What are the Best Alaska National Parks to Explore?

When discussing Alaska's national parks, it's hard to avoid hyperbole. After all, the 49th state is home to 60 percent of the United States' protected land. S Department of National Parks More than 41 million acres of national parkland in Alaska are under protection, making up an area roughly the size of Wisconsin. These protected areas include a wide variety of biomes, from tropical rain forests to arctic tundra.

There are four of the United States' largest national parks (Wrangell-St. It is home to four of the world's most impressive national parks (St. Elias, Denali, Gates of the Arctic, and Katmai) as well as ten of the highest peaks in the United States, the longest tidewater glacier (Wrangell-St. ...(Elias) and...(further)

Five of the ten national parks with the fewest visitors are located in Alaska, and only three of the state's eight national parks can be reached by car (the other three are only accessible by boat or air taxi).

No idea where to even begin in this statistically uncharted but profound wilderness. During my seven years in Alaska, I made it to all of the state's magnificent national parks (several times for Kenai Fjords, Denali, and Wrangell-St. To find out what sets them apart (Elias) Have a look at our advice so you can plan a trip to the best Alaskan national park possible.

Denali, the highest peak in North America, is known as "The Great One" to Indigenous Alaskans.

Native Alaskans have a special name for Denali, North America's tallest mountain: "The Great One."

Location of Denali National Park and Preserve

  • This is your chance to see the highest mountain in North America, so go check it out!
  • The closest town is Healy, with a population of 1,096, and it is located 12 miles away. However, there are hotels, restaurants, and seasonal shops located just one mile from the park's entrance, in an unincorporated area known as "the Canyon."

Denali's 20,310-foot-tall mountain (known to the Indigenous Athabascans as the Great One) is the park's most famous feature, but the 6-million-acre national park is home to much more than just the mountain. The accessibility of Denali's adventures is a big part of why it's so popular.
Denali can provide a memorable experience for those who prefer to view Alaska's Big Five (bear, moose, Dall sheep, caribou, and wolf) from the safety of a bus while listening to a knowledgeable guide share interesting facts about the area. Denali is also a great place to go bushwhacking through a dense boreal forest in search of a beautiful spot to pitch your tent. Besides landing on Denali, other options include flightseeing, rafting, and hiking.

There is only one route into Denali National Park. Denali Park Road may be 92 miles long, but private vehicles are prohibited from entering the park after milepost 15. To continue on your hike, you will need to join a guided tour or take a shuttle for hikers. As for the 2022 campaign, a landslide will prevent access to the area beyond Milepost 43.

Locations of lodgings near Denali National Park and Preserve

Denali has six campgrounds, but it's not always easy to secure a spot due to the park's popularity. Anyone with enough wilderness experience and the right permits can wild camp just about anywhere in Denali's vast backcountry. North of the park's entrance you'll find a number of hotels and resorts, including the popular McKinley Chalet Resort and Denali Bluffs Hotel, if you'd rather not camp out.

Also, there are two lodges within the park itself, but both of them are currently accessible only by plane. Ninety miles into the park is the historic Kantishna Roadhouse, while the high-end Sheldon Chalet overlooks Ruth Glacier and is only ten miles from the peak.

More than 2,000 brown bears call Katmai National Park home.

Katmai National Park is the primary habitat for over 2,000 brown bears.

Katmai Park and Preserve, a National Park.

  • Why travel there? To capture on film the over 2,000 brown bears who are desperately trying to stock up on salmon before winter sets in.
  • The closest town is called King Salmon, and it has a total population of 327.

Even though Katmai, located on a secluded peninsula in southern Alaska, encompasses over 4 million acres, the main attraction is a single waterfall that is just 6 feet high and 250 feet wide.
There are two reasons why people flock to Brooks Falls: salmon spawning and ravenous brown bears. A huge number of salmon each summer attempt (and fail) to make the leap over the falls on their way to spawning grounds further upstream. As a result, a lot of brown bears congregate here to get fat before hibernation by snatching fish out of the waves or grabbing them out of the air.

