway (Alaska Route 8) first opened in 1957 and was heavily traveled up until the George Parks Highway opened in 1971 serving Denali. This road is 135 miles in length and leads from Cantwell on the Parks Highway to Paxson on the Richardson Highway. Along the way you’ll see tons of different remnants from the past, including abandoned buildings, mining equipment, tractors, and much more. Bring the ATV’s and take advantage of all the excellent trails along the way (leading you to even more backcountry treasures). This road is a must-experience stop on the abandoned Alaska road trip if you’ve never before taken the route.
7 – Pedro Gold Dredge – Chicken
This is where the expedition really tacks on some miles, but we promise that it’s worth it! If you’re hopping on the ‘abandoned Alaska places road trip’ from this starting point, plug your GPS in HERE. Visit the top of the world where you’ll not only experience the ghost town of Chicken (population 7) but you’ll be able to see the historic Pedro Gold Dredge. It was originally shipped to Pedro Creek, north of Fairbanks, back in 1938. It operated until 1958, before being disassembled and moved to Chicken. It worked for approximately five months every year thereafter, until shutting down operations in October of 1967. It sat idle for 31 years until the year 1998 rolled around and the million-pound dredge was moved up the road one mile to the Chicken Gold Camp & Outpost. It is said to be one of the most complete bucket-line gold dredges in North America that is open to the public. This is a very unique, rare experience on the abandoned Alaska road trip that will totally transport you back in time.
8 – Lake Louise Turnoff – Glennallen
Not much to see here, be you’ll notice that at the turnoff for Lake Louise there is an old abandoned café and mechanic shop that are combined into one business. These abandoned structures are a chilling representation of the area’s rich gold mining history and economic booms and busts. If you’re hopping on the ‘abandoned Alaska places road trip’ from this starting point, plug your GPS in HERE. A memorable stop on the abandoned Alaska road trip.
9 – U.S. Army Cabins – Lake Louise
Continue into Lake Louise, an incredible outdoor recreational area with a local population of about 50 Alaska residents. If you’re hopping on the ‘abandoned Alaska places road trip’ from this starting point, plug your GPS in HERE. At the end of World War II, the United States Army established a recreational facility at the lake, building the first road into the area. From the Glenn Highway to the lake, the road is about twenty miles in length. As you look to the sides of the road, you’ll notice that there are still many dilapidated cabins from the place known as ‘Army Point’ campground. There is even one that was used for four days by former president General Dwight D. Eisenhower, before he was elected into office.
10 – Copper Center, Alaska
Make your way to Copper Center, population 328. If you’re hopping on the ‘abandoned Alaska places road trip’ from this starting point, plug your GPS in HERE. This remote area was popular during the height of the Klondike gold rush as prospectors flocked to both the Copper and Klutina Rivers to set up camps. By June 1898, the area got a boost when a goldfield service center trail was blazed to the mouth of the Slana River through the foothills of Mt. Drum. Copper Center rapidly grew and eventually became the primary supply network for prospectors and travelers throughout the Copper River basin. Today, leftovers from the past are still apparent as original shelters and mining remnants still stand along many trails, roadways, and riverbanks.
11 – Kennecott Mines National Historical Landmark – Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
This is another ‘off the beaten path’ attraction along the way that definitely packs some miles on your road trip, but it’s SO worth it! From Copper Center, turn left onto the Edgerton Highway headed to the Kennecott Mines National Historical Landmark in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. If you’re hopping on the ‘abandoned Alaska places road trip’ from this starting point, plug your GPS in HERE. Originally established in 1903, a total of five mines were operated in this area as it quickly turned into a bustling mining camp for families of all sizes. By 1938, Kennecott was mined out and turned into a ghost town nearly overnight. The area was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986, and is a very popular tourist destination today. Ghost town tours are offered by the National Park Service, and visitors enjoy observing the 14-story tall red mill building. Funny fact: The mine is spelled ‘Kennecott’ while the surrounding geographical features are spelled ‘Kennicott’ – this is due to a clerical error that happened on some official paperwork over a century ago! A great stop on the abandoned Alaska road trip.
12 – Old Valdez, Alaska
Depart Kennecott and head to Valdez on the Richardson Highway. If you’re hopping on the ‘abandoned Alaska places road trip’ from this starting point, plug your GPS in HERE. After the infamous 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, soil liquefaction from glacial silt formed underneath nearly the entire city’s foundation, causing massive underwater landslides. This tragic series of events caused an entire section of the city’s shoreline to break off and sink into the sea. This then caused a 30 foot high tsunami, which traveled west down Valdez Bay. A total of 32 men, women, and children were on the city’s main freight dock when it violently collapsed from the landslide, tragically killing them all. Today, the city has been relocated four miles away, but remnants from the now-abandoned original town site still remain. A great way to round out your abandoned Alaska road trip.
Looking for more where that came from? Check out this Alaska road trip that will lead you through some of the most treasured tiny towns in the state. You’ll love learning about El Capitan Cave, Alaska’s largest aboveground cave that will give you an enchanting middle-earth type of experience. You might also enjoy reading about the isolated places in Alaska where you can actually view Russia from your doorstep.