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

Best backpacking 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.

Twin-Lakes_Lake-Clark

Kayaking on Alaska's Twin Lakes

Where to go kayaking & rafting 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.

Alaska alpine adventures backpacking denali

Hiking in Alaska's Denali National Park

Best multi-sport trips in Alaska

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.

015 Alaska Katmai Grizzly 2

Grizzly bears in Katmai National Park

Where to see bears & wildlife 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.

Alaska_skiing

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.

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.

Alaska's best national parks

Lisa Maloney

Lisa is an Alaska-based writer and journalist. She has authored the Moon guide to Alaska Alaska and served as senior editor at Alaska magazine among bylines in Via, Backpacker, the Wall Street Journal, Alaska magazine, Last Frontier, Northwest Travel & Life, The Writer, Funds for Writers, Natural Home and Garden and Outside Online.

Alaska's best national parks

Catherine Bodry

Catherine is a freelance travel writer and guidebook author hailing from Anchorage, Alaska. Her work has appeared in Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, Fodor's, MSN UK Travel, and many other print and web publications.

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