Up to fifty bears have been spotted sitting on the edge of the falls at once during the height of the season, which occurs sometime between the end of June and the beginning of August. People can view the show from nearby viewing platforms.

The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is yet another fascinating location. The Novarupta volcano erupted in 1912, transforming a portion of present-day Katmai into a landscape of steaming valleys, lava flows, and ash-covered mountains. Katmai was set aside as a preserve because of its post-apocalyptic landscape, its geothermal features serving as an invaluable natural experiment. Guided treks through the Valley are available from establishments like Brooks Lodge and Katmailand.

Katmai National Park Lodging Options:

Day trips to Katmai are common (Rust's Flying Service, Regal Air, and others depart from Anchorage), but overnight camping is also possible.

Both tenting and RVing are possible in Katmai. Brooks Camp is the first. There are no designated sites, but the beach can only hold 60 people, so make your reservations well in advance. Backcountry camping is a second possibility. There is no need for a permit, but you will need a lot of equipment to spend the night in bear country. The only real hotel in the park, Brooks Lodge has 16 rooms, and each of them has two bunk beds for extra security.

Kennecott Mines, an abandoned mining camp, is one of the attractions in Wrangell–St. Elias National Park

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska features the abandoned mining camp of Kennecott Mines. The National Park of Elias

Wrangell–St The National Park of Elias

  • Why you should go: to indulge your inner explorer.
  • McCarthy, with a total of 28 inhabitants, is the closest town.

The United States' largest national park receives far too little attention.

Its 13 2.05 square miles (greater in area than 70 of the world's sovereign states) ) include hotspots as diverse as rain forests and volcanoes, as well as frozen tundra and equatorial savannas. This is the promised land for intrepid travelers. Numerous outdoor activities, such as walking, cycling, climbing, rafting, and fishing, can be enjoyed here.

Those seeking a rush of adrenaline will enjoy the sport of ice climbing. Since glaciers (the largest of which is larger than Rhode Island) cover more than a third of the park, this is to be expected. Most of these glaciers create braided rivers and streams, making packrafting (which is like kayaking but done in an inflatable boat) extremely popular in Wrangell-St. Elias, too

An additional incentive, especially if you aren't an avid outdoor enthusiast, is the area's historical significance. In the early 1900s, the nearby town of Kennecott went from a thriving metropolis to a deserted ghost town in the span of just 35 years. Guided tours of the town and its famous red mill buildings are given by park rangers today.

Staying in Wrangell-St. In the Elias National Park, you can:

Some of the best places to stay in the park are the Ma Johnson's Historic Hotel in McCarthy, the Kennicott Glacier Lodge in Kennicott, and the opulent 20-bedroom backcountry lodge Ultima Thule (whose name means "a distant or unknown region"). It's possible that the latter will provide the best park exploration possibilities. Guests will have access to a private pilot and a Piper Super Cub plane during their stay, allowing them to embark on any number of exciting excursions during their time there.

Humpback whales come to Kenai Fjords National Park each summer to feed on krill.

During the summer, humpback whales travel to Kenai Fjords National Park to feast on krill.

Protected Area of the Kenai Fjords

  • Reason enough to travel to Alaska is to see the state's glaciers before they melt away forever.
  • Seward, with its 2,812 residents, is the nearest city.

Located just 2 hours from Anchorage, Kenai Fjords is one of Alaska's most easily reached national parks. Five hours away from Alaska's largest city, Anchorage
The tall fjords in this national park are what gave it its name, but the glaciers that carved them out over eons deserve more of the credit. The area was designated a national park in 1980 due to the 700-square-mile Harding Ice Field, which is 23,000 years old and currently supports more than 40 glaciers.

Half of the Kenai Fjords are completely frozen over. The most people go to Exit Glacier because it is the only one that is (almost) accessible by car. It's a two-mile round-trip hike from the parking lot to the glacier's base. Climate change has caused the glacier to recede, and trail markers along the path show exactly how far away the river of ice used to be.

