Alaska

Super-sized wilderness

If you thought everything about the USA was big, well, Alaska is just... bigger. It's the country's largest state, home to both the country’s biggest National Park, Wrangell-St Elias, and highest peak, Mount Denali. Everything here is on an epic scale and there's adventure everywhere. You can paddle across silent fjords with snowy peaks towering above you, watch huge grizzlies pluck glistening salmon from icy rivers, hear the howl of wolves from your cabin in the dark of night and gaze skywards at the shimmering fireworks of the Northern Lights.


There are few roads, so you'll need to hop aboard a light plane to enter the wilderness where musk oxen, grey wolves, bears and caribou roam wild and free. Alaska is a place to encounter nature in all its raw, ethereal beauty ‒ and perhaps to find yourself again as you do so.

Seasons & climate

What are the four seasons in Alaska? Answer: Winter, June, July, and August. So goes the oldest Alaskan joke in the book, and while not strictly true — May and September can be beautiful times to visit America’s Last Frontier — the old joke does have a basis in fact. Alaska is a very cold place. Large parts of the state are in the Arctic Circle and the mostly unpopulated interior undergoes extreme swings of temperatures from season to season.

That is not to say there isn’t variety in Alaska. Each region: south central, the southwest, the interior and the far north all have local influences on their climate, and their latitude affects the amount of daylight they enjoy. During the far north’s summer, it is possible to marvel at the midnight sun and even in the winter in Anchorage, the Pacific Ocean keeps average temperatures around freezing point — much warmer than you would expect from a city so far north.

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Month-by-month

Only the extremely brave (or foolish) venture to Alaska in January, such is the cold and lack of daylight. Instead, wait until February, when the days begin to lengthen and the mercury nudges ever so slightly upwards. The Northern Lights can be seen at this time of year in the interior and far north, depending on clear skies.

March and April are noticeably warmer and mark the start of spring. Take the Aurora Winter Train between Anchorage and Fairbanks, which showcases some of Alaska’s most stunning natural beauty, stopping off at Denali National Park to marvel at North America’s highest peak. For the adventurous, winter camping in Denali is free. Alaska’s ski season runs until April.

May marks the start of the tourist season and many attractions open their doors after winter, but with considerably smaller crowds than the high summer. Head to Seward to see migrating grey whales return in the spring, or to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre near Anchorage for calving season for moose and caribou.

June, July and August are when the vast majority of tourists visit Alaska and for good reason; the weather is warm and the days long. Head north to marvel at the midnight sun. The crowds are at their biggest in these months so it pays to book in advance.

September, like May, is shoulder season and a good time to visit with crowds thinning considerably. It is a great time for hiking and to make the most of cheaper deals, but the weather is changeable and snow possible. October brings the return of winter and a good time to see the Northern Lights. However, much of Alaska’s tourist infrastructure will now be closed until spring.

Festivals and events

Alaska has a culture completely separate to the lower 48 states and Alaskans love to celebrate this diversity with festivals throughout the year. The fierce winter allows the state to hold some of the most unique events found anywhere in the world. February sees the annual Yukon Quest, the toughest dog sled race on earth between Fairbanks and Whitehorse in Canada. February also brings Winterfest in Denali with ice sculpting, dog mushing and traditional food and music, and the Cordova Iceworm festival, a week-long festival rounded off by locals leaping into the freezing harbour water.

Spring and summer are full of events that make the most of the daylight. April brings the Alaska Folk Festival to Juneau, and Valdez hosts an annual Fly-In and Air Show in early May. June sees events celebrating the summer solstice, the most famous being the Midnight Sun Festival in Fairbanks, with live music and a baseball game that starts at midnight — without floodlights. The fourth of July is best celebrated in Seward, where there is a street parade and the world famous Mt Marathon race (a 5km race up and down the 921m high mount Marathon).

August welcomes the Alaska State Fair, a combination of a fun-fair and food festival and a chance for an end-of-summer blowout. For more gastronomy head to the Alyeska Blueberry Festival in Girdwood.

The end of summer is also the end of most of the state’s festivals, but fear not, because you can raise a glass to the upcoming winter on the Great Alaska Beer Train; a special run of the Alaska Railroad with some of Alaska’s finest beer on tap. The Microbrew Express runs in October, giving you a chance of seeing the Northern Lights with a beer in hand.

Packing list

What to pack for an Alaskan adventure

Alaska packing list

Packing for an Alaska trip depends entirely on the activities you’ve got planned but the common theme is to hope for the best, plan for the worst.

If you’re planning on skiing, paddling or technical climbing you’ll need specialized equipment: consult your operator.

Some essential equipment (especially safety gear) will be provided by your operator--it’s essential that you check before you head into the bush.

General backpacking list

  • Backpack: Minimum 70L for men, 60L for women. Bear in mind that backpacking gear (bear barrel, food, tent, etc) will full a good 20L of your pack. If in doubt err on the side of caution and go for a bigger pack.

  • Waterproof cover: Check that it will fit your pack (when full!)

  • Daypack: For carrying food and essentials while on hikes.

  • Water bottle: At least 1L. Bladders are good for hands-free sips but also bring a hard-sided bottle such as a Nalgene.

  • Hiking boots: Quality medium/heavy-duty hiking boots broken in before you arrive.

  • Hiking socks: Four pairs of synthetic or wool mid-weight hiking socks.

  • Waterproof/breathable rain jacket and rain pants: Gore-Tex or similar quality breathable waterproofs are essential.

  • Lightweight windshirt.

  • Synthetic or wool (no cotton), long-sleeve top and bottoms.

  • Synthetic hiking pants.

  • Warm beanie hat.

  • Mosquito head net.

  • Fleece or wool gloves.

Around camp

  • Sleeping Bag: Synthetic or down sleeping bag rated to a minimum of 30 degrees F.

  • Stuff-sacks: Two waterproof compression sacks, one to fit your sleeping bag, the other to fit your extra layers.

  • Sleeping pad: Closed-cell foam pad or inflatable air mattress.

  • Headlamp: Especially for trips departing after August 1.

  • Heavyweight synthetic top: For staying warm around camp.

  • Thick fleece or wool gloves: Keep dry and only use them around camp.

  • Lightweight Crocs or sport sandals: For around camp and crossing streams and rivers.

  • Sacred socks: Heavy, warm pair of socks to put on at night. Keep dry at all costs!

