Alaska National Parks – a Complete yet Concise Guide

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterest

If you’re going to Alaska, you’re probably interested in visiting at least one or two Alaska National parks. There are actually several fantastic parks in Alaska but most of the larger ones are actually fairly inaccessible. So before you consider adding them to your itinerary, here’s an overview of all 10 actual Alaska National parks.

It’s a long read so you may want to grab a coffee for this post or bookmark it for later. Please do use the table of content as needed so you won’t get lost!

Contents

How many national parks are there in Alaska

Alaska is one of the largest and most empty states in the union but that does not necessarily translate into a huge number of national parks. California has more of them, as do many other states. That said, Alaska is home to some of the largest national parks in the United States. According to the Wikipedia list of National Parks, if you sort out parks by size, Alaskan parks take up seven spots out of the top 10, including the four top places.

Top 4 national parks by size - all of them in Alaska

Just how many national parks there are depend on your definition of national parks. For the purpose of this blog post I checked the official list of national parks units in Alaska. There are 24 units listed but when you limit the the list only actual national parks you end up with a shorter – and more manageable – list.

So how many national parks are there in Alaska? I counted ten of them. Here’s the list of actual Alaska National Parks (all of them covered in this post) –

  1. Denali National Park
  2. Gates Of The Arctic National Park
  3. Glacier Bay National Park
  4. Katmai National Park
  5. Kenai Fjords National Park
  6. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
  7. Kobuk Valley National Park
  8. Lake Clark National Park
  9. Sitka National Historical Park
  10. Wrangell-St Elias National Park

Which is the best national park in Alaska

These ten parks are really different from one another. Some are small, others incredibly huge. Some celebrate the sheer wilderness while a couple of them focus on history. Then there’s the question of accessibility. Several of these parks are so remote you simply can’t take your car and drive there. Making them either very expensive to explore, or very difficult – or both.

Taking everything into account, I would say Denali National Park is the one that should be on your Bucket List. It provides travelers a glimpse into true Alaska wilderness, complete with vast empty spaces, incredible mountain scenery and tons of wildlife. At the same time it’s very accessible by Alaska standards.

If you can add one more park, it would probably be either Glacier Bay National Park or Kenai Fjords National Park. Both allow you to see the glorious Alaska coastline, including the famous tidal glaciers. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a glacier calving into the water. We did that in our Kenai Fjords cruise and you can see the videos of the glacier calving in my trip report.

Things to do in Alaska National Parks

That really depends on the park. Each of the following park descriptions includes a summary of things to see and do. All in all, if you visit several parks you can easily include the following activities –

  • Hiking
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Sailing or kayaking
  • Exploring historic sites
  • Flying over mountain ranges

Again, check each park description to see more. This is going to be a super long post. Please use the content table at the top if you need to. I tried to be brief but with 10 parks there really was a lot to cover. Let’s dive in right into the list. Here they are, in alphabetical order, the National Parks of Alaska!

Denali National Park

The Denali National Park is one of the world’s first national parks established to conserve wildlife. The park covers 6 million acres of mostly untouched wild landscape.

This is probably one of the most popular national parks in Alaska and should be on anyone’s bucket list. By Alaskan standards, it’s very approachable and if you’re going to visit only one national park in the state, it’s probably going to be Denali.

What to do in Denali National Park

There is actually quite a lot people do in Denali NP –

  1. Take the drive along the park road for the amazing views (and wildlife)
  2. Hike in Denali
  3. Visit the dog kennels
  4. See the exhibits in the visitor centers
  5. Participate in a ranger-led hike
  6. Join in on a ranger lecture
  7. Fly over the park for amazing views of Denali mountain
  8. Last – but not least – climb the mountain! This is a super professional climb so don’t add it to your itinerary (unless you happen to be one)

By far, the most popular activity is the drive along the park road. That road stretches along 92 miles well into the wild areas of the park. Private vehicles can only use the first 15 miles of the road – ending at Savage River area. A little after that, the paving ends and a ranger stops all traffic, allowing only park buses/shuttles and those with special permits to continue down the dirt road.

Here’s a map of the park (from the Park’s website). The red road indicated the area where you can drive your car. In gray is the dirt road that’s available only to park shuttles/buses or vehicles with special permits.

Denali National Park road map

Why you should take the Denali shuttle or bus tour

You can definitely enjoy some hiking in the Savage River area but if you’re visiting Denali, you simply must go on to explore the park. The single sight that all visitors crave to see is Mount Denali. In order to see the majestic snow-capped tallest peak in North America, you have to get at least to Eielson Visitor Center located at mile 66. Unless you’re camping in Wonder Lake (which requires special permits), the only way to get to Eielson is by taking the park shuttle of one of the bus tours.

I discussed the pros and cons of the shuttle vs. bus options in my post about visiting Denali National Park. We took the shuttle and it was great but you certainly can pay more and take the bus.

