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McCarthy Road - How bad is it?

Buffalo, NY
posts: 76
reviews: 7
McCarthy Road - How bad is it?

The info I'm reading about the road from Chitina to McCarthy makes it sound like it's pretty bad - flat tires, spikes sticking out of the road, etc.

Can you make the trip in a regular passenger car? Or is an SUV really necessary?

I know there's a bus that drives in and out on the same day, as well as flights in.

If I drove it in a passenger car (Chevy Impala), and kept it under 35 mph at all times (and slower when conditions warranted), am I likely to do OK? Or am I going to spend more on fixing the suspension than I would on the bus ticket ($200 per person).

Any advice is much appreciated.

Fairbanks, Alaska
posts: 661
reviews: 1
1. Re: McCarthy Road - How bad is it?

I don't know about that particular road but I do know that our gravel is sharp so bring a spare or two. If it is a gravel road. You can also tape bubble wrap over your headlights to keep them from getting busted. Not much you can do about your windshield exept get out of the way when being passed. Drop back quickly.

Destination Expert
for Alaska
posts: 1,716
reviews: 5
2. Re: McCarthy Road - How bad is it?

I drove it in a Chevy S-10 at 30 mph one way and 25 mph part of the other way, no spikes, no problems, I amstill trying to count the potholes from memory two years later.. ..

A regular car should make it with no great difficulty. Roughness of the road will depend upon rain, traffic and when they last graded it. I carried no extra spares and needed none. If you are super cautious you can carry more if you wish.

It is worth the drive!


Buffalo, NY
posts: 76
reviews: 7
3. Re: McCarthy Road - How bad is it?

Thanks, 1stimestar & Since_71.

That's a good idea about the bubble wrap for the headlights.

I hear the McCarthy road is single lane - so what do you do when somebody is coming in the other direction, or somebody wants to pass you? Are there places where you can pull over to let people go by?

pine hill, nj
posts: 277
reviews: 65
4. Re: McCarthy Road - How bad is it?

I flew in to Mc Carthy(because I chickened out of driving). I did, however drive the Denali Highway which is also a gravel road(with the exception of maybe 30 of the 120 miles), and we go a cracked windsheild. It wasn't from our speed, as much as it was from a truck who sped past us. You may want to keep that in mind. When we rented from dollar, they actually offered windsheild and tire protection due to the roads. I'm glad we took it----we never saw a bill from the windsheild. How ever you do it, you won't be disappointed. Have a safe trip.

Buffalo, NY
posts: 76
reviews: 7
5. Re: McCarthy Road - How bad is it?

Thanks for that, tripgirl.

It just so happens that I just booked a 2-week rental of an SUV from Dollar for July (they were by far the cheapest I found when I was looking). Do you happen to remember what the charge was for the extra insurance? Did it cover both tires and windshield?

Technically, both the Denali Highway and McCarthy Road are considered state-maintained roadways (as opposed to off-road driving). Do you recall anything from Dollar that said "Stay off these roads"?

Destination Expert
for Alaska
posts: 1,716
reviews: 5
6. Re: McCarthy Road - How bad is it?

Yes, there is room to pass without anyone backing up too far or waiting long on someone still in a narrow stretch. I invariably met with courtesy, and extended it in turn.


Finksburg, Maryland
posts: 4
reviews: 1
7. Re: McCarthy Road - How bad is it?

In regards to Dollar, we also just booked an SUV with them for the end of July. Their rental policy specifically stated that their rentals are not allowed on gravel roads. Not sure if we'll take the chance and drive the rental to McCarthy or look for other arrangements.


Byram, NJ
posts: 1
8. Re: McCarthy Road - How bad is it?

My husband and I drove the McCarthy Hwy on 6/2 and 6/4/06. It wasn't as bad as folks say--no spikes or broken windshield. You don't need an SUV; a regular car will be fine, if you just take it slowly and your suspension is in decent condition. We averaged 20 mph on the way there, and about 25 on the way out (in a rented Hyundai Tucson.)

We found that everyone we met coming in the opposite direction slowed down and passed carefully, usually with a cheerful wave. There is room for 2 cars to pass at all times.

There is some road construction going on, and that can slow you down--leave plenty of time for the trip. "Hug-a-boulder Bend" was being widened when we went by (somewhere around mile 18.)

The worst part of the trip, for me at least, was the massive amounts of DUST kicked up by even the slowest vehicle. If you follow someone onto the road at Chitna, pull over for a few minutes to let the dust settle so you can see where you are going.

If I had it to do over, I would consider flying in; the flight would be fun and it saves you several hours if you are on a tight schedule. I don't think the bus ride would be worth it.

We drove the Denali Highway a few days later, and it is very similiar.The biggest difference there was that most of the oncoming traffic didn't slow down as much. I think these are mostly people who drive it a lot and are getting tired of slowing down every time they come across another car. (The thing is, they are usually driving beat-up pickup trucks and don't care if they get another crack in their windshields.) The 'bubble wrap over the headlights' idea is genius! Your best defense when coming across these guys is to slow WAY down, and angle your car toward the side of the road a bit.

For either road, the incredible beauty you encounter is worth the trouble!

posts: 5
reviews: 13
9. Re: McCarthy Road - How bad is it?

2007 Update on McCarthy Road

We drove it in May 2007 in a Ford Taurus we rented from High Country in Anchorage for about $50 per day. The road was in better shape then we expected. No flats, no dents, no windshield dings. My wife took it at about 25 mph on the way in, I took it at 35-40 on the way out.

Someone in McCarthy told us the road had recently been graded and was in better condition than before. There were still plenty of potholes, but they were avoidable and/or apparent. There was one section where there was a lot of standing water across the road. We got out to look and were a bit nervous, but the car got through without any problem.

All of that said, we talked to others in Alaska whose past experiences on the road were much worse. We were told that earlier in May some guy rolled into McCarthy having driven the last five miles on his rims. And we talked to a guide in Seward who told us about getting three flats in one trip (not this year). Based on our experience, that's hard for me to imagine, but there you go.

Good luck.

Anchorage, Alaska
posts: 16
reviews: 126
10. Re: McCarthy Road - How bad is it?

It is true that the McCarthy Road can be a little rough at times. I drive it frequently and have for years. At one time I was making 12 round trips a season on the average. I went from 1974 until 2004 without having a flat. Since then I have had a couple of them. The following website gives about the best up to date road conditions avaliable in case you are interested in driving in. http://www.mccarthy-kennicott.com/