Personal items

  • Sunglasses with case

  • Toiletries

  • Personal medications

  • Sun screen/lip protection

  • Pack towel

  • Book/Kindle

  • Camera

  • Binoculars

  • Insect repellent

Optional / recommended gear

  • Lightweight synthetic glove liners

  • Bandana

  • Accessory carabiners

  • Synthetic liner socks

  • Gore-Tex or Lightweight Neoprene Socks

  • Waterproof gaiters

Alaska's best adventure travel destinations

What to do and where to go in Alaska

Where to backpack In Alaska

Alaska is a backpacking Mecca, where your trail cred will reach new levels. Whether you’re cutting your teeth on classic tried-and-true routes, or flexing more advanced backpacking skills, Alaska is the place to gear up and get out there. Here are our top picks for backpacking trips in Alaska:

Choose from routes of all lengths and levels in one of the most approachable and user-friendly wilderness areas anywhere in Alaska.

  • Chugach State Park

The Chugach Mountains offer several dozen excellent hiking and backpacking trails, crossing high tundra landscapes, all within easy reach from Anchorage.

Adventure through the biggest mountains in North America and the crown jewel of the National Park system, gaining many-angled views of Denali in all its majesty.

  • Arrigetch Peaks (Gates of the Arctic National Park)

The Arrigetch Peaks are known for their sheer walls, vertical spires and spectacular relief. They’re deep in the Brooks Range, with very low backpacker traffic.

Hike through the high tundra of the Revelation Mountains, a range so rugged and remote that it has been largely overlooked.

Test your off-trail backpacking skills in the United States’ largest national park. Traverse glaciers, swift creeks, high mountain passes, and wide-open tundra.

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Kayaking, rafting and paddling In Alaska

Kayaking and rafting are two of the most sublime modes of wilderness travel in Alaska. To paddle along the shore of a remote glacial lake or to stroke the tidal waters of an Alaskan sea is both quintessential and surreal. Cover distances on the water, without carrying the weight of a backpack.

Whether you prefer a sea kayak, inflatable canoe, or inflatable kayak, grab a paddle and flex your arm muscles for this ultimate form of non-motorised transport.

  • Kongakut River to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Set out on an expedition down the Kongakut River. Rafting and hiking in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is simply a trip of a lifetime.

The Twin Lakes, located in the heart of Lake Clark National Park, are a wonderland of crystalline waters set beneath a rugged rim of mountains. A kayaking classic!

The Noatak River is a federally designated Wild and Scenic River as rich with tradition as it is with wildlife, and ideal for a rafting adventure.

  • Turquoise Lake (Lake Clark National Park)

Combine the best of both worlds–terrestrial and aquatic–on a kayak-supported hike of Turquoise Lake. Kayaks are used for fully exploring the basin.

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Multisport trips

Outdoor enthusiasts are spoiled for choice in Alaska. Want to try glacier trekking, backpacking, “flight-seeing”, wildlife viewing, kayaking, and rafting, but not sure which to choose? Looking for a mix of comfy lodges and rugged camping? Fear not. The possibilities for combining activities into multisport adventures are endless.

For “do it all” types, try these great places for combination trips.

  • Aniakchak River National Monument

Mix hiking and rafting in the seldom-visited Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve, reaching the prestigious “Ring of Fire”, a volcanically active caldera.

Potentially Alaska’s best adventure trifecta! Sea kayak the sound, climb glacier ice in Chugach, and stretch your hiking legs under the spell of Denali.

  • Arrigetch to Alatna by pack raft (Gates of the Arctic National Park)

Sample backpacking through the Arrigetch Peaks region of the central Brooks Range, then try canoeing down the Wild and Scenic Alatna River.

  • Kenai Fjords, Wrangell-St. Elias & Denali

Three wonders of Alaska, many ways to see them. Hike, fish, kayak, raft, cruise, and fly your way through Alaska’s hallmark national parks, based in lodges or camping.

  • Turquoise Lake (Lake Clark National Park)

Combine the best of both worlds–terrestrial and aquatic–on a kayak-supported hike of Turquoise Lake. Kayaks are used for fully exploring the basin.

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Wildlife spotting In Alaska

Alaska’s wildlife is sized to the scale of the land. Here, the largest grizzly bears in the world feed on wild King salmon, also the biggest in the world. Herds of caribou roam the tundra, leggy moose munch suburban gardens, whales breach and bubble feed offshore of coastal towns, and millions of seabirds congregate as they complete their annual record-breaking migrations.

ANWR is aptly described as “America’s Serengeti”. Caribou, polar bears, grizzlies and muskoxen wander, and nesting golden eagles make this refuge their summer home.

Bear lovers take note: Katmai National Park is home to the largest brown bear population in the world, and holds the spawning grounds of literally millions of sockeye salmon.

  • Denali Basecamp

Wildlife photographers know this is the spot for moose, grizzly and black bears, Dall sheep, wolves, caribou, lynx, wolverine, eagles, ptarmigan and of course caribou.

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Where to ski In Alaska

Who says Alaska’s outdoors are for summertime only? Get out in the backcountry for a fresh powder fantasyland all to yourself. From intense big mountain downhill to atmospheric Nordic-style touring, mountaineering on skis will bring you farther into the winter wilderness than you might imagine possible.

  • Denali National Park

Skiing this zone has perks like low elevation, ample snow, tons of non-glaciated and manageable ski terrain, and amazingly close proximity to Denali itself.

  • Lake Clark National Park

Ski the Chigmit peaks, which are active volcanoes rising directly from sea level. In the park’s Neacolas Mountains, tour European-style through glacier passes and dramatic peaks.

  • Prince WIlliam Sound

Backcountry skiing just got a lot more comfortable. Catch an exclusive cruise on a yacht throughout the Chugach Mountains in Prince William Sound.

  • Chugach and Talkeetna

Just a day trip away from Anchorage, this is the perfect first-timer winter wilderness experience in North America’s most accessible backcountry skiing terrain.

Alaska's national parks

Alaska's best national parks for adventure trips and activities

Park

Famous for ...

Visitors (per year)

Getting there

Denali National Park

20,310' Denali (North America’s tallest Peak), Ruth Gorge and Glacier

560,000

Park entrance is off the Parks Highway, easily reached by vehicle (120 miles south of Fairbanks; 235 from Anchorage)

Katmai National Park

Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, bear-viewing at Brooks Camp

37,000

Park headquarters are located in King Salmon, which is 290 air miles southwest of Anchorage.

Prince William Sound & Kenai Fjords National Park

Tidewater glaciers and fjords, wildlife watching, and glacier viewing

250,000+ in PWS;

297,000 in Kenai Fjords

Access PWS through Whittier (60 road miles from Anchorage); Valdez (300 road miles from Anchorage) and Cordova (45-minute flight from Anchorage).