The shuttle or bus will take you as far as you want to go – and back. You can get off at any stop for as long as you want but the drive itself is pretty long so – depending on the length of bus ride you choose –   you probably won’t have time to hike for more than a few hours at most.

Alaska National Park: Visiting Denali
Don’t forget to check out my post about our visit to Denali National Park

Multi-day hiking in Denali

Craving a more intense Denali experience? You can take camp in the parks and take multi-day hikes. Denali NP is wild at heart and hikers can traverse the area without necessarily relying on trails. The routes are pretty much unlimited!

That said, you do need to know what you’re doing. Hiking the Denali wilderness you could be facing – 

  • Extreme weather conditions – even during summertime
  • Wildlife encounters
  • Lack of communication (there’s zero cell reception in the park itself)

You do need a permit for wilderness hiking in Denali but the permits are free. You have to use bear-proof storage too. If this is your first long hike in Alaska, do yourself a huge favor and read up before embarking on this adventure.

Remember that you’re on your own here. There are no amenities within the park – other than along the road at very specific points. Even there – you can get water at Eielson Visitor Center and that’s about it.  No stores or anything of the sort along the park road. There is not even a cell phone service. For avid experienced hikers, the risk that comes with wilderness hiking just adds to the thrill. If you’re not an experienced hiker though, you may want to start practicing in a place that’s more welcoming.

How to Get to Denali National Park

You can drive to Denali from Anchorage or Fairbanks, along Highway 3, aka the “George Parks Highway.” Fairbanks is about 2 hours north, while Anchorage is 5 hours south of the Denali entrance. You can also reach Denali from either city via the Alaska Railroad, which is operated by the State of Alaska. A small private airstrip is also available near the park entrance for individuals wishing to fly their own small craft to the park.

Location: Mile 237 Highway 3. Denali Park, AK 99755

When to visit Denali National Park

The park is open throughout the year but the main season for visitors is May 20 through the second or third week in September. If you’re brave you can visit later or earlier or even during winter time. The only thing is, the park road will be closed and the place will be covered in deep snow.

The park itself is open 24-hours a day, although services are limited after-hours (generally after 4 pm in winter or 6 pm in summer). There is no gate at the park entrance. Please note that camping is only possible either in designated campgrounds (with a valid reservation) or in the rest of the park with a free backpacking permit.

Visitor’s Information for Denali National Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm

Rangers: During summertime, you’ll see many rangers in Denali. Off season, there are still rangers in the park but you’d better call ahead of time if you want to make sure you get to see one.

Admission Fees: This is a national park, so if you have the annual parks pass, you’re covered. Otherwise, you’ll need to purchase an entrance ticket.

  • Denali Entrance (7-day permit): ALL: $10
  • Denali Entrance (1-year permit): ALL: $40

Tip: When you book your shuttle or bus to see Denali, they’re going to charge your card with a weekly park pass. If you need one, that’s fine. But if you have the annual parks pass, you can get a refund for the charge. Just show them the parks pass when you pick up the tickets and they’ll issue the refund to your card right away.

Weather in Denali National Park

Summer is typically cool and wet, with highs typically in the upper 50s to low 60s, and lows in the 40s. On occasion, summer highs reach the low 80s, though this is rare. Snow can fall any month of the year, so be prepared for chilly weather even in summer.

Fall colors emerge on the alpine tundra in August and in the low valleys in early September. It’s not the east coast, but fall colors in Alaska are stunning in their own right. We got to see the start of that in Denali in late August, and later elsewhere in Alaska. Definitely made me want to return to Denali during fall. Someday!

Winter generally starts in mid-September, with temps often getting down to -40 by January. Spring is a short season in April/May, with highs above freezing.

Denali Headquarters Average Monthly Temperature
Average High (Fahrenheit/Celsius) Average Low (Fahrenheit/Celsius)
January  3°F / -16°C -13°F / -25°C
February 10°F / -12°C -10°F / -23°C
March 30°F / -1°C 9°F / -13°C
April 40°F / 4°C 16°F / -9°C
May 57°F / 14°C 34°F / 1°C
June 68°F / 20°C 46°F / 8°C
July 72°F / 22°C 50°F / 10°C
August 65°F / 18°C 45°F / 7°C
September 54°F / 12°C 36°F / 2°C
October 30°F / -1°C 17°F / -8°C
November 11°F / -12°C -3°F / -19°C
December 5°F / -15°C -11°F / -24°C

Where to stay when visiting Denali National Park?

There are six campgrounds in Denali itself. If you’re camping, you can get a permit to drive in with your RV. These are rustic campground without too many services and zero stores. Read up and come prepared.

Assuming you’re just looking for a hotel in Denali where you can rest after a day of sightseeing in the park, there are plenty of options for that as well. Alaska is an expensive destination where it comes to accommodation rates and even more so in Denali. Expect to pay anything between $150-$400 a night for a room for two. Book your room as early as you can as the more affordable places fill up fast!

