When you consider that one-half of all U.S. national park land is in Alaska, you begin to understand the scope and diversity of this vast expanse. Stretching across a staggering 13.2 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve may be the largest, but its sister parks share in the beauty and wonder.
Spread across an impressive 3.2 million acres in southeast Alaska, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve offers an inspirational glimpse of what Mother Nature does best. The head of Glacier Bay is Tarr Inlet, where scientists have found exposed rock believed to be more than 200 million years old. The Tarr Inlet is home to Grand Pacific Glacier, an active body of ice slowly making way toward Margerie Glacier, which it last touched in 1912. Johns Hopkins Inlet is home to no less than nine glaciers. Framed by rocky slopes stretching skyward more than 6,000 feet, these wondrous bodies are eclipsed only by mighty Mount Fairweather, which at more than 15,300 feet is the highest point in southeast Alaska. In northeast Glacier Bay, the snow-covered Takhinsha Mountains feed active Muir Glacier. The brilliant blue glow of a calving glacier and the thunderous roar of ice crashing into the water below are sights and sounds to remember for the rest of your life. With such diverse landscape, the park provides a variety of habitats for animals.
Denali National Park and Preserve defines the Alaskan Experience. Towering above it all is Mt. McKinley, the highest point in North America. At 20,320 feet, its summit beckons more than 1,000 climbers each year who brave the elements for the chance to scale its majestic face. Denali encompasses 6 million acres of forests, tundra, glaciers and mountains. Moose, caribou, sheep and bears free to roam a wide area of land untouched by man. There are ample opportunities for animal watching, whether it is a grizzly foraging for berries or a golden eagle soaring through the crisp, clean Alaskan air. Denali is one of the few places where visitors come in contact with the Alaskan tundra - a "vast, rolling, treeless plain." The tundra starts at 2,500 feet and extends up along the massive Alaska Range. Muldrow Glacier, which descends 16,000 feet from the upper slopes of Mt. McKinley, comes within one mile of the road.
With its grand vistas and boundless landscapes, Wrangell-St. Elias exceeds even the most imaginative expectations for a park with the distinction of being the nation's largest. Stretching along the Canadian border in south central Alaska, this land is quilted with wandering rivers, lakes, glaciers and some of the most dramatic mountain ranges to be found in North America. Nine of the 16 highest peaks in the country are here, including the park's namesakes - Mount St. Elias and Mount Wrangell, an active volcano that last erupted in 1911. River rafting, sport fishing, horseback riding and mountain biking are some options to appeal to the adventurer. Or stroll along one of many meandering trails or a tour historic Kennicott Copper Mill. See a portion of the legendary Alaskan pipeline. Two main roads provide easy access to remote points of interest. A flightseeing tour of the park provides a bird's-eye view. With more than 150 glaciers making their way down the slopes of three mountain ranges, Wrangell-St. Elias is a living, thriving national treasure.
Magnificent Kenai Fjords stirs the souls of artists inspired by locations like this. The ice-sculpted "Alaska's playground" begs to be explored. Long, intricate trails afford some of the best views, including an up-close encounter with scenic Exit Glacier, the most famous of more than 30 glaciers surrounding spectacular Harding Icefield and the crown jewel of Kenai Fjords. This unrelenting blanket of white is punctured by peaks of high, rocky mountains, which are best viewed at the crest of the steep, 4.5 mile-long Harding Icefield Trail. In addition to hiking, nearly every other outdoor activity can be found here, including kayaking, river rafting, mountain climbing, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, tours by land, air and sea - even dogsledding. Glacier viewing is popular in the most impressive of the park's seven long fjords - Aialik Bay, where glaciers launch icebergs into the sea. Resurrection Bay holds the perfect opportunity to see humpback whales, orcas, seals, sea lions, otters, porpoises, and puffins. Blue-green Kenai River is perfect for trophy-size fishing.
Gates of the Arctic
Deep in the heart of a great state known for remoteness and beauty there is an unblemished land epitomizing those words. North of the Arctic Circle in Brooks Range lies Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, a maze of glaciated valleys and jagged peaks that nurtures a surprisingly diverse and stunning ecosystem. A popular destination is John River, which cuts through the center of the park and is ideal for a wilderness float trip. In the southwestern region, the Noatak River flows down from Mount Igikpak, which tops off at 8,510 feet and is the park's highest point. Mountain and rock climbing are popular sports, especially during June and July, when the sun never sets. Other activities include canoeing, kayaking, fishing and cross-country skiing. Alpine meadows, forested lowlands and arctic tundra vegetation support wildlife - such as caribou, moose, Dall sheep and black and grizzly bears. More than 130 species of birds are here, including eagles, hawks, falcons and owls.