If visiting all the nation’s national parks is on your bucket list, don’t sidestep Alaska. Mother Nature blessed this state with unreal natural beauty. And boy are we Alaskans proud of it!
If you’re thinking about a trip to Alaska or are already in the planning stage, you simply can’t miss these five national parks. Each offers a little something for everyone, from kayaking to bird watching to ghost towns.
One quick note: Alaska’s national parks are all best to visit from May to September, although certain ones are fantastic year-round. Guess you’ll have to keep reading to find out!
Glacier Bay National Park
A marine life lover’s paradise, Glacier Bay National Park is a gem near and dear to us in Juneau.
Now, this isn’t a little gem we’re talking about. Glacier Bay boasts 3.3 million acres of natural wonders. It’s a remarkable place, and in fact, it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. The vastness of Glacier Bay means there are tons of opportunities to soak up its incredible natural beauty. This includes wildlife sightings that will make you feel as if you’re right in one of those National Geographic or Netflix Our Planet documentaries.
When it comes to taking in all this beautiful nature, you have lots of options. Choose from a multitude of ways to explore the park. Boat tours or kayaking give you up close and personal views of glaciers, not to mention whale sightings. You can also trek the coastlines, exploring the indigenous history of the park as you navigate its immense beauty.
Getting to Glacier Bay is very simple by plane. There are daily direct flights to Gustavus (the main airport to access the park) from Juneau. From there, you can organize a transfer to the park.
If Glacier Bay is on your national park bucket list, aligning it with a little Juneau excursion is a must. You have to arrive in the city either way, so you might as well take advantage of its awesomeness. From award-winning restaurants, bars, and distilleries to the coziest family-run hotels (hello Silverbow!), it will be the perfect way to begin and end your national park adventure.
Denali National Park
Warning: this is not for those afraid of heights.
All jokes aside, Denali National Park is home to the tallest peak in North America: Denali. You may also have known it as Mt. Mckinley til in 2015, President Barack Obama officially changed its name to Denali, meaning “tall one’” in the indigenous Koyukon language.
Of course, visiting this national park doesn’t demand a courageous trek to the mountain’s peak. This park has plenty to discover in its 6.1 million acres, filled with scenic glacier lakes, boreal forests, and tundra with some of the most gorgeous wildlife you could imagine. This includes many of the Alaskan brown bear families. Keep your distance, of course, but boy are these bears a sight to see!
What do we love most about Denali? There are options throughout all seasons. During the winter, there are skiing and snowshoeing adventures galore. Or, visit the cutest pups on a dog sledding trip, like in the movies. When the weather is warmer (May to September), enjoy the various bus tours around the park or go on a trekking expedition. We highly suggest going with a guide if it’s your first time in this park, as it’s mighty large. Also, local guides curate unique and unforgettable tours.
Denali Park can be reached by flying to Anchorage supplemented by a road trip or train ride via the Alaska Railroad.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Who said fjords were only for Norway or New Zealand? Alaska is home to some gorgeous fjord vistas, and Kenai Fjords National Park is the literal proof.
Located just south of Seward, Kenai Fjords National Park offers magnificent glacier vistas, including the ridiculously majestic Harding Icefield. We’re talking roughly 700 miles of a glacial valley that looks even better than your old Windows desktop screen. The brave can hike to visit this icefield. But, the most panoramic (and comfortable) views are by helicopter excursion.
As you can tell from the name, this national park is all about water. There’s nothing like a good boat tour or even a kayak rental to truly appreciate all Kenai has to offer. Now, these boat cruises are next level – you’ll glide along Aialik Bay gazing at massive glaciers descending into the water. It’s a breathtaking experience. And, you may even be lucky enough to see a whale jumping up out of the water to say hello!
You can reach Kenai Fjords National Park from Anchorage – it’s just a swift 2.5-hour drive from the city.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
We have four words for you: this park is massive. Wrangell-St. Elias is America’s largest national park, with 13.2 million acres of land that include four mountain ranges, numerous glaciers, icefields, volcanoes, and endless amazing scenery. Among this wealth is animal diversity like no other. We should also mention it’s a bird lover’s paradise, especially in May and June.
Ironically, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is quite the hidden gem. It’s grown in popularity slowly, but it does not have as many visitors as other famed national parks and UNESCO heritage sites.
A park this size of course requires a bit of planning. You can visit by car or by aircraft. From there, your options expand into backpacking, rafting, kayaking, and trekking. Plenty of small companies offer guided tours for those new to the park. Divided between two parts – north and south – many opt for the southern portion, which is more accessible via McCarthy Road. As you drive, you’ll have access to visitor centers, camping grounds, hikes, and undoubtedly striking views.
Reaching Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is best by car or a flight from Anchorage. There are bus services from the city as well.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Ending on a southern note, we head to Klondike (and no, it has nothing to do with the ice cream sandwich).
This park makes for a wonderful excuse to treat yourself to an excursion on the Alaska Marine Highway System. We love our local ferry system, which spoils guests with incredible views heading into Juneau or down to Skagway, a charming town where you can access this beautiful park.
The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is the perfect combo of natural beauty and historical charm. First, the town of Skagway is just adorable. It teleports you back in time with its gold rush-era streets and movie-esque saloons. Second, you have the Chikoot Trail at your fingertips – a 33-mile hiking trail that makes the most fun camping trips for any kind of traveler.
Ok, we understand 33 miles isn’t exactly a short trip. However, the trail is approachable and downright stunning. Plus, you’ll find gold rush relics, learn native Alaskan history, and even stumble upon a ghost town along the way.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is super easy to reach via ferry with the Alaska Marine Highway system. Alternatively, you can fly. Both options will begin in Juneau, a lovely city with a vibrant downtown, delicious food, and the lovely Silverbow Inn to begin and end your journey.
It’s tough to pick which park to venture to – each can be multiple trips in itself! All the more reason to visit Alaska, where the adventures never cease.
And, when you feel you need a quick pause from nature to savor the city life, don’t forget to book your stay at the best hotel in Juneau.