Each month we highlight an airstrip with hopes that you will get out and enjoy these special places. This month’s Featured Airstrip is Childs Glacier, Alaska, where you can hear the glacier groan.

We know of only one place where you can fly in to a dirt airstrip and set up camp so close to a glacier that RAF Alaska Liaison Al Clayton says, “You can hear it. It’s always moving.” 

Childs Glacier airstrip, near Alaska’s famous Copper River, is adjacent to the Copper River US Forest Service campground. You can set your camp chair close enough to the glacier’s glistening face and hear it pop and groan. Clayton reports that in July when the sockeye run is “hot,” this glacier calves icebergs into the river, sending huge waves across it, sometimes washing salmon up into the alder bushes.

Thanks to an RAF grant, Clayton assembled volunteers to help the Alaska Trails Crew make the old dirt airstrip usable again. They did five weeks’ worth of grounds work over two summer work seasons, and brushed out and lengthened the sea-level runway to about a thousand feet. “The airfield is open for use for bush aircraft. There remain tall tree hazards. You would want to be a confident, skilled pilot to land here,” he said, adding, “The scenery and topography are stunning. It is truly a world class location.”

The region, within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, is as rich in history as it is in scenery. This airstrip lies just north of the 1910 “Million Dollar Bridge” constructed by the Copper River & Northwestern Railroad to provide the first rail access from the tidewater port of Cordova to interior Alaska. The rail line helped tap the incredibly rich Kennicott copper deposit developed with financial support from New York’s Guggenheim and Morgan families. The last ore train trundled over the hazardous tracks in 1938, leaving the right-of-way and the towns of Kennicott and McCarthy to a few hardy residents to fight off the encroaching alder trees. 

After the 1964 earthquake, the State invested in bridge repairs and the Forest Service built the Copper River campground. But washouts have since destroyed bridges downstream from Million Dollar Bridge. Now the only access is over the treacherous river by riverboat; or this short and challenging airstrip. “It’s exciting to see this spectacular venue available for public use again,” Clayton added.

While you’re in the area, consider a visit upstream to McCarthy. It’s retained its authentic Alaska mining feel, and is small but welcoming, accessible by air into its 3,500-ft gravel airport; or by rough road that follows the old CR&NR grade a couple of hours from Chitina. The road ends at the Kennicott River, where you take the pedestrian/bicycle bridge over the river, a half mile from town. Visitors can take a scheduled shuttle to town, and tours of the Kennicott mine are available seasonally.

Submitted April 30, 2024
By Carmine Mowbray


  1. David Mersereau on May 1, 2024 at 9:02 am

    Way to go Al! Your work will be enjoyed for generations! Having been to this locale, I join you in saying this is one of the most spectacular places in America that one can land an airplane. Bravo to you and your hard working crew.

  2. Stuart C. Ashley on May 1, 2024 at 10:04 am

    Kayaked down the Copper River from Chitina to the Cordova Landing in the mid-1970s, under the “Million Dollar Bridge” and in front of the Childs Glacier. At that time the fourth span was down in the water at one end due to the 1964 Alaska Earthquake. Your picture shows it back up again. Great photo and also great salvage job by, presumably, Alaska DOT. Thanks for repairing the airstrip.
    Cheers! Stu.

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