An increasingly common way to enjoy the park is from the water. From roughly the middle of March to roughly the middle of October, you can take a day cruise out of Seward's harbor, and the trips can be as short as half a day or as long as an entire Tidewater glaciers spit growlers (small chunks of ice) and icebergs (massive chunks of ice) into the water below, and pleasure cruisers glide past seals sprawled out on rocky outcroppings; it's a beautiful way to spend a day.

Kenai Fjords National Park Lodging Options:

Good news: Exit Glacier has a free campground! The bad news is that there are only 12 available spots, they are filled on a first-come, first-served basis, and guests can stay for a maximum of two weeks.

The town of Seward is where you should look for lodging. You can stay at the Hotel Seward if you're downtown. The Harbor 360 Hotel has stunning views of the harbor and is conveniently located near day cruise departure points. Although it is located on the outskirts of Seward, the Seward Windsong Lodge is among the finest hotels in the city.

More than 200,000 caribou migrate across Gates of the Arctic National Park each spring.

Each spring, over 200 thousand caribou make the journey across Gates of the Arctic National Park.

The Arctic National Park and Preserve at the Gates of the Arctic

  • You should go so that you can say, "I visited the least-visited U. S the country's official park system
  • Coldfoot, with a population of 268, is the closest town (though you'll need to take a plane to get to the park).

Just picture an area roughly the size of Connecticut and Vermont put together. Remove all buildings and most of the population. Take that and move it to the tundra, where you'll find raging rivers, unnamed granite peaks over 7,000 feet tall, vast valleys, and herds of over 200,000 caribou (along with a sizable musk ox population and over 145 species of birds). This should have given you a taste of what Gates of the Arctic is like.
Visitation numbers typically range from 5,000 to 12,000 annually, despite Gates of the Arctic being the second-largest park in the United States. It's not that it's not valuable; it's just incredibly far away. It is impossible to travel to Gates of the Arctic without using a number of planes due to the lack of roads in the area. There are no designated camping areas, roads, or trails that are maintained. That’s some genuine wilderness right there.

As a result of its high latitude, the number of daylight hours experienced at any given time of year varies considerably. The summer months have very few nighttime hours of sunlight. The Northern Lights are the only source of illumination during the long winter nights. Even if you're an experienced camper, you'll need a guide to make it through this area.

Locations of Hotels in Gates of the Arctic

Gates of the Arctic National Park does not have any accommodations of any kind, such as hotels or cabins, or designated camping areas. Depending on where you set up camp, that's where you'll be sleeping.

Coldfoot Camp and Bettles Lodge are two (relatively) nearby options with wooden walls rather than nylon tents, and the latter also provides guided backpacking trips in the Gates of the Arctic.

The Kobuk River starts in the Endicott Mountains in the Brooks Range and flows west to Kotzebue Sound.

The Kobuk River has its source in the Endicott Mountains of the Brooks Range and drains into Kotzebue Sound via a westerly direction.

Park of the Kobuk Valley

  • Reasons to visit include the colorful tundra, the challenge of the Baird Mountains, and the wonder of the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes.
  • Kotzebue, a town with a total population of 3,283, is the closest major settlement.

Only time and natural processes have altered this scenery. Kobuk Valley, like Gates of the Arctic, lacks any form of paved transportation or settlement. That is to say, the natural scenery is breathtaking because it is largely untouched.
Due to the absence of roads, the region hosts one of the planet's final great large mammal migrations. Half a million caribou make the annual trek through what is now Kobuk Valley National Park, from their calving grounds to their summer range. This ceremony dates back over ten thousand years.

Although the tundra is where the migration occurs, the park is home to a wide variety of ecosystems. Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are the largest Arctic dune field in North America, which might come as a surprise to you. The rolling dunes cover an area of 20,500 acres; they were formed over thousands of years as glaciers dragged across the land, grinding the rocks beneath them into sand. NASA has used this otherworldly landscape for training purposes (and to learn more about Mars's ecosystem, of course).

Kobuk Valley National Park Lodging Options

There are no formal campgrounds or lodges, so you'll have to camp in the backcountry. If you're looking for recommendations on where to set up camp in the Northwest Arctic, the NPS suggests contacting the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center.

In Kotzebue, the nearest town and probably where you'll begin and end your trip, you'll find a few options, such as the Nullagvik Hotel and Bibber's B&B.

There's also Bettles Lodge and Kobuk River Lodge, both in Bettles. Kotzebue is the closest city with a commercial airport, and both offer guided day trips into Kobuk Valley.

The most popular way to visit Glacier Bay National Park is by boat.

It is by boat that most people explore Glacier Bay National Park.

There is a national park and preserve in Glacier Bay.

  • Reasons to visit include the region's craggy peaks, turquoise glaciers, and abundance of marine life, such as sea otters and humpback whales.
  • Gustavus, the closest town, has 493 people.

Dreamy Glacier Bay Here, seven tidewater glaciers calve ice that has been trapped in the mountains for millennia into the ocean. The park may have been named for that dramatic show, but that's not all it has to offer. Over a period of three miles, the park features Terrain includes a rocky coastline, protected fjords, snow-capped peaks, emerald-green forests, a Huna Tribal House, and a variety of animals like mountain goats, porpoises, and sea birds across its 3 million acres.
The park is a popular stop for cruise ships because it is thrilling and eerie to get close to the glacier's face while navigating a waterway filled with icebergs of varying sizes. Even so, it's worth keeping in mind that this park is home to one of the most extreme examples of climate change: a 65-mile retreat of the ice sheet over the course of just 200 years.

Lodging options in Glacier Bay National Park

It's interesting to note that the vast majority of visitors to Glacier Bay never even set foot on land. It's possible, though.

Like many other Alaskan parks and preserves, finding a place to stay can be difficult. If you want to camp in the park between May 1 and September 30, you need to get a permit and go through an orientation, either in person or online. This applies to both the Bartlett Cove Campground and the backcountry.

Glacier Bay Lodge is an alternative accommodation in the park. Situated amongst Sitka spruce trees, and only a few feet away from the park's administration building, is this 56-room hotel. Gustavus Inn is a possibility if you're looking for something more opulent. It's a stunning farmstead located just 10 miles from Bartlett Cove via paved road.

Salmon-rich rivers make Lake Clark National Park an excellent habitat for brown bears.

Brown bears find Lake Clark National Park to be a great place to live because of the park's salmon-rich rivers.

The National Park of Lake Clark

  • The brown bears, the glorious, plump brown bears, are reason enough to go.
  • Population of Port Alsworth: 200. It's the closest town.

Historically, brown bears have flocked to the shores of Lake Clark due to the area's enticing mix of glacier-covered mountains, two active volcanoes (Mount Iliamna and Mount Redoubt), scraggly coastline, and salmon-rich rivers.
The bears of Lake Clark, like those of Katmai, are well-known, and many tourists visit the area just to take pictures of them while they eat fish. You would be missing out if you didn't visit the park's namesake, a 42-mile turquoise lake. Towering mountains surround it, making it a great place to go fishing or wildlife watching for species like moose, fox, and Dall sheep.

Keep in mind that flying is the only way to get to the park. From Anchorage, day trips to Lake Clark can be taken with companies like Rust's Flying Service and Regal Air. Typical tours have about four hours of on-the-ground time and a picnic lunch. Outside the park, however, at backcountry lodges, visitors can take (more extended) day trips.

Choosing a Lodge in Lake Clark National Park

Considering how far out it is, Lake Clark surprisingly has a wide variety of places to stay. Campers at Denali can set up shop pretty much anywhere inside the park, similar to the situation at Alaska's other national parks. A small number of public use cabins are also maintained by the National Park Service for visitors. In the nearby town of Port Alsworth, you can choose from lodging options like the Alaska Backcountry Fishing Lodge, the Farm Lodge, Tulchina Adventures, and the Wilder House Bed & Breakfast.

One of the World's Final Wild Frontiers Is Up Next.

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