Alaska is home to eight of the United States’ 59 National Parks as well as some of the most elusive views in the natural world. The huge expanse of protected land spans roughly 54-million acres across Denali, Gates of the Arctic, Glacier Bay, Katmai, Kenai Fjords, Kobuk Valley, Lake Clark, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks. Though planning and executing a journey to explore any of these grand venues is no walk in the park (pun intended), the once in a life time experiences of such a visit are invaluable and the challenges can make the experience all the more rewarding. Despite their Grandeur, Alaska’s national parks tend to be lesser known than comparable, mainland parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Acadia, or the Grand Canyon. Many have taken Alaska’s inaccessibility as a challenge and have heeded the call of the Great Land.
Unsurprisingly, Alaska holds seven of the top ten spots for the largest national parks in the US. With over eight million acres of land, Wrangell-St. Elias stands as the largest national park. Here you can expect to find an abundance of enormous peaks, most prominent among them being Mount St. Elias which rises over 18,000 feet above sea level. If you find yourself not feeling up to the challenge, worry not, Wrangell-St. Elias IS vehicle accessible!
Wrangell-St. Elias’ size is followed closely by Gates of the Arctic, America’s second largest national park, occupying over 7.5 million acres of land. Unlike Wrangell, however, Gates of the Arctic National Park is relatively challenging to access. Located within the Arctic Circle, this park can only be accessed on foot. Lacking trails in addition to roads, daring explorers of the park will discover a biome speckled with hills and valleys, carved by twisting rivers, and teaming with hearty wildlife.
Denali National Park, clocking in at 6 million acres, is America’s third largest National Park. Denali is one of Alaska’s most popularly visited parks, favored for its fantastic taiga ecosystem and North America’s tallest peak. Denali Mountain watches over the park from its 20,300 ft. summit. With only one road running through the park, it is an excellent location to challenge one’s self and experience moments of solitude.
Katmai consists of 3.6 million acres of land, much of which is visually dominated by volcanoes. Many visit the fourth largest national park to partake in the spectacle of bear watching. With its rivers abundantly populated with Salmon, grizzly bears are a common site at Katmai. Just be sure to watch from a safe distance!
Glacier Bay is the sixth largest national park with 3.3 million acres, edged out only narrowly by Death Valley. This park is most commonly visited by boat for its spectacular views of glacial flows and whale watching opportunities. The views alone make it a popular stop for cruise ships. If you’re not keen on the idea of taking in the scene from a boat, there are plenty of opportunities to visit this internationally protected area on foot.
Lake Clark, Katmai’s northern neighbor, is composed of 2.6 million acres, making it the seventh largest national park. This park is a collage of bear, salmon, mountains, lakes, and volcanoes. This park cannot be reached either on foot or by car, and can only be accessed by way of air or water. True peace can be found in this wilderness.
Kobuk Valley is America’s ninth largest national park with 1.7 million acres. One of the most under rated parks in the system, Kobuk offers vast sand dunes, the historically invaluable Onion Portage, and the beautiful Kobuk River. Populated by the caribou which have sustained the native people for thousands of years, over half a million still roam the area and are a sight to see.
Kenai Fjords National Park is the smallest of Alaska’s national parks, yet is still striking with over 650,000 acres of protected terrain. This park can be reached by road and explored on foot, but most visitors choose to access it by boat. This geological wonder is home to over thirty glaciers, causing most of the park to be covered in ice.
The scope of the timeless grandeur of Alaska’s parks places them among the most serene travel destinations in the world.
Learn how to make the most of your trip with the free individual mobile app travel guides by Chimani. Each guide, available for free in the Apple Appstore, Google Play, and Amazon App Store, allows you to plan your trip, and navigate in the park without the need for a cell connection. The Chimani National Park apps all work using GPS-enabled maps to ensure that you’re always in the know and able to navigate around the parks.