There are several hotels near the park entrance and they’re usually the more expensive ones. For more affordable options try searching nearby Healy. Use the links I just put in and it’ll get you to the search results in Booking.com (that’s how I usually book hotels for us). Driving from Healy to the park takes 15-20 minutes and it can easily save you $200 a night.

I booked our room for a family of four 10 months prior to our visit and we paid $180 for that. We stayed at the Aurora Denali Lodge and were very pleased with our stay. A spacious room with good WiFi and a great breakfast. Had I tried to book it only 3-4 months in advance, there would have been nothing available for under $400. I did check.

Gates Of The Arctic National Park

Alaska National Parks: Gates of the Arctic

Whew, Denali had a very long entry, didn’t it? Well, that’s what you get when you’re the most popular national park in Alaska. Gates of the Arctic is far more remote and less accessible. No wonder it gets fewer visitors – expect a shorter entry here.

Gates of the Arctic – like many other Alaska National Parks – is all about wilderness and a true representation of genuine wild nature. The Gates of the Arctic National Park is a place for people looking for a raw experience of wild nature.

The park was established to protect and conserve the Arctic environment’s integrity. Larger than Denali at 8.4 million acres, this is home to a natural arctic environment and diverse ecosystems. This Alaska National Park does NOT contain any roads, trails, or visitor services within park boundaries. There are park rangers in information stations in the nearby communities of Bettles, Anaktuvuk Pass, and Coldfoot.

You can either fly or hike into the park (we’re talking about a very long hike!). If you choose the former, there are daily air taxi flights that can take you to the local communities of Coldfoot, Anaktuvuk Pass, and Bettles. When you choose to hike, the access route begins at the Dalton Highway near Fairbanks.

What to do and see in Gates of The Arctic National Park

The Gates of the Arctic is the perfect escapade of mountaineering, mountain climbing, and a whole lot more of recreational activities. With six scenic rivers crossing the park, there’s no shortage of breathtaking scenery.

If you’re not up for a crazy hiking adventure, you may just settle for seeing this area from the air. If you can budget several hundreds of dollars per person, there are several tour operators going out of Fairbanks like this one. Another good reason for visiting Fairbanks, AK!

How to Get to Gates of the Arctic National Park

As noted, access begins in Fairbanks, Alaska. There are several small airlines that provide daily flights into the communities of Bettles, Anaktuvuk Pass, and Coldfoot. Most visitors access the park by air taxi and a few brave souls hike in from the Dalton Highway or from the village of Anaktuvuk Pass. River crossings are necessary for both locations.

Research well before you go out on this adventure. This is pristine wilderness which may be beautiful but is also dangerous and lacks cell coverage or any form of services. Take this warning from the park website very seriously –

Visitors to the park should be PROFICIENT in outdoor survival skills, and be prepared to care for their own life and their partner(s) if an emergency arises.

Visitor’s Information for the Gates of the Arctic National Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/gaar/index.htm

Despite the name, there are neither fences nor gates. It’s sort of a “free entry… for those who dare” situation.

Gates of the Arctic National Park Weather

The climate of Gates of the Arctic National Park is generally classified as arctic and sub-arctic, with exceptionally cold winters, relatively mild summers, low annual precipitation, and generally high winds. The weather is influenced by many different systems and can change rapidly.

 Bettles  Anaktuvuk Pass
 Month Maximum (Fahrenheit / Celsius) Minimum (Fahrenheit / Celsius) Maximum (Fahrenheit / Celsius) Minimum (Fahrenheit / Celsius)
 January  -5°F / -20°C  -25°F / -32°C  -8°F / -22°C -22°F /-30°C
February  15°F / -9°C  -5°F / -20°C  -7°F / -22°C  -2°F / -19°C
 March  20°F / -7°C  0°F / -18°C  1°F / -17°C  -15°F / -26°C
 April  35°F / 2°C  15°F /-9°C  13°F / -11°C  -5°F / -21°C
 May  55°F / 13°C  35°F / 2°C  39°F / 4°C  21°F / -6°C
 June  65°F / 18°C  45°F / 7°C  58°F / 14°C  37°F / 3°C
 July  70°F / 21°C  50°F / 10°C  61°F / 16°C  41°F / 5°C
 August  60°F / 15°C  40°F / 4°C  54°F / 12°C  37°F / 3°C
 September  45°F / 7°C  25°F / -4°C  39°F / 4°C  25°F / -4°C
 October  30°F / -1°C  20°F / -7°C  14°F / -10°C 2°F / -17°C
November  10°F / -12°C  -10°F / -23°C  1°F / -17°C  -13°F / -25°C
 December  -20°F / -29°C  -40°F / -40°C  -9°F / -23°C  -22°F / -30°C

Glacier Bay National Park

The 3.3-million acre Glacier Bay National Park has stunning glaciers, dynamic mountains, pristine coastlines and cold rainforests. This place is the centerpiece of Alaska’s Inside Passage and a 25-million acre  World Heritage Site, most of it sea water.

