Icebergs, volcanoes, & everything in between
A sprawling land of wild spaces, Alaska’s national parks are undeniably entrancing. From glaciers to towering mountains to wildlife you’ll want to cuddle ’til you realize it could kill you, a road trip through Alaska’s national parks is hard to beat.
Two words: brown bears. Kick off your national park road trip through Alaska with a place both peaceful and awe-inspiring. Though thousands flock to Katmai for bear-viewing, Lake Clark is similarly impressive and far less crowded. Watch the fuzzy beasts snatch salmon from the water or roam through the grass at any of the multiple bear viewing spots, then take a hike through Tanalian Falls and Kontrashibuna Lake to see waterfalls cascading off ancient lava cliffs and a panoramic view of the impossibly clear lake.
Ramp it up a little on the next stop in your Alaska national parks itinerary. North America’s tallest peak, the park’s namesake Denali, is here, and the superlatives don’t stop there. Just one curving road twines through the six million acres of wilderness, meaning around each turn is another gasp-worthy sight. If you want to get off the road, hiking options abound, or, if you want to take Park Road on in a more active way, you can rent a bike. Get your best views of the hulking mountain from Mountain Vista Trailhead. Venture out to Savage River, especially in the fall, to look for aurora at night. For more views that will leave you breathless, take to the air: air taxi services will afford you a bird’s eye view that’s hard to put words to.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
You knew Alaska was big, but did you know it contained a single national park bigger than Switzerland? Now you do: Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest national park in the country, clocking in at a whopping 13.2 million acres. Some of the largest volcanoes in North America are also found here. On the other end of the spectrum, so are glaciers. Take the Root Glacier trail to get up close and personal with the glacier, departing from Kennecott Mill Town. Another couple miles will take you (almost) to the Erie Mine, though you can’t access it directly from this trail. Along the way, stop to ogle the views of towering Mt. Blackburn, Regal Mountain, and Donaho Peak.
Finish out your road trip through Alaska’s national parks with a bang. Glacier Bay encompasses glaciers, yes, but also fjords, dramatic coastline, and temperate rainforest. The park is best enjoyed by boat, so once you get there, take a tour for stunning glacier and iceberg views and whale watching. If you want to steer the ship yourself, consider downsizing: kayaking in Bartlett Cove allows what feels like a personal connection with the park. Humpback whales come to feed on krill in the protected cove, and if you’re lucky, you may hear them breathing. Feeling this close to nature is hard to come by, but in Alaska, where wilderness reigns supreme, it’s blissful.