Lake Clark National Park

Richard Proenneke's cabin, Iliamna and Redoubt volcanoes, bear-viewing

17,000

Usually reached by small plane, 100 miles (1 hour flight) southwest of Anchorage.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Enormous caribou herds; controversy over drilling for oil

1,200 - 1,500

Small-plane access from Fairbanks to either Arctic Village or Kaktovik, then bush plane into the park itself

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Its size (largest national park in the US), mountaineering, volcanoes

80,000

One of few Alaska parks accessible by road (4-5 hours from Anchorage and Fairbanks). Two dirt roads lead into the park: Nabesna Road and McCarthy Road

Aniakchak National Monument

Its 2,500-foot-deep caldera, very low visitation

150

450 miles southwest of Anchorage, regular 1-hour flights from Anchorage to King Salmon

Gates of the Arctic National Park

Its intact Arctic ecosystem

11,000

Access by small plane from the gateway communities of Bettles and Anaktuvuk Pass. Both have daily flights from Fairbanks

Kobuk Valley National Park

Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, Kobuk River, aurora borealis viewing

--

Charter an air taxi from Fairbanks to the two nearest communities: Kotzebue and Bettles

Important note about travel in Alaska's parks and wilderness areas: These lands are truly wild and usually very remote; in some parks, it's possible to travel for many days and never see another human being. Always approach travel here from the mindset that you're completely on your own. You'll have no cell service, and in areas with tall mountains, satellite phone service isn't completely reliable either. There are usually no established services, trails or facilities in these parks, and access is almost always by boat or small plane only (there are no roads, either!)

These are all excellent reasons to hire a guide service so you can experience Alaska's wildest areas comfortably and safely. Only consider taking a trip on your own if you have the appropriate gear, skill set and experience to handle backcountry travel, navigation and survival in Alaska's very challenging terrain and weather. Keep in mind that in the most remote places, rescue is never guaranteed, and if it does come it can take quite a while, so you should always think in terms of being completely self-sufficient.

Despite the remoteness of Alaska's parks, you might occasionally encounter private land dotted with camps or cabins, often sites for subsistence activities like hunting or processing fish. Respect these private areas and steer clear of them, even if they appear to be unoccupied.

Finally, never plan a trip based solely on the information given in a guidebook (including this one!) Conditions, routes and access all change rapidly in the Alaska wilderness. You alone are responsible for thorough preparation and making decisions, both beforehand and on the spot, to ensure your safety.

What to do in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Adventures and activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

If you think of sprawling coastal plains and seemingly endless streams of caribou, you're probably thinking of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR to locals). This massive refuge may be best-known for the highly public battle over whether to open its borders to oil drilling, but this vast, trackless wilderness is also home to more than 200,000 caribou and a smattering of polar bears, best seen from the tiny village of Kaktovik.

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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge highlights

  • The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a vast, trackless wilderness, open to hiking, backpacking, climbing and paddle/float trips. This is a true wilderness--one of the most isolated places on earth, receiving fewer than 1,000 visitors each year.
  • ANWR is famous for its caribou herds, including the 1690,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd and about 42,000 animals from the Central Arctic caribou herd.

  • More recently ANWR has become infamous for the controversy over whether to open it to drilling for natural resources.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge facts & figures

  • ANWR contains just short of 20 million acres; it contains two nationally designated wild rivers, and the largest designated wilderness within the National Wildlife Refuge system.
  • This land was first protected as the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960. In 1980, the range was re-designated as part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

  • ANWR shares borders with Ivvavik and Vuntut National Parks in Canada.

Weather in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Although the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round, you’d do well to time your visit for the summer. Summer temperatures typically average around 5 C (40 F), although they can reach 26 C (into the 80s F); winter temperatures average around -17 C (zero F), but can easily dip much lower.

The sun doesn't set from late April to mid August; then, it doesn't rise from mid November to mid January. Conditions can change rapidly and unexpectedly, with freezing temperatures and snow possible at any time of the year. That said, the inland portions of the refuge tend toward moderate temperatures and variable winds, while the coastal region tends to be foggy, cool and windy.

Wildlife in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to a rich, intact ecosystem that spans from a coastal marine environment to a coastal tundra plain, alpine tundra and the boreal forest.

ANWR houses 45 species of land and marine mammals, including polar bears, black and grizzly bears, two caribou herds, Dall sheep, muskoxen and a wide variety of smaller creatures.

ANWR also has more than 200 species of migratory and resident birds, including ground-roosting snowy owls and the amazing bar-tailed godwit, which make a 7,200-mile non-stop flight to get from New Zealand to Alaska.

Did you know?

The bar-tailed godwit makes a 7,200-mile flight from New Zealand to Alaska--the longest non-stop migration of any known bird.

The landscape is incredibly diverse too, including a coastal plain of Arctic tundra, the four highest peaks of the Brooks Range, and more than 160 rivers and streams, three of which are nationally designated wild rivers (the Wind River, the Ivishak River and the Sheenjek River).

How to get to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

There are no roads or established trails in ANWR. The only way to get here is by air, by boat (on the rivers) or on foot; the latter happens only very rarely.

Most visitors take a small plane from Fairbanks to either Arctic Village (south of the refuge) or Kaktovik (on Barter Island, in the northerly reaches of the refuge), then take a bush plane to their final destination in the park. The most efficient flight from Fairbanks to Kaktovik takes two hours with Ravn Alaska and Hagelund Aviation.

What to do in Gates of the Arctic National Park

Adventures and activities in Gates Of The Arctic NP

Although it's one of the most visited parks in the Arctic, Gates of the Arctic is still populated by far more caribou and birds than human visitors. This enormous park, sandwiched between Noatak National Preserve and Kobuk Valley National Park (to the west) and the Dalton Highway or Haul Road (to the east) supports one of the last completely intact Arctic ecosystems. This is a great example of the Alaskan maxim of using waterways as roads, with rivers and lakes helping to thread together the marvellously diverse landscapes you'll find here, from soaring, 7,000-foot granite peaks to wetland forests and the broad, flat Arctic tundra.

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Gates of the Arctic National Park highlights

  • Most famous for having one of the last completely intact Arctic ecosystems. There are no established or maintained roads or trails here unless they were created by animals.
  • Hiking and paddling or floating on the rivers are very popular activities. Keep in mind that travel is difficult, and even seasoned backpackers may manage only five miles in a day.

  • Gates of the Arctic protects a large portion of the Western Arctic caribou herd's range.

  • In spring and summer, migratory birds arrive from all over the world, coming from as far as South America to feed and rear their young under the midnight sun.

Gates Of The Arctic National Park facts & figures

  • There are no amenities, services or trail in this 8.4 million acre park, which was established in 1980 to help preserve the Arctic ecosystem.
  • Gates of the Arctic butts up against Noatak National Preserve to the west, helping create one of the largest contiguous wilderness areas in the world.

  • Indigenous people are an integral part of this ecosystem and have been for some 15,000 years.

Did you know?

Gates of the Arctic National Park and the adjoining Noatak National Preserve combine to create one of the largest uninterrupted wilderness areas on earth.

Weather in Gates Of The Arctic National Park

Summer temperatures can rise into the low 20s C (70s F). Winter temperatures can plunge to between -30 and -45 C (-20 and -50 F); the climate is relatively dry, with limited but lingering snow during the winter. The rivers typically become ice-free in mid-June.

The sun doesn't set from May through early August; animals and plants take advantage of this never-ending day to get through their life cycles quickly.

The sun does not rise from early December through early January, although you get several hours of usable light ("civil twilight").

Wildlife in Gates Of The Arctic National Park

The landscape here is enormously varied, with foothills in the south rising to limestone and granite peaks that soar more than 7,000ft (2,100m) above sea level. On the other side of the mountains, a broad, flat shelf of tundra stretches north to the Arctic Ocean.

You'll also find low-lying wetlands, sparse taiga (black spruce) forest, and stands of boreal forest on south-facing slopes. The park is criss-crossed by waterways that often provide the best means of travel, and provides a true opportunity for remote wilderness and solitude.

Wildlife sightings include caribou (the Western Arctic caribou herd is estimated at 235,000 individuals), moose, black and grizzly bears, wolves, Dall's sheep, foxes and musk oxen. If you're very lucky, you might see a wolverine.

How to get to Gates Of The Arctic National Park

You can get park information at the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot, a community about halfway up the Dalton Highway ("Haul Road") between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay.

The actual park visitor centre is located in Bettles, which also houses a ranger station. There is also a ranger station in Anaktuvuk Pass. The ranger stations and visitor centres loan bear-resistant food containers on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Access to the park is usually by small plane from the gateway communities of Bettles and Anaktuvuk Pass. Warbelow's and Wright Air offer daily flights from Fairbanks to Bettles.

You can also hike in from the Dalton Highway (which runs along part of the park's eastern boundary) or from Anaktuvuk Pass, but you must cross rivers in both cases and the terrain is extremely rugged, with no trails to follow. Ask permission before camping on Native land, which encircles Anaktuvuk Pass for several miles.

Air travel into this remote location is often delayed due to weather, so budget extra food and supplies in case of travel delays.

What to do in Kobuk Valley National Park

Adventures and activities in Kobuk Valley NP

Located entirely above the Arctic Circle in the western Brooks Range, Kobuk Valley National Park is a broad valley encircled by the Baird and Waring mountain ranges, with the Kobuk River snaking through its middle for 61 miles.

It’s best known for the desert-like sand dunes that cover most of its southern reaches. The biggest and most famous are the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, which cover 25 square miles and can measure 100 ft (30 m) high.

The sand was ground down by glaciers, then carried here by wind and water after the last Ice Age. There are smaller sand areas, too--the Little Kobuk and Hunt River dunes--and impressive sandy river bluffs that contain permafrost and fossils.

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Kobuk Valley National Park highlights

  • Notable sights include the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes (and Little Kobuk and Hunt River dunes); the Kobuk River; and Onion Portage.

  • People have harvested caribou at National Historic Landmark for more than 9,000 years--a subsistence tradition that continues today.

  • Hiking/backpacking, boating, paddling or floating the slow-moving Kobuk River, fishing, flightseeing, wildlife watching/photography are all popular activities here.

  • Kobuk Valley National Park is an excellent place for aurora-viewing in the winter.

  • Winter activities such as snowmobiling (“snowmachining” to locals), skiing and dog mushing should only be attempted by people with the appropriate equipment and well-tested Arctic survival skills. For most visitors, this means: Don’t even think about it without a guide.

Don’t miss

Kobuk Valley National Park is an excellent place for viewing aurora borealis during the winter season.

Kobuk Valley National Park facts & figures

  • Kobuk Valley National Park encompasses a massive 1,795,280 acres of land and was designated as a national park in 1980.
  • Kobuk is an Iñupiaq word meaning "big river."

  • Very remote and unmanned, you’ll find no developed facilities at all at Kobuk Valley National Park, and no entrance fee is charged

  • The park's visitor centre, the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center, is actually located in Kotzebue, 80 miles southwest of the park. This is where you go to borrow bear-resistant containers, get generally oriented to the park, or get your National Parks passport stamped (they also stamp passports for Noatak National Preserve and Gates of the Arctic). Open year-round, but limited hours in winter.

Weather in Kobuk Valley National Park

Above the Arctic circle, the sun doesn't set here from June 3 to July 9. You may need an eye mask to sleep!

The sun is above the horizon for only 1.5 hours on the winter solstice. There is a longer stretch of usable light (civil twilight) while the sun is below the horizon, but even that is very limited. Because of this and the park's location, there is excellent aurora-viewing in the winter.

It can snow or drop to freezing temperatures at any time of year, including summer; wind and rain are common too.

Summer temperatures hover around 18 C (mid-60s F), usually topping out at around 21-26 C (70-80 F), although temperatures in the sand dunes can top 37 C (100 F).

Winter temperatures average a low of -22 C (-8 F) in January but can dip as low as -45 C (-50 F).

Only visit during the winter if you have your own Arctic survival gear and long experience with the appropriate survival skills.

Wildlife in Kobuk Valley National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park is bisected by 61 miles of the Kobuk River. To the north, the Baird Mountains; to the south, the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes.

The park is a largely wetland habitat, located in the transition zone between boreal forest (which becomes open woodlands of birch/spruce) and Arctic tundra to the north.

Muskox, moose, black and grizzly bears, Dall sheep and grey wolves are all common here.

The Western Arctic caribou herd (almost 500,000 animals) migrates through the park every year, travelling north to summer calving grounds in the spring, then south to winter breeding grounds in the fall.

Look for Kobuk locoweed (a flowering herb)--this is the only place in the world it exists.

Kobuk Valley preserves the ecosystem of Beringia, a thousand-mile grassland that connected Asia and North America during the last Ice Age.

How to get to Kobuk Valley National Park

There is no road access to the park and the vast majority of visitors charter an air taxi from the two nearest communities: Kotzebue and Bettles.

You can reach Kotzebue on Alaska Airlines, Ravn Alaska and (seasonally) Delta. Get to Bettles on Warbelow's or Wright Air from Fairbanks. Once in either community, use one of the authorized air taxis to fly into the park.

Some people float or paddle in on the Kobuk River from nearby communities of Kobuk, Shungnak or Ambler, then take out from Kiana or Noorvik. You'll have to air taxi in and out.

Independent travellers don't need permits; organized recreational groups do.

Basic groceries are available in Kotzebue but are ridiculously expensive. Gear is limited if available at all. Bring all your own gear and as much of your own food as possible.

What to do in Denali National Park

Adventures and activities in Denali NP

Denali National Park and Preserve is a sprawling, 6-million-acre land of snow-clad peaks, tundra-carpeted hills and rushing glacier-fed creeks. Easy access from the road system and the notoriety of containing the tallest mountain in North America (20,310' / 6,200m Mt. Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley) make this one of the most-visited parks in Alaska, with an enormous variety of wilderness excursions--from flightseeing to whitewater rafting and ATV tours--to choose from.

Denali_Lake-2

Denali National Park highlights

  • Flightseeing Mt Denali which, at 20,310 feet (6,190m) above sea level, is the tallest mountain in North America. Best seen by air, some flightseeing trips even include glacier landings.
  • Look into the Denali Park Road Lottery. To take part you must apply for a lottery ticket each May, and winners are selected in mid-June. In September, winners can drive their own vehicle along the park road as far as weather permits.

  • Denali is huge for wildlife watching, although bear viewing is better in places like Katmai (px) and Lake Clark (px). (You'll see more bears in those places, and you're able to get much closer.)

  • For keen mountaineers both Denali and Forakor (17,400ft / 5,000m) are big prizes.

  • Backcountry hiking and backpacking are also very popular. Most of this is done off-trail--there are no established long-distance trails.

  • Camping is popular too. Tents are allowed in established campgrounds, found at miles 0.25, 14, 22, 29, 35 and 85 of the park road. RVs are only allowed at the mile 0.25 campground and the mile 29 campground (the latter requires a three-night stay if you drive in).

  • Popular guided activities in Denali National Park include backcountry backpacking, basecamp exploration, photography safaris and rafting day trips. Skiing and snowshoeing are also popular.

Denali National Park facts & figures

  • Established in 1917 as Mount McKinley Park, Denali National Park currently contains 6 million acres, one third of which are designated wilderness. It was renamed in 1978, and expanded to its current size in 1980.

  • The park occupies a total of 6 million acres--that’s the size of three Yellowstones!

  • There are four visitor centers in the park. Denali Visitor Center near the park entrance, Eielson Visitor Center at mile 66 of the park road and the Wilderness Access Center near the park entrance are summer opening only; the Murie Science and Learning Center is open year round.

  • The mountain Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley) was renamed in late 2015. Denali--as the locals have long called it--is based on a Koyukok Athabascan phrase meaning "the high one."

  • Denali is the only national park with a working kennel of sled dogs.

Denali National Park weather

Denali's weather is extremely variable, although summers tend to be cool and damp. Snow can fall at any time of year, including the summer.

The south side of the park tends to have more precipitation than the northern side, so its glaciers are larger and more impressive.

Most park attractions run June through September, although the Murie Science and Learning Center and limited park access are open through the winter.

Wildlife in Denali National Park

An amazing 16% of Denali National Park is covered by glacier, the largest of which is Muldrow Glacier.

Straddling the Alaska Range, Denali’s landscape and ecosystems vary widely from north to south. The landscape tends to be taiga forest and brushy tundra (with tough, scrubby plants typically around knee high) or alpine tundra.

Crossing glacier-fed rivers and creeks can be especially dangerous here because the water is swift and prone to rising quickly.

The treeline is around 3,000 feet (900m). The Alaska Range includes some of the highest, most challenging alpine climbs in the state, which remain covered in ice and snow year-round. Most remarkable, of course, is Mt Denali itself.

Common wildlife sightings include moose, grizzly and black bears, Dall sheep, wolves, caribou, lynx, wolverine, eagles, ptarmigan and of course caribou.

How to get to Denali National Park

There's just one road that leads (partway) into the park. You can drive your own car on the first 15 miles, or take a variety of buses for the entire 85 miles.

The Denali National Park entrance is off the Parks Highway, easily reached by vehicle (120 miles/2 hours south of Fairbanks; 235 miles/4 hours from Anchorage, 150 miles/2.5 hours from Talkeetna).

Denali NP travel tip

Summer is known as "construction season" in Alaska; add an hour of "just in case" time when traveling from Anchorage, and at least 30 minutes when traveling from Talkeetna or Fairbanks.

The park is easily accessed via the Alaska Railroad as well. This is a long trip: eight hours from Anchorage, four hours from Fairbanks, two hours from Talkeetna.

Backcountry permits are required for DIY backpacking or camping. They're issued only in person, no more than a day before trip begins. Get your permit at the Backcountry Information Center in summer (mid-May to mid-September) and at the Murie Science and Learning Center in fall, winter and spring. The park is divided into 87 units to minimise crowding; you pick from the units that are available only after you get there, so it helps to have several trips roughly planned out.

Climbers targeting Denali or Foraker must register with rangers at least 60 days in advance and pay a special use fee.

Four air taxi services are authorised to operate in the park (flying people in and out). All are based in Talkeetna: Fly Denali, K2 Aviation, Sheldon Air Service, Talkeetna Air Taxi.

If you're coming in from the north side of the Alaska Range, two kennels--Earthsong Lodge and Squid Acres--can help haul expedition freight by dogsled.

What to do in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park And Preserve

Adventures and activities in Wrangell-St. Elias NP

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park may be best known for its enormous size; this 13.2 million acre behemoth is twice the size of Maryland. It's also a paradise for mountaineers, sporting some of North America's largest volcanoes but none of the traffic jams you'd find in Denali. Although access is usually easiest by air taxi, two dirt roads offer limited access into the park: The Nabesna Road, which has several stream crossings, and the McCarthy Road, which is famous for hiding stray railroad spikes that can puncture flat tires.

Happily, road conditions have improved greatly in recent years, and the tiny mining town of McCarthy and the nearby Kennecott copper mine, five more miles away by road, make great access points to this stunning, rugged wilderness.

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Wrangell-St. Elias highlights

  • Wrangell-St. Elias boasts an incredibly diversity of attractions, including the 14,163ft (4,316m) Mount Wrangell (an active volcano), mountaineering, backpacking, day hiking, float trips, hunting, fishing and off-roading.
  • It’s not all wilderness and adventure; there are many cultural and historical attractions here too. Don’t miss the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark and the isolated town of McCarthy, which is located at the end of the McCarthy Road. From McCarthy, cross a footbridge and walk, ride or hop a shuttle for five miles to reach Kennecott (the old mill town).

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park facts & figures

  • Covering an astonishing 13.2 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve is the country’s biggest national park -- as big as Yellowstone, Yosemite and Switzerland all combined.

  • At 18,008ft (5,489m), the park’s highest peak is Mount St. Elias. The St Elias mountain range includes some of the highest peaks in all North America.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park weather

In most of Wrangell-St. Elias, tall mountains shield the park from a mild maritime climate, leaving it with long, cold winters. Nighttime temperatures may drop as low as -45 C (-50 F). Summers are short, warm and dry. With that said, weather can change quickly and dramatically in any season.