A scenic view from a ship of the Glacier Bay National Park

How to Get to Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay National Park lies west of Juneau, Alaska’s capital. It can only be reached by plane or boat. The only road in the area merely connects the tiny town of Gustavus and its airfield to park headquarters at Bartlett Cove (10 miles).

Alaska Airlines provides daily jet service from Juneau to Gustavus in the summer months. Year-round scheduled air service is also provided by a variety of small air taxis and charters. Alaska Marine Highway ferries also provide regular service from Juneau.

What’s there to see and do in Glacier Bay National Park

Most people view the park from onboard a ship. It could be a huge cruise ship or a smaller charter. Most cruise lines from the Lower 48 or from Canada go through Glacier Bay.

If you’re not visiting Glacier Bay as part of a cruise,  you’ll probably be taking the daily boat tour that goes out of Bartlett Cove where the park headquarters are. That’s why you had to fly into Gustavus.  What will you be seeing on your tour? Gorgeous glaciers, icebergs, and wildlife! Read all about the daily boat tour here.

Alaska National Parks: Margerie Glacier and the Fairweather Range in Glacier Bay National Park
Margerie Glacier and the Fairweather Range in Glacier Bay National Park

When to visit Glacier Bay National Park

The main visitor season is from late-May through early-September with the peak being the month of July. The park is open the rest of the year, but visitor services are extremely limited. Park Headquarters is open year round M-F 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM.

Visitor’s Information for Glacier Bay National Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/glba/index.htm

Rangers: Park rangers are available much of the day to answer your questions. Rangers lead daily walks through the rainforest and show informative films in the auditorium. A ranger program is presented in the auditorium each evening.

Admission Fees: ALL: FREE

Glacier Bay National Park Weather

Glacier Bay NP is in the Inner Passage. This means the climate is surprisingly temperate compared to Alaska. Everything is relative, of course. Glaciers are made of ice and as you tour the park on a boat, be sure to have warm clothes because being near a glacier you’ll get very cold.

The point is, it can actually rain a lot, even during summer. With that in mind, it’s best to visit the area with good rain gear – hat, waterproof boots, gloves, warm coat, and so on. The average temperature of the area ranges from 50 to 60 F (10 to 15 C). If want to have a better chance at experiencing sunny Glacier Bay, the driest months are April, May, and June.

Summer temperatures average 50° to 60° F (10° to 15° C). Rain is the norm in lush cool southeast Alaska.

Average High (Fahrenheit / Celsius) Average Low (Fahrenheit / Celsius)
 January 31°F / -1°C 18°F / -8°C
 February 35°F / 2°C 19°F / -7°C
March 43°F / 6°C 25°F / -4°C
 April 54°F / 12°C 31°F / -1°C
 May 65°F / 18°C 38°F / 3°C
 June 72°F / 22°C 44°F / 7°C
 July 80°F / 27°C 49°F / 9°C
 August 79°F / 26°C 47°F / 8°C
 September 68°F / 20°C 39°F / 4°C
 October 52°F / 11°C 32°F / 0°C
 November 37°F / 3°C 26°F / -3°C
 December 29°F / -2°C 18°F / -8°C

Katmai National Park

Turning a hundred years old this 2018, the Katmai National Monument was established in 1918 to protect the Alaskan volcanic area which includes the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and Mt. Katmai. Today, Katmai National Park is best known for amazing Grizzly bear viewing opportunities. As the salmon arrive, so do the bears, and visitors to Katmai NP get a unique opportunity to view the bears in their natural habitat, as they fish huge salmon right out of the waterfalls.

Alaska National Parks Guide: Katmai Falls National Park

Katmai National Park can only be accessed by air and water. There are companies offering visitor services including guided day trips and flights. You can also book for accommodations, food, and guided multi-day trips. It’s not cheap but definitely counts as a bucket list experience for many people. The most popular Katmai destination is the Brooks Camp where you can enjoy first-class accommodations next to the bear watching platforms.

Katmai National Park: Brown Bear with salmon in Brooks Camp
Brown Bear with salmon in Brooks Camp

Since Katmai is located between the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean which are both stormy, you can expect the region to be a battleground of weather systems. Have enough gear to encounter all types of weather.

How to Get to Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park is located on the northern Alaska Peninsula, northwest of Kodiak Island and southwest of Homer, Alaska. The park’s headquarters is in King Salmon, about 290 air miles southwest of Anchorage. There are no roads from inland Alaska to Katmai and it’s accessible only by boat or air.

