Alaska’s National Parks


The Last Frontier. It’s home to 8 of the country’s 63 National Parks. Of those 8, only 3 are accessible by car. In 2022 we took on the seemingly impossible task of seeing them all in one trip (spoiler alert – that didn’t happen). But we considered getting to 6 to be a success. All the rumors are true. It is wild and breathtaking and remote and beautiful and cold and even heart-breaking. Here is everything you need to know about visiting Alaska’s National Parks.  


One quick sentence about each park:

Cruising around Alaska is the stuff dreams are made of. Unless your dream is to see all 63 of the U.S. National Parks. Alaska is home to 8 of them (second in state ranking to California, which boasts 9). Of these 8, only 2 are ever really explored via cruise ship – Kenai Fjords and Glacier Bay. Some of the cruise lines, like Princess, will dock in Anchorage and set you up to take the train to Denali National Park. But if you’re looking to visit all of Alaska’s National Parks, you’re on your own. And creating that itinerary is daunting. But if you’re up for it, you’re in for the experience of a lifetime. The Lasts Frontier is full of untamed wilderness, intimidating wildlife, rugged mountain ranges, diverse ecosystems, and enough adventure to last a lifetime.    

our itinerary

I love planning trips. But this was the most challenging, complicated thing I’ve ever put together. Here is the actual calendar I used to plan out the logistics (definitely done in pencil). This trip required traveling via commercial planes, float planes, trains, automobiles, ferrys, buses, and Ubers. *Detailed itinerary at the end of the post.   


Quick Pro Tip

Alaska is EXPENSIVE. If you have some flexibility and want to keep your budget down, use the AlaskaTourSaver. It saved us hundreds.


We managed this itinerary with only backpacks. Even though you have to plan for all the elements, it can be done! Plan to wear things more than once. Plan to do laundry. And remember that no matter how ‘cute’ you want to look in your pictures, you will most likely have a raincoat or jacket on all the time. Aside from your clothing basics, here are a few other items to consider that helped us tremendously. 

  • A real camera: It’s an investment, but it’s absolutely worth it for all the Alaska wildlife you’re going to see.
  • Camera backpack: This was super convenient for taking the camera along on the ferry tours and shorter hikes. It keeps your expensive accessory safe, and allows for easy access. 
  • Good footwear: A solid pair of rain/cold weather boots that are comfortable to walk in. I wore these almost every day. 
  • Camera clip for backpack: After getting a real camera, this accessory was a must to bring it along on harder hikes without having to keep taking it out of the backpack.
  • Mosquito nets: Something you hope you won’t have to use, but don’t want to be without while exploring AK.


Glacier Bay National Park

glacier bay national park

So cold but... Glaciers!

glacier bay

The Huna Tribal House

glacier bay national park seals from ferry

Wildlife on the day tour

How to get here:

Glacier Bay is not accessible by car. The closest big city is Juneau. From there, you have 2 options to get to Gustavus (the “gateway” to GB). You can take a short 30 minute flight, or take a ferry. Keep in mind for planning purposes the ferry does not run every day.

Where to stay:

Most people choose to stay at Glacier Bay Lodge, the only option inside the park. If you have lodge reservations, they will have a shuttle pick you up at the Gustavus airport and transport you to the lodge. The lodge itself is rustic, but clean. They offer meals in the restaurant and snacks in the gift shop. The lodge also coordinates the ferry tours. 

How to get around:

On foot. The ferry loading dock is walkable from the lodge, as are the short hikes.      

What to do:

  • The main attraction is the catamaran day tour. It’s 8 hours, but you’ll see both wildlife and glaciers. Lunch is provided. 
  • We opted to stay two nights thinking we could either kayak or hike on the second day. The weather was cold, rainy, and cloudy so we skipped the kayaking. There are only a few short trails accessible from Bartlett cove, so ultimately we left feeling like one day would have been sufficient. 
glacier bay alaska

Lake Clark National Park

lake clark national park

Flightseeing Tour

lake clark national park

Landing on Hickerson Lake

Lake Clark National Park

Top 5 Least Visited Parks

How to get here:

Lake Clark National Park is accessibly by floatplane. The park website offers a list of authorized air service providers from various points in AK (Anchorage, Homer, Kenai, etc.). Ideally you’d want to fly in to Port Alsworth, which is where the visitor center is located. There’s  no getting around it – getting to these remote parks is expensive. We opted for a day trip that included both Lake Clark and Katmai departing from Homer. Landing inside Lake Clark is (like most things in Alaska) weather dependent. We ended up on Hickerson Lake, which is a bit more remote. We had about 30 minutes on the ground before heading off to Katmai.

Where to stay:

Depending on where you are catching your air taxi from, you have a number of options. We flew out of Homer and stayed at the Aspen Suites. There are actually a few lodging options inside the park for those who have more time and a deep budget. 

What to do:

  • Flight-seeing tour: Since we landed on a remote lake, we didn’t have many “to-do” options. Getting a flight-seeing tour on the way in to the park is an experience in itself. Bear sightings are common, although we only saw one briefly as we were leaving.
  • Landing: Depending on weather, your air taxi can touch down in different areas of the park. Port Alsworth would give you the option to go to the visitor center and even do some hiking. Fishing and rafting are options as well. If we had more time (and deeper pockets) we would have wanted to go as far as Twin Lakes and see Proenneke Cabin. We landed on Hickerson Lake, looking to make a quick turn-around as we visited Katmai in the same day.   

How to get around: 

Air taxi in to the park. From there, you’re on foot. Many people look to visit the Twin Lakes and Proenneke Cabin areas. Backpacking and camping here are options. Make sure you are aware of the regulations.  

Katmai National Park

katmai national park

Bear Safety Briefing

Bears. Catching. Salmon.

katmai national park

Bear Fight!

How to get here:

Katmai National Park is accessible by floatplane. The park website offers a list of authorized air service providers from various points in AK (Anchorage, Homer, Kenai, etc.). There’s  no getting around it – getting to these remote parks is expensive. Since we opted for a day trip that included both Lake Clark and Katmai leaving from Homer, our landing here was on the more remote Hickerson Lake. We had about 30 minutes on the ground before heading off to Katmai.

Where to stay:

Depending on where you are catching your air taxi from, you have a number of options. We flew out of Homer and stayed at the Aspen Suites. There are actually a few lodging options inside the park for those who have more time and a deep budget. Bristol Adventures is a good resource to help you book day trips or overnight. 

What to do:

  • Once you land in Katmai, usually on Lake Brooks, you’ll be greeted by a ranger who gives a mandatory bear-safety briefing. After that, most people head right to the Brooks Falls viewing area. What we didn’t know before going was that there is usually a wait to get on to the infamous platform. Like a restaurant, you arrive and put your name on a list and you’ll be given a buzzer to alert you when it’s your time. There is a secondary platform a little further down the river where you can wait and still get in some bear viewing. Once you get on to the main platform, you get exactly 30 minutes.
  • Hiking and camping are options too, if you are able to spend more time during your visit.   
  • See the bears from the comfort of your couch: View the Brooks Falls Bear Cam

How to get around:

Once you’ve arrived via air taxi, the rest of your journey is on foot. You’ll walk about .6 miles from the landing area to the Brooks Falls platform. The likelihood of encountering a bear on this trail is HIGH (we did!), so definitely pay attention to that safety briefing.

Kenai Fjords National Park

kenai fjords national park visitor center

Visitor Center in Seward

harding icefield trail hike in kