National Parks in Alaska: 8 Unique National Parks

National Parks in Alaska stand as a testament to the state’s unparalleled natural beauty and untamed wilderness. From the remote Arctic reaches to the coastal wonders of the south, these parks offer a glimpse into the diverse and awe-inspiring landscapes that define the Last Frontier.

Whether you seek solitude in the backcountry or a guided tour through historical sites, Alaska’s national parks provide unforgettable experiences for adventurers and nature enthusiasts alike.

8 National Parks in Alaska

National Parks in Alaska: Denali National Park - Denali mountain
Denali National Park – Denali mountain

Denali National Park

  • Year Established: February 26, 1917
  • Area: 4,740,911 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 595,000
  • Best Time to Visit: May to August

Denali National Park encompasses over four million acres of Alaska wilderness, making it one of the largest and most expensive national parks in the United States. The park’s centerpiece is the formidable Denali, the tallest mountain in North America, which pierces the skyline at 20,310 feet. This colossal peak was previously known as Mount McKinley and stands as a beacon for adventurers from around the globe.

The diverse terrain of Denali National Park includes glittering glaciers, dense taiga forests, and a vast expanse of tundra that supports a rich array of wildlife. The park’s ecological diversity is matched by its stunning array of pristine lakes, offering visitors spectacular natural scenery.

Access to the park is primarily via the singular Park Road, which offers a picturesque route through the wilderness.

Visitors should note that personal vehicle access is limited to the first 15 miles of Park Road. Inside the park, visitors can take advantage of the park’s ranger-led shuttle service, which provides a deeper look into the park’s more remote areas. This transportation option allows visitors to immerse themselves in the stunning beauty of Denali with the added benefit of expert guidance from park rangers.

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Gates of the Arctic National Park

Gates of the Arctic National Park

  • Year Established: December 2, 1980
  • Area: 8,472,506 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 2,800
  • Best Time to Visit: June to August

Gates of the Arctic National Park represents a quintessential Alaska National Park experience, enveloping visitors in its vast, untouched wilderness. Spanning 8 million acres, it holds the title as the second-largest national park in the United States, second only to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska. The park features the majestic Brooks Mountain Range, valleys sculpted by glaciers, and vast expanses of polar tundra desert.

Situated entirely north of the Arctic Circle, Gates of the Arctic offers a unique ecosystem that fosters a range of wildlife such as grizzly bears, moose, caribou, and wolves.

With no roads or established trails, access to the park is primarily by air, providing visitors with an exclusive opportunity for wilderness exploration and the serenity that comes with genuine remoteness.

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Glacier Bay National Park

  • Year Established: December 2, 1980
  • Area: 3,280,198 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 89,000
  • Best Time to Visit: June to August

Glacier Bay National Park, set in the southeast of Alaska, occupies over 3.2 million acres of unspoiled wilderness. Established in 1980, it’s framed by the Chugach and Wrangell Mountains and showcases a landscape of glaciers, rainforests, mountains, coastlines, and fjords. With 50 glaciers and extensive rainforests, this park reflects Alaska’s rugged beauty.

The dynamic glacial landscape, continually carved by the forceful movement of ice, presents an unforgettable scene as tidewater glaciers release towering icebergs into the bay. Safe vantage points allow visitors to experience the powerful echoes of ice splintering from the glaciers, a sound as profound as the sight.

With its rich marine ecosystem, the park serves as an essential habitat for diverse species, including humpback whales, seals, sea lions, and numerous seabirds. On land, the adjacent rainforests provide a sanctuary for terrestrial fauna, adding to the park’s wildlife diversity.

Primarily accessible by boat, Glacier Bay provides a distinctive opportunity to absorb the untouched splendor of an Alaska National Park. From kayaking amidst icy giants to observing whales or trekking through lush rainforests, the park offers myriad avenues for exploration and a deeper connection with the natural world.

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Katmai National Park

  • Year Established: December 2, 1980
  • Area: 4,093,077 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 39,000
  • Best Time to Visit: June to August

Located in the wilderness of southwest Alaska on the Alaska Peninsula, Katmai National Park stands as a testament to the raw, untamed beauty of the state’s landscapes. A jewel within the constellation of National Parks in Alaska, Katmai beckons adventurers with its unique features and captivating history.

At the core of Katmai is the striking Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a remarkable result of the 1912 eruption of the Novarupta volcano. This unique landscape has become a must-visit for tourists, showcasing the natural forces that shape Alaska’s rugged terrain.

One of Katmai’s main attractions is the annual migration of sockeye salmon, drawing in Alaskan brown bears during the summer months of July and August. This period offers a front-row seat to the impressive sight of brown bears feasting on the abundant salmon run, providing a captivating experience for wildlife enthusiasts.

Apart from the amazing wildlife, Katmai National Park has lots of outdoor activities for nature lovers. Hiking trails take you through different landscapes, letting you get up close with the park’s plants and animals. If you love fishing, you can cast your line into clear waters, hoping for a great catch. Kayaking gives you a more personal look at the park’s waterways, and boat tours offer a special view of Katmai’s coastal beauty.

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Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park

  • Year Established: December 2, 1980
  • Area: 669,984 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 320,000
  • Best Time to Visit: June to September

Located on the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska, Kenai Fjords National Park stands as a coastal treasure within the tapestry of Alaska National Parks. Despite being the smallest in size, this park is a giant in terms of natural wonders and breathtaking landscapes.

At the heart of Kenai Fjords is the majestic Harding Icefield, a sprawling expanse of ice that captivates visitors with its grandeur. Bear Glacier, another gem within the park, adds to the icy allure, making this national park a haven for those seeking the pristine beauty of glaciers and coastal fjords.

drive from Anchorage

You can drive from Anchorage to Kenai Fjords but to truly immerse oneself in the splendors of Kenai Fjords, boat tours and kayaking emerge as the premier choices. These activities provide an intimate exploration of the fjords and glaciers, with the added thrill of encountering a rich array of wildlife. Among the residents of this coastal wonderland are killer whales, humpback whales, black bears, puffins, and bald eagles, offering wildlife enthusiasts a front-row seat to nature’s captivating show.

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Kobuk Valley National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park

  • Year Established: December 2, 1980
  • Area: 1,750,716 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 15,000
  • Best Time to Visit: June to September

In Alaska’s remote Arctic region, Kobuk Valley National Park shines as a unique gem among National Parks in Alaska. Just 40 kilometers from the Arctic Circle, the park boasts the largest active dunes in the Arctic—the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes.

Accessing the park is an adventure in itself, with no roads leading to its borders. Visitors can reach it only by charter plane from Anchorage or on foot, emphasizing its pristine nature. Given the lack of roads or trails within, the best way to experience Kobuk Valley is through flightseeing tours, providing stunning aerial views.

Despite being one of the less-visited U.S. parks, Kobuk Valley National Park is a stunning destination, showcasing the untouched beauty of the Arctic. For those seeking an off-the-beaten-path experience, this park invites explorers to uncover the secrets of the Arctic wilderness in the heart of Alaska’s National Parks.

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Lake Clark National Park

Lake Clark National Park

  • Year Established: December 2, 1980
  • Area: 4,030,015 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 14,479
  • Best Time to Visit: June to September

Among the National Parks in Alaska, Lake Clark National Park is a hidden gem, celebrated for its inaccessibility and natural diversity. This secluded treasure, located in southwest Alaska, can only be accessed by plane (air taxi) or boat, offering an authentic wilderness experience.

What makes Lake Clark unique is its encompassment of every Alaskan ecosystem within its boundaries—glaciers, mountains, tundra, and forests are all present here. Adding to the park’s dramatic landscape is the active volcano Mount Redoubt, whose awe-inspiring eruptions provide an unforgettable backdrop for visitors.

Adventurers seeking to explore Lake Clark National Park can embark on hiking and rafting expeditions, paddle through serene lakes and rivers by kayak, or enjoy abundant salmon fishing opportunities. The park’s variety of activities ensures that every visitor has a chance to engage with Alaska’s pristine and rugged environment up close.

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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

  • Year Established: December 2, 1980
  • Area: 13,175,799 acres
  • Annual Visitors: 78,000
  • Best Time to Visit: June to September

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park stands as the largest of the National Parks in Alaska and is, in fact, the largest national park in the United States. Encompassing over 13.1 million acres, this park surpasses the size of Switzerland. It is also distinguished by housing nine of the tallest mountains in North America, including Mount St. Elias, the continent’s second-highest peak. Moreover, the park contains five significant glaciers, among which is the Bering Glacier—the largest in North America.

Access to the park is somewhat limited, with two unpaved roads and air travel as the only entry points, preserving its pristine conditions.

Visitors to Wrangell-St. Elias can take advantage of a variety of outdoor pursuits. The park offers extensive hiking opportunities across diverse terrain, camping sites under expansive skies, hunting for game within specific regulations, and fishing in unspoiled waters.

Other Areas of Alaska Maintained by National Park Services

  • Alagnak Wild River
  • Alaska Public Lands Information Centers
  • Aleutian Islands World War II National Historic Area
  • Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve
  • Bering Land Bridge National Preserve
  • Cape Krusenstern National Monument
  • Iñupiat Heritage Center
  • Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
  • Noatak National Preserve
  • Sitka National Historical Park
  • Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve

National Parks in Alaska | Final Thoughts

National Parks in Alaska represent some of the most remote national parks in the world, each offering visitors a unique and unforgettable experience. Within these eight national parks located on the Alaska map, adventurers and nature lovers have the chance to visit landscapes of breathtaking beauty and encounter wildlife in their pristine habitats.

Each park, from the icy realms of Kenai Fjords to the remote expanse of Kobuk Valley, contributes a unique chapter to Alaska’s captivating story. For those fortunate enough to have the chance to visit these remote national parks, the experience is a rare glimpse into pristine environments and natural wonders.

by Viktor Elizarov
I am a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada, and a founder of PhotoTraces. I travel around the world and share my experiences here. Feel free to check my Travel Portfolio and download Free Lightroom Presets.

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