Traveling by air to this park can be accessed from Anchorage, Homer, Dillingham, Kodiak, King Salmon, and other towns and villages within Alaska. If you want to travel by water, there are power boats originating from King Salmon and Naknek.

Visitor’s Information for Katmai National Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/katm/index.htm

The park is open for visitors throughout the year but remember this is Alaska. The right time to visit Katmai is during the salmon run from late July to September. That’s when you’ll be able to get the best chance to see the bear fish.

Katmai National Park Weather

Located between the stormy north Pacific Ocean and the even stormier Bering Sea, the Katmai region is often a battleground between weather systems. When you visit, be prepared to encounter all types of weather. On average, wet and cool conditions predominate in spring, summer, and fall. Winters are drier and colder.

 Month Average High
(Fahrenheit / Celsius)
Average Low
(Fahrenheit / Celsius)
 January  23°F / -5°C  8°F / -13°C
 February  24°F / -5°C  7°F / -14°C
 March  32°F / 0°C  15°F / -9°C
 April  41°F / 5°C  25°F / -4°C
 May 52°F /11°C 35°F / 2°C
 June  60°F / 15°C 42°F / 6°C
 July  64°F / 18°C 48°F / 9°C
 August  62°F / 17°C 47°F / 8°C
 September  55°F / 13°C 40°F / 5°C
 October  41°F / 5°C  26°F / -3°C
 November  31°F / -0.6°C  16°F / -9°C
 December  25°F / -4°C  9°F / -13°C

Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park is the meeting point of ocean, ice, and mountains. The park is home to the Harding Icefield where nearly 40 glaciers flow.

What’s there to do in Kenai Fjords National Park

There’s actually enough to do here to keep you busy for two days and possibly more. The two main activities when visiting Kenai Fjords are –

  • Hiking the trails – at least to the Exit Glacier viewpoint
  • Taking a cruise to see a tidal water glacier

There are two visitor centers, both of them are relatively small. The one in Exit Glacier is a short drive (minutes long) from the road into Seward. You park by the visitor center and hike to see the glacier. The problem with viewing the Exit Glacier is that it keeps receding.

You can literally see global warming in action here as there are signs along the trail that indicate where the glacier ice was in past years. It’s been receding for over a century but it’s easy to see that the process is speeding up. So much so that viewing platforms that were built right along the glacier a decade or two ago are now miles away from where the ice actually is.

When we visited in the summer of 2017, the trail ended several hundred yards before the glacier. Some people went off-trail to get to the glacier but we just watched it from the trail.Alaska National Parks: The Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park

You can take a different trail to hike up the mountain to reach the Harding Icefield itself. My husband and our eldest did that and really enjoyed their hike. It wasn’t easy but very rewarding and they brought back awesome photos of the icefield.

Taking the Kenai Fjords Cruise

Essentially, the only way to really see the park is by taking the glacier cruise. There are several operators, all of them going out of Seward. Do read my detailed post about the Kenai Fjords cruise report where I shared all of the relevant information (along with tons of photos and some videos).

Oh, and while there don’t miss out on the other things Seward has to offer. It’s a lovely little town with lots to see. Check out my post about things to do in Seward, Alaska.

How to Get to the Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park is located just outside the town of Seward in south-central Alaska, 126 miles south of Anchorage. Getting into the area is fairly easy. You can get there from Anchorage via Seward Highway, which is a national scenic byway well worth the drive on its own. It’s a relatively short drive by Alaskan standards (about 2.5 hours from Anchorage) and if you don’t have a car, there’s a train from Anchorage to Seward as well.

Visitor’s Information for Kenai Fjords National Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/kefj/index.htm

The park has two visitor centers. One is near the Exit Glacier trail and the other in Seward harbor area.

When to visit Kenai Fjords NP

The park is open year-round. The primary months to visit are June, July, and August. There are reduced services in the area between May and September. The road to the Exit Glacier area is not plowed during the winter months and is closed to vehicle traffic once it is covered in snow and ice. The park’s coastal backcountry in also largely inaccessible late fall through the early spring due to rough seas.

Kenai Fjords National Park Weather

The area generally enjoys a relatively temperate maritime climate but this being Alaska, the weather is difficult to predict and can change rapidly. Summer daytime temperatures range from the mid-40s to the low-70s (Fahrenheit). Overcast and cool rainy days are frequent. Winter temperatures can range from the low 30s to -20. If you’re taking the cruise bring appropriate clothes. It can get cold, even on a sunny July day! Read more tips for the Kenai Fjords glacier cruise here.

 Month High (Fahrenheit / Celsius) Low (Fahrenheit / Celsius)
 January 10°F / -12°C -6°F / -21°C
 February 16°F / -9°C -4°F /-20°C
 March 21°F / -6°C  -0.4°F / -18°C
 April  30°F / -1°C 9°F / -13°C
 May  41°F / 5°C 16°F / -9°C
 June 48°F / 9°C 23°F / -5°C
 July  50°F / 10°C  28°F / -2°C
 August  48°F / 9°C 25°F / -4°C
 September  41°F / 5°C 19°F / -7°C
 October 28°F / -2°C 9°F / -13°C
 November 14°F / -10°C -2°F / -19°C
 December  10°F /-12°C -6°F / -21°C

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

The Alaskan town of Skagway is home to the historical gold rush Klondike National Historical Park. This is where tens of thousands of people start hiking a staggering 600-mile trek to get to the goldfields in the Yukon in the late 19th century..   

Today, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is a top tourist destination. During summertime in Skagway, up to 10,000 people a day visit this small town- almost all of them coming to shore from huge cruise ships.

How to Get to Klondike National Historical Park

You don’t have to take a cruise to get here (even though most people do see it as part of their cruise package). Skagway is one of the few places along the Inner Passage that you can actually reach by road. It’s a very long drive from Anchorage though because you have to get there via Canada. With 16 hours of driving time, allocate a couple of days for the trip. Possibly more if you’re going to stop and visit Whitehorse, the capital of the Canadian Yukon.

Park headquarters and visitor center are located at 2nd and Broadway in Skagway, Alaska.

By the way, you could technically visit this park without ever leaving the Lower 48. They actually have a visitor center in Seattle, WA, the point where many gold prospectors left to get to Alaska.Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Visitor’s Information for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/klgo/index.htm

The Skagway visitor center is at 291 Broadway st.

Hours:

  • Summer Hours (May-September): Monday to Sunday: 8:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M.
  • Winter Hours (October-April): Monday to Friday: 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.

The visitor center is located in the historic White Pass & Yukon Route depot. Talk to a ranger, learn about daily programs, watch park film “Gold Fever: Race to the Klondike,” and more. Restrooms, water stations, and benches are available for visitors. There’s no fee for visiting the visitor center.

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Weather

Skagway has a highly variable climate with frequent rain and high winds. Average temperatures May through September range from 60 F to 47 F. Average temperatures October through April range from 38 F to 28 F.

Maximum High (Fahrenheit / Celsius) Minimum Low (Fahrenheit / Celsius)
 January  25°F / -4°C 12°F / -11°C
 February 28°F / -2°C 14°F / -10°C
 March  30°F / -1°C 18°F / -8°C
 April 37°F / 3°C 28°F / -2°C
 May 50°F / 10°C 37°F / 3°C
 June 61°F / 16°C 45°F / 7°C
 July 64°F / 18°C 48°F / 9°C
 August 61°F / 16°C 48°F / 9°C
 September 50°F /10°C 41°F / 5°C
 October 39°F / 4°C 32°F / 0°C
 November 28°F / -2°C 19°F / -7°C
 December 27°F / -3°C 16°F / -9°C

Kobuk Valley National Park

Sand dunes, rivers, and the caribou – three things that symbolize the Kobuk Valley National Park. This is yet another magnificent wilderness to get lost in (if you’re ready and equipped to take on the Alaskan wilderness, that is).

The beach at Onion Portage - Alaska Kobuk National Park
NPS Photo/Emily Mesner

What’s there to see and do in Kobuk Valley National Park

The Bair and Waring mountain ranges encircle the Kobuk Valley National Park. The mountain ranges serve as a fence protecting the geographical features within. Famous spots include the Little Kobuk and Hunt River dunes, the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, and the Kobuk River.

Another point of interest in the Kobuk Valley National Park is Onion Portage, which for 9000 years, served as a destination for local native people.

Possibly the most amazing thing you can get to see in Kobuk National Park are the incredibly huge herds of migrating caribou. It’s a sight worthy of any professional nature photographer’s attention and indeed, pretty much reserved for those.

How To Get to Kobuk Valley National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park is very remote. There are no roads to provide access, so planes take care of most transportation needs. Commercial airlines provide service from Anchorage to Kotzebue, or from Fairbanks to Bettles. Once in Kotzebue or Bettles, you must fly to the park with authorized air taxis.

Visitor’s Information for Kobuk Valley National Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/kova/index.htm

Kobuk Valley National Park Weather

While summers are relatively warm, there can be sudden changes in temperatures, rain, and even snow even then. With that in mind, don’t forget warm clothing and rain gear. Even when the weather’s not that cold, you can still possibly acquire hypothermia on a wet, windy day. Remember there are also no services in the park so you might want to bring as much necessary items as you can (i.e. outdoor gears, specialty foods, medications, etc.). In other words, be prepared.