The exception to this is the Yakutat coastal area, which tends to high winds and storms in spring, fall and winter. Yakutat is extremely wet, receiving about 151 inches of rain every year. Summer temperatures in this part of the park average around 10 C (50 F) to 21 C (70 F), and winters average around -4 C (25 F).

If you’re planning on heading for the highest elevations, mid-June to mid-August is the most reliable period for encountering little to no snow. Snow typically starts falling again around September.

Wildlife in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Wrangell St. Elias's diversity of ecosystems--including temperate rainforest and tundra -- mean you can see many different animals here, although you may need binoculars to spot them.

Look for Dall's sheep, mountain goats, caribou, moose, grizzly and black bears, and even bison. Smaller animals include swans, porcupines, foxes and snowshoe hares. You may also see golden and bald eagles, hawks, and a variety of owls. Along the coastal areas of the park, you may see sea lions, harbour seals, sea otters and whales.

The Copper River offers good fishing for red, silver and king salmon, plus other fish including rainbow trout, grayling and Dolly Varden trout.

Wrangell-St. Elias NP travel tip

Mosquitoes can be a nuisance during June and July--bring a head net and mosquito repellent.

How to get to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Wrangell-St. Elias is one of the few Alaska national parks that is (somewhat) accessible by road. Two dirt roads lead into the park: the 42-mile Nabesna Road (which includes several stream crossings) and the 59-mile McCarthy Road. Two-wheel-drive vehicles can usually be driven cautiously on these roads, but in poor road conditions or after a rain, it's much better to have a four-wheel drive vehicle.

The Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center is located about 10 miles south of Glenallen on the Richardson Highway; that's 200 miles east of Anchorage and 250 miles south of Fairbanks.

There are also two ranger stations in the park: The Chitina Ranger Station in the south at the start of the McCarthy Road, and the Slana Ranger Station in the north at the start of the Nabesna Road.

Bring at least one spare tire and a jack any time you drive these roads. The McCarthy Road is built on an old railbed so if the sharp rocks don't get your tires, old railroad spikes sometimes do the job.

Chartering a small plane/air taxi remains your best bet for reaching more remote areas of the park.

What to do in Katmai National Park

Adventures and activities in Katmai NP

Broad river flats, looming mountains, and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes -- the stunning, desolate remains of the 20th century's largest volcanic eruption: That's what you'll find in Katmai National Park, alongside the park's famous brown bears gorging on floods of incoming salmon. Visitors also come here for the paddling, backcountry hiking and fly fishing, although some of the fishing is catch and release only.

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Katmai National Park highlights

  • Katmai is renowned for its bear watching -- the National Park Service estimates that the park is home to around 2,200 bears. One of the best bear viewing locations is at Brooks Camp. Other good backcountry bear spotting locations include Hallo Bay, Geographic Harbor, Swikshak Lagoon and Moraine Creek/Funnel Creek.

  • You’ll be blown away by the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, the site of the Novarupta eruption in 1912 - -the 20th century's largest volcanic eruption.

  • Don’t miss the excellent paddling in Katmai's rivers and lakes, or along the park's 400 miles of coastline. Popular inland routes include the 80-mile Savonoski Loop for canoes and kayaks (plan at least four to 10 days), and American Creek (class II to III+ rapids in places), Moraine Creek and Funnel Creek for rafting.

  • For backpacking and hiking, keep in mind that Katmai National Park has just five miles of maintained trails, the rest is pure backcountry adventure. Navigation and survival skills for rapidly changing, often stormy conditions are essential. Consider visiting with a professional outfitter.

Katmai National Park facts & figures

  • Katmai National Park covers more than 4 million acres (almost 6,400 square miles), most of which is designated wilderness.

  • The park was established in 1918, 6 years after the Novarupta eruption to preserve the resulting "Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes," a smoking, steaming landscape covered in ash. Although it no longer smokes, people still come to marvel at the radically altered landscape.

  • So few people visited Katmai National Park after its creation that rangers were not posted there until 1950.

Weather in Katmai National Park

Katmai is located between two stormy weather regions (the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea), so be prepared for variable weather all year long. Typically, the weather is wet and cool with strong winds; the Pacific coast is wetter, colder and more prone to storms than the inland parts of the park.

Summer temps range from -1 to 26 C (30 to 80 F); winters are dry and cold, ranging anywhere from 10 to -37 C (50 to -35 F).

Katmai NP travel tip

The National Park Service have a number of webcam installations and automated weather stations offering live condition reports in and around Katmai. You can view them here.

Wildlife in Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park remains an active volcanic landscape. The southwest portion includes the Bristol Bay coastal plan: relatively flat, with lakes, kettle ponds and a number of low ridges and sand dunes. Other portions of the park are a rugged mix of bays, beaches, coves and thick vegetation along the coast. The highest peaks rise to about 7,000ft (2,100m) and the easiest-to-see glaciers are on the eastern coast. The northern and northwestern parts of the park contain many lakes surrounded by mountains that rise to around 3,000ft (915m).

Grizzly bear-viewing is the biggest wildlife draw, but you can also see wolves, caribou, porcupines, beavers and marten.

It's fish that draw the bears here -- and humans come here to enjoy the stellar fishing, too. You'll find five species of Pacific salmon plus rainbow trout, Arctic char, Dolly Varden and Arctic grayling. Check Alaska Department of Fish & Game regulations for Bristol Bay, Kodiak/Aleutian and Lower Cook Inlet, and know how to handle bear encounters while fishing. There are also special regulations for Brooks River.

How to get to Katmai National Park

Park headquarters are located in King Salmon, which is 290 air miles southwest of Anchorage. You can get there from Anchorage on Alaska Airlines or PenAir.

Brooks Camp is by far the most popular destination in Katmai. From June to mid-September, the National Park Service maintains rudimentary services here: A visitor center, ranger station, campground and auditorium. Meals and lodging are available at Brooks Lodge.

When you arrive, you will be required to attend a short bear safety talk that also outlines park regulations.

Most locations in Katmai are accessed by float plane air taxi from nearby communities like Anchorage, Dillingham, Homer, King Salmon and Kodiak.

What to do in Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords National Park

Adventures and activities in PWS and Kenai Fjords NP

Prince William Sound (PWS) sits in a calm, well-sheltered inlet on the Gulf of Alaska. It hugs the state’s south coast, cradled between the Kenai Peninsula and the Southeast panhandle and protected by three large barrier islands.

Kenai Fjords National Park covers much of the eastern Kenai Peninsula, west of Prince William Sound. This is one of the few areas where you'll frequently have cell phone service and access to services like outhouses, established trails, etc.

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Prince William Sound & Kenai Fjords NP highlights

  • Kenai Fjords National Park's star highlight is the 700 square mile Harding Icefield, from which almost 40 glaciers flow. You can complete a challenging 4-mile hike (almost all uphill) to views of the top of the icefield (8.2 miles round-trip). This is not a technical hike or climb, but it is a gruelling hike that any visitor can be proud of completing, including the hardcore folks.

  • A traverse of the icefield--which can take up to 2 weeks -- is popular; mountaineering skills and/or a competent guide are very much required.

  • Also popular is Exit Glacier, found within about a 1/4-mile walk of the road on established trails, with markers showing how far the glacier has receded over time.

  • There is extensive paddling throughout the Kenai Fjords National Park coastline. These waters are exposed to the Gulf of Alaska, so inexperienced paddlers should always travel with a guide. Landings involve surf, and afternoons are usually windy. Beware the fast, extreme tides in all of Alaska's coastline.

  • The park abuts on the western side of Prince William Sound and is excellent for wildlife watching, although there's usually more wildlife in the eastern portion of Prince William Sound.

  • One of Prince William Sound's biggest highlights: 150 glaciers, 17 of them that meet the ocean (they're called tidewater glaciers).

  • Both Kenai Fjords National Park and Prince William Sound offer excellent ocean fishing, including salmon, halibut and other oceangoing fish. Kenai Fjords National Park offers plenty of inland fishing opportunities too.

Prince William Sound & Kenai Fjords facts & figures

  • Kenai Fjords National Park was established in 1980 and covers 601,839 acres. Sixty percent of the park is covered by snow and ice.

  • Prince William Sound covers 3,800 miles of Alaska's rugged coastline, including part of the Chugach National Forest.

Weather in PWS and Kenai Fjords NP

Prince William Sound enjoys a mild maritime climate, with average summer highs around 15 C (60 F). The region receives a lot of rainfall--approximately 60 inches of rainfall annually, and some 30 feet of snow.

Kenai Fjords National Park Weather has a generally mild maritime climate, with unpredictable, quickly changing weather. Summer temperatures range from 5 to 20 C (mid 40s to low 70s F) and are often overcast and rainy. Winter temperatures range from freezing down to -30 C (-20). Rainfall is year round with the rainiest in June and September.

Land-based activities are usually best May to October.

Wildlife in PWS and Kenai Fjords NP

There are more than 220 species of birds in Prince William Sound, and an estimated 200,000 birds summer there.

Common aquatic species include Stellar sea lions, seals, sea otters, Dall's porpoise, a variety of whales including orca, humpback, minke, fin and migrating grays.

Common land-based species you'll see in Kenai Fjords National Park Weather include moose, bears (both black and grizzly), lynx, coyotes, wolves, mountain goats and even the occasional wolverine or stray caribou.

How to get to Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords NP

Key communities for accessing Prince William Sound are Whittier (60 road miles from Anchorage including a one-way tunnel, about an hour and a half); Valdez (a six-hour, 300-mile drive from Anchorage) and Cordova (accessible by Alaska Marine Highway ferry or commercial plane; 45-minute flight from Anchorage on Alaska Airlines, or 60 minutes on Ravn Alaska).

Key access for Kenai Fjords National Park is through Seward (125 miles, 2.5 hours from Anchorage by road). The Kenai Fjords National Park visitor center is at the Seward boat harbour; the park also runs the Exit Glacier visitor centre.

What to do in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve

Adventures and activities in Lake Clark NP

If you live in or near Anchorage and want a quick day of bear viewing, you head for Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, which is just a short hour's flight away. But you can see much more than bears here: Lake Clark is also famous for its volcanoes and Richard Proenneke's historic, hand-crafted cabin, and it's a popular destination for fly fishing and paddling, too.

Lake Clark

Lake Clark National Park highlights

  • Don’t miss the Upper Twin Lake cabin of Richard Proenneke, who became famous thanks to the book One Man's Wilderness and the documentary Alone in the Wilderness about his solitary life at Lake Clark. Proenneke built the cabin himself with self-made tools.

  • Bear-viewing along the coast is best from June through August, declining in September. Popular sites include Chinitna Bay, Crescent Lake, Silver Salmon Creek, and Shelter Creek/Tuxednia Bay.

  • This is a great place for birdwatching, with more than 185 documented species.

  • Fat tire biking is an increasingly popular way to explore frozen lakes and rivers during the winter.

  • Backpacking and base camp exploration is big here. The Twin Lakes area is one of the most popular backpacking areas.

  • Kayaking and canoeing are also popular; the Twin Lakes is a hot spot for this, as well as Turquoise Lake.

  • There is just one maintained hiking trail in the park: The Tanalian Trail system out of Port Alsworth, which leads about 4.1 miles one way to 3,900-foot Tanalian Mountain, or 2.5 miles one way to Kontrashibuna Lake.

  • Lake Clark boasts stellar fly fishing, including sockeye. Ice fishing is popular in the winter. Other species include the other four species of Pacific salmon, Arctic char and grayling, Dolly Varden and rainbow trout. Two of the most popular sites are Crescent Lake and Silver Salmon Creek.

  • A number of wilderness lodges are available to host bear viewing, fishing and hunting.

Lake Clark NP facts & figures

  • Lake Clark National Park and Preserve covers more than 4 million acres--about 2.6 million acres in the park, 1.4 million in the preserve.

  • The area was first protected as a National Monument in 1978 and later upgraded to a National Park in 1980.

  • Humans have used this area for at least 10,000 years; there are multiple archaeological sites in the park.

  • Lake Clark is an important centre for research on sockeye salmon, which are crucial to both the ecosystem and subsistence lifestyles in the area.

  • The Lake Clark area contains two active volcanoes: 10,197ft (3,108m) Mount Redoubt and 10,016ft (3,052m) Mount Iliamna.

Lake Clark National Park travel tip

Lake Clark is Alaska’s great “all-rounder” adventure destination -- explorable by foot, on water and on skis.

Weather in Lake Clark National Park

Colliding air masses from the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska cause extremely variable weather around Lake Clark. Expect subarctic mountain weather that changes markedly according to elevation and terrain. Summer temperatures range from 10 C (50 F) to 18 C (65 F).

The coast is much wetter, averaging 40 to 80 inches of rainfall every year, two to three times what you'll see in the interior. Extremely strong winds are common here.

Winters are relatively mild along the coast. Average winter temperatures run between -17 C (1 F) and -5 C (22 F), while temps may sink as low as -40 C (-40 F) in inland portions of the park.

If possible plan your visit for when Lake Clark is free of ice (so float planes can land)--usually May through October, depending on conditions.

Wildlife in Lake Clark National Park

The park is poised at the juncture of three mountain ranges offering a diverse landscape including coastline, glaciers, glacial lakes, salmon-bearing rivers and active volcanoes draped with glaciers.

Common wildlife sightings include brown and black bears, moose, caribou, wolves and maybe lynx if you're lucky. This is an excellent place for birding.

How to get to Lake Clark National Park

Lake Clark National Park is located about 100 miles, or an hour's flight, southwest of Anchorage. Most visitors take a small plane from Anchorage to Port Alsworth, a community inside Lake Clark National Park. From there you can either explore on foot or, more commonly, take a small plane to other parts of the park.

The east side of the park (along Cook Inlet) can sometimes be accessed by boat, depending on the tides; companies based along the Kenai Peninsula sometimes offer coastline tours or pick up/drop off services.

What to do in Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve

Adventures and activities in Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve

The six-mile-wide caldera in the heart of Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve showcases what's left when a mountain literally blows its top. But that's not all you'll find in this 600,000-acre park perched in Southwest Alaska near the start of the Aleutian Chain. The area is also well known for the wild Aniakchak River, which alternates peaceful stretches with challenging whitewater; and easy but trail-less walking across the caldera floor. But Aniakchak's greatest offering may be solitude, with only 150 visitors in a typical year.

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Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve highlights

  • Viewing the six-mile-wide, 2,500 ft (760 m) deep Aniakchak caldera, formed by repeated eruptions over millennia and complete with its very own, thermally warmed, lake--Surprise Lake.

  • Floating the wild Aniakchak River (a designated "national wild river"), which alternates between peaceful stretches and challenging, technical whitewater. It can take three or four days to float all the way from the river's headwaters at Surprise Lake to Aniakchak Bay.

  • There are no established trails in Aniakchak, but the caldera floor makes for easy walking. The only paths in dense vegetation are usually game trails, so be wary of surprise encounters and know how to react if they happen.

  • Fishing is allowed in accordance with Alaska Department of Fish and Game guidelines; sport hunting and trapping are allowed in the national preserve section of Aniakchak, but not in the national monument.

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve facts & figures

  • Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve measures slightly more than 600,000 acres; it was established as a national monument in 1978, and expanded to include the preserve in 1980.

  • The impressive caldera was formed by a sequence of volcanic eruptions, the most recent of which was in 1931.

  • Despite its great age, the caldera was only discovered by non-indigenous (European-descended) explorers in the early 20th century and is still only visited by just a handful of outsiders each year.

Weather in Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve

Summer is the easiest season for visiting Aniakchak, although "easy" might be a stretch. Summer weather tends to be cool, wet and stormy, with high temperatures ranging in the high 40s or low 50s (7 - 11 C). Fog, rain, overcast skies and stormy weather with violent winds capable of shredding tents and locking down air travel are all common. River conditions can change quickly and drastically.

Wildlife in Weather in Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve

Thanks to its explosive past, the local volcanic landscapes are unable to support much biodiversity but brown bears, occasional caribou and sockeye salmon spawning up Aniakchak River have all returned as the land slowly recovers.

Don't miss

Aside from the technical challenges, floating the Aniakchak River gives you a chance to see seals, sea otters and seabirds in the bay, plus of course eagles too.

How to get to Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve

There are no roads or established services in Aniakchak Park and Preserve, which is located about 450 miles southwest of Anchorage. The weather is so unreliable that you should plan for delays to your pick-up and drop-off; take extra food and supplies to factor this in.

The visitor centre for Aniakchak is located in the nearby community of King Salmon. You can get from Anchorage to King Salmon aboard regular flights with Alaska Airlines and PenAir; the flight takes about an hour.

Chugach State Park

Extending for roughly 495,000 acres north, south and east of Anchorage and connected to the Southcentral Alaska road network, Chugach State Park is one of the state’s more accessible adventure spots.

The Chugach Mountains offer several dozen excellent hiking and backpacking trails, much of which across high tundra landscapes, all within easy reach from Anchorage.

This accessibility comes at a cost with Chugach much busier than other locations (by Alaska standards, anyway). Chugach State Park attracts both locals, DIY adventurers and guided groups alike.

The weather in the southern and central region of Chugach State Park tends to be similar to Anchorage with summer highs averaging around 18 C (65 F).

The weather can change quickly; thunderstorms are rare but becoming more common as the summer heats up. Patches of fresh snow can linger all the way through summer in the higher reaches of the park, and fresh snow can fall during summer, although this is rare at lower elevations.

On the summer solstice, you’ll get 22 hours of functional daylight. On the winter solstice, you get a little more than five hours of usable light in this region.

Bear (brown and grizzly) and moose sightings are very common, as are eagles, hawks, porcupine, mountain goats and Dall sheep. Smaller wildlife includes ground squirrels, pika, marmots, ermine, ptarmigan and grouse. Wolf sightings are becoming more common. More rarely, you might see fox, lynx or, if you're extremely lucky, a wolverine.

Almost all access to Chugach State Park is by road. The park is easily accessed from a number of trailheads in Anchorage, Girdwood, Eagle River, Chugiak/Birchwood, and areas in between.

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Talkeetna Mountains

Also within easy reach of Anchorage are the Talkeetna Mountains, sandwiched between the Alaska Range to the north and the Chugach Mountains/Cook Inlet to the south.

Despite their proximity to the Chugach Mountains, the Talkeetna have a character of their own--craggier than the mountains to the south but more accessible than the Alaska Range to the north.

Some of the more accessible (but still spectacular) trips in the Talkeetnas include Archangel Valley, Reed Lakes, the Mint Glacier, travel along the Little Susitna River ("Little Su" to locals), or sometimes the so-called "Bomber Traverse," a visit to the remains of an old B-29 bomber that are buried in the aptly named Bomber Glacier.

The Talkeetna mountains have a few good trailheads, but have many fewer trails and are more rugged than the Chugach.

Temperatures are cooler (and the weather tends to be rainier) in the Talkeetnas. Temperatures are also cooler in alpine regions of either park. Both rain and wind are hazards to be aware of; fog is more common in the Talkeetnas than the Chugach.

The Talkeetnas are accessed by roads to their south and west, typically from the small communities of Willow, Wasilla and Palmer. Anchorage is only a 40- to 60-minute drive away from Wasilla and Palmer, so it's a common launching off point.

Alaska Adventures

A guide to exploring the Alaskan wilderness

There’s the great outdoors and then there’s the wilderness. And then, in a category all of its own, there’s Alaska.

Just two million tourists visit Alaska each year--a drop in the ocean for a space that is larger than the next three states combined. And yet of that number, only a tiny fraction get to see the true Alaska in all its awesome glory.

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