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Denali National Park/other parks, Alaska

Great Destination:

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge provides nesting for 80% of North America’s seabirds (40 million).
  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is America’s largest national park (13.2 million acres).
  • Glacier Bay National Park has the world’s highest concentration of tidewater glaciers.
  • Denali was America’s first national park established to protect wildlife (1917).
  • Gates of the Arctic National Park (8.5 million acres) has no roads or trails; most visitors fly in.

Big state, big parks

Alaska is a big state, so it’s fitting that its parks are big. Denali, at a mere 6 million acres, isn’t the largest, but it is a top draw because it’s more accessible than some of Alaska’s protected areas, and it provides guests a chance to see four of their favorite land mammals — caribou, grizzly bear, moose and wolf — and North America’s tallest mountain, Mount McKinley at 20,320 feet.

Visitors can be considerably more active here, as well, with options ranging from fishing or hiking to cycling or climbing Mount McKinley.

Alaska has numerous other parks and wildlife refuges, as the following sampler, listed by size, indicates:

  • Wrangell-St Elias National Park, 13.2 million acres, a vast preserve of mountain peaks and massive glaciers. It draws visitors for outdoorsy pursuits, wildlife viewing and visits to abandoned copper mining towns.
  • Gates of the Arctic National Park, 8.5 million acres, noted for its mountain peaks, wild rivers, wildlife — and its remoteness. It encompasses America’s northernmost mountain chain, the Brooks Range.
  • Katmai National Park, 4.2 million acres, the site in 1912 of the most explosive volcanic eruption in historic times, except for Santorini, and now best known for its brown bears.
  • Lake Clark National Park, 3.6 million acres, 100 miles southwest of Anchorage and home to two active volcanoes and the pristine 42-mile-long Lake Clark.
  • Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, 3.4 million acres, the remotest unit of the wildlife refuge system, created to protect marine mammals and seabirds. It encompasses the volcanic islands of the Aleutian chain and the remote Pribilofs.
  • Glacier Bay National Park, 3.3 million acres, noted for mountains, fjords, marine wildlife and the glaciers that cover 27% of its surface. More than 90% of visitors arrive on cruise ships.
  • Kenai Fjords National Park, 600,000 acres, on the Kenai Peninsula outside of Anchorage and home to the Harding Icefield as well as the dramatic fjords that attract visitors in all sorts of vessels.
  • Kachemak Bay State Park and State Wilderness Park, 400,000 acres, with mountains, glaciers and marine wildlife also on Kenai Peninsula.
  • Denali State Park, 325,000 acres, distinguished by its great views of Mount McKinley.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Fish for grayling and Arctic char in the streams or for lake trout in the lakes of Arctic National Park. A camp is likely to be your base as there are no National Park Service facilities here.
  • Camp out in winter in Denali National Park, and watch for a colorful night sky, meaning the Northern Lights.
  • Paddle your canoe down any of three designated National Wild Rivers — Chilikadrotna, Mulchatna and Tlikakila — in Lake Clark National Park. Or, paddle a kayak past glaciers and camp along the shoreline at Glacier Bay National Park. You could do this independently or as part of a guided tour.
  • Hike deep into the Kachemak Bay State Park and State Wilderness Park. Cabins and wilderness lodges are available in and around these parks.
  • If an experienced mountaineer, climb onto and explore the Harding Icefield, in Kenai Fjords National Park, the largest icefield that lies entirely within U.S. borders. Or, climb Mount McKinley. This involves a 60-day preregistration requirement and a user fee that varies depending on your age.
  • For the truly dedicated birder, find your way to the remote Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Join a guided trip into Gates of the Arctic National Park for rafting and hiking, in summer, or dog mushing in winter.
  • In Katmai National Park, watch bears at Brooks River as they snag salmon in midair. Bear-viewing packages are available from Anchorage, Homer and Kodiak.
  • Do your cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in Denali National Park.
  • Make Naknek Lake in Katmai National Park your sportfishing destination. The lake is home to all five species of Pacific salmon, plus Arctic char, Arctic grayling, northern pike and rainbow trout.
  • Take a sightseeing cruise to the Kenai Fjords National Park for a chance to sail into fjords that give the park its name and to see porpoises, sea lions, seals and a variety of whales.
  • Sightsee from a mountain bike or from a kayak in Wrangell-St Elias National Park. Ice climbing and whitewater rafting are other options in the park, but not conducive to much sightseeing.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Tour Denali National Park on one of the buses that follow the Park Road. This is the only vehicle access to the heart of the park. Look for caribou, grizzly bears, moose and wolves.
  • Explore the old copper mining towns of Kennicott and McCarthy in Wrangell-St Elias National Park.
  • Staying fairly close to Anchorage, do your wildlife viewing in Lake Clark National Park. This would include land mammals like brown and black bears, caribou, Dall sheep and wolves, plus the chance of viewing beluga whales, sea lions, seals and sea otters from the shore.
  • Book a cruise that makes it easy for you admire the great glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park.
  • Join a ranger-led hike in Denali National Park — keeping your camera within easy reach.
  • Go to Denali State Park for your best views of Mount McKinley, which is in the adjacent national park. Then, turn to wildlife viewing and even fishing in the park’s lakes or rivers.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Alaska Travel Industry Association at