 Month High (Fahrenheit / Celsius) Low (Fahrenheit / Celsius)
 January 1°F / -17°C -11°F / -24°C
 February 9°F /-13°C -8°F / -22°C
 March 12°F / -11°C -8°F / -22°C
 April 32°F / 0°C 10.4°F / -12°C
 May 52°F / 11°C 32°F / 0°C
 June 66°F /19°C 46°F / 8°C
 July 68°F / 20°C 50°F /10°C
 August 61°F / 16°C 43°F / 6°C
 September 48°F / 9°C 32°F / 0°C
 October 28°F / -2°C 16°F / -9°C
 November 8.6°F / -13°C -4°F / -20°C
 December 3.2°F / -16°C -9.4°F / -23°C

Lake Clark National Park

One of the country’s most remote national parks, the 4-million acre Lake Clark National Park is a pristine landscape and home to a variety of wildlife.

Alaska National Parks: Lake Clark National Park
Float Plane on Crescent Lake in Lake Clark National Park in Alaska

There is something in placid lakes that simply takes your breath away. Lake Clark is the ultimate escapade if you want to be one with foraging bears, running salmon, craggy mountains, and steaming volcanoes – all reflecting in the glistening turquoise lakes. Here you can go camping, backpacking, bear viewing, and so much more!

How To Get to Lake Clark National Park

Located on the Alaska Peninsula southwest of Anchorage and north of Katmai National Park, no roads get to Lake Clark National Park. You can travel via boat but most (of the very few) visitors charter a plane. You can get to the park via two-hour flights from Homer, Kenai, or Anchorage.

Visitor’s Information for Lake Clark National Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/lacl/index.htm

There’s a small visitor center in nearby Port Alsworth but rangers are there only during summertime.

Lake Clark National Park Weather

The coastal area in the park gets a lot of rain and has milder temperatures. The interior – much like elsewhere in the Alaskan interior – is drier but also colder during winter (and hotter in summertime).  The many lakes in the park typically begin freezing in November with meltdown starting around April.

 Month High (Fahrenheit / Celsius) Low (Fahrenheit / Celsius)
 January 14°F / -10°C -2°F / -19°C
 February 19°F / -7°C 1.4°F / -17°C
 March 25°F / -4°C 3°F / -16°C
 April 36°F / 2°C 16°F / -9°C
 May 48°F / 9°C 27°F / -3°C
 June 55°F /13°C 34°F / 1°C
 July 59°F /15°C 39°F / 4°C
 August 55°F / 13°C 37°F / 3°C
 September 46°F / 8°C 30°F / -1°C
 October 34°F / 1°C 19°F / -7°C
 November 21°F / -6°C 9°F / -13°C
 December 16°F / -9°C 1°F /-17°C

Sitka National Historical Park

Sitka National Historical Park commemorates the battle between the indigenous Kiks.ádi Tlingit and the Russian traders. This park is famous for its totem poles and lush vegetation.

Totem Poles at Sitka National Park
Totem Poles  in Sitka National Historic Park in Alaska

The park is on Baranof Island but once there, you have the entire town of Sitka to explore. Downtown is pretty close to the national park area itself. There are also several hotels in Sitka so you could stay there overnight.

How to Get to Sitka National Historic Park

Sitka is a stop on the Inner Passage ferry routes as well as cruise ships. If you prefer to fly, there are a lot of air services to Sitka from Juneau, Anchorage, and even Seattle.

Visitor’s Information for Sitka National Historical Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/sitk/index.htm

Location: Downtown Sitka, Alaska

Visitor Center: 106 Metlakatla Street is open during the summer and winter seasons. Monday to Sunday: 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.

Free admission to all.

Sitka National Historic Park Weather

Sitka has a temperate maritime climate which means lots of rain, and cool – but not very cold – weather throughout the year.

 Month  High (Fahrenheit / Celsius) Low (Fahrenheit / Celsius)
 January 37°F /  3°C 27°F / -3°C
 February  41°F / 5°C 28°F / -2°C
 March  45°F / 7°C 30°F / -1°C
 April 48°F / 9°C 32°F / 0°C
 May 54°F / 12°C 37°F / 3°C
 June 57°F / 14°C 43°F / 6°C
 July 61°F / 16°C 48°F / 9°C
 August 63°F / 17°C 48°F / 9°C
 September 59°F /15°C 45°F / 7°C
 October 52°F /11°C 39°F / 4°C
 November 43°F / 6°C 32°F / 0°C
 December 37°F / 3°C 28°F / -2°C

Wrangell-St Elias National Park

Last on our alphabetically-ordered list, this is actually the largest national park in the United States. This wild landscape is as vast as Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Switzerland combined!

Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska

The park is divided into several districts; Nabesna (northern portion), Kennecott (southern), and Yakutat District (coastline).  This huge area has very limited accessibility and there are only two roads going into this park and only one is paved.

Most people see the park by driving the McCarthy road. There are local tours that will take you along the road. If you have the budget for it, a flight over the amazing mountain ranges that form the heart of the park is said to be pretty amazing.

The mountain ridges are in fact shared by two national parks. Wrangell-St Elias is the one on the American side of the border. Canada has its own incredibly large national park on the other side of the border: Kluane National Park. In our experience, it’s easier to see the mountain ranges from the Canadian side if you’re driving the Alaska highway into or out of Alaska.

Hiking in Wrangell St. Elias National Park

If you’ve been paying attention until now, you probably know what I’m about to say next, so I’ll keep it short. It’s a pristine wilderness and it’s also dangerous. Know what you’re doing and register with the rangers before heading out to explore this park. Especially if you plan on camping out.

Actually, this park does have one additional challenge that you won’t find in the more remote national parks of Alaska: humans. Surprisingly, there is quite a lot of privately-owned land within the national park area. People have cabins inside the park and you’re not allowed to walk through their territory. This being Alaska they also hunt within park boundaries. Get a good map and discuss this with the rangers before hitting the trails.

How to Get to Wrangell St. Elias National Park 

You can drive to this park from either Anchorage, Fairbanks or even from the border from Canada. It’s going to be a few good hours from each one of these destinations (which is not too bad). You then have two roads that go into the park. The McCarthy road from the west starts at the small town of Chitina and takes you to the Kennecott Visitor Center inside the park. Coming from the north, take the Glenn Highway to Slana and then drive down to Nabasena.

Both roads into the park are not paved. Not much of a problem if you’re driving your own SUV. A big problem if you’re driving a rental car because your insurance probably does not cover going off paved roads. In which case, you can take a tour into the Kennecott area or do as we did and just settle for visiting the Copper Center Visitor Center en route to Valdez. 

Visitor’s Information for Wrangell-St Elias National Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/wrst/index.htm

When to visit Wrangell-St Elias National Park

Like other Alaska parks, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park has no entrance stations or gates. You can come when you want – just keep in mind that between October and May, most of the park isn’t accessible without special winter gear.

Wrangell-St Elias National Park Weather

This is an Alaskan mountain ridge. It can get extremely cold during winter time. It can also get cold during summertime, especially at higher elevations.

 Average High (Fahrenheit / Celsius)  Average Low (Fahrenheit / Celsius)
 January  3°F / -16°C -15°F / -26°C
 February  16°F / -9°C -8°F / -22°C
 March  30°F / -1°C 1°F / -17°C
 April  44°F / 7°C 18°F / -8°C
 May  56°F / 13°C 30°F / -1°C
 June  66°F / 19°C 39°F / 4°C
 July  70°F / 21°C 43°F / 6°C
 August  66°F / 19°C 39°F / 4°C
 September  55°F / 13°C 30°F / -1°C
 October  36°F / 2°C 17°F / -8°C
 November  15°F / -9°C -3°F / -19°C
 December  6°F / -14°C -11°F / -24°C

A Map of All Alaska National Parks

Just to give you a general idea of where these parks are, here they are on a single map. Click on the little icon at the top left corner to see the ledger with park names.

Whew! That’s it! This is the longest post on this blog to date. It took a LOT of research to produce this one and I do hope you’ll find it helpful. The images in this post are from various resources. I took some, bought others and downloaded a few from the National Parks sites (they’re in the public domain). Please don’t copy any of them without asking for permission first. You may pin them to Pinterest (and I hope you will!) In fact, I would really appreciate if you do pin images and prepared a few special ones for that purpose –

Alaska National Parks - Everything you need to know about the ten #NationalParks of #Alaska in one (long!) post Alaska National Parks - Everything you need to know about the ten #NationalParks of #Alaska in one (long!) post Alaska National Parks - Everything you need to know about the ten #NationalParks of #Alaska in one (long!) post

Over to you now! Have you visited any of these Alaska National Parks? If you did, please share your own experiences in a comment and let me know what you liked or didn’t like about them. And as always, questions are welcome. If I don’t know the answer myself, I’m always happy to try and research to help you find an answer.

Related Posts

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterest

2 Comments


  1. Fabulous information! We were in Alaska for 3 weeks last summer, had such a great time we are going back this year and heading into the Yukon Territory! My travel “diary” website is below…still trying to work on my blog (yours is great by the way!). Heading on any big trips this summer?

    Reply

    1. Hi Lisa,
      Looks like you had a great Alaska trip! I really hope you manage to set up a blog and write more about it. If you’re interested in guest blogging here to share your travel stories, let me know. I’d love to have fellow travelers guest blog here occasionally!
      The Yukon is fantastic and quite different from Alaska in many ways. Having visited both, I think the Yukon has much more of a “last frontier” feel to it. I’m sure you’ll have an awesome time! Don’t forget to read my post about traveling the Alaska Highway too.

      Where to next? Great question. My older son is taking a university degree now so we think a long trip may not be a good option for a while. We’re thinking a Europe excursion in October at this point. Prague is the leading contender though Scandinavia and Spain/Portugal are not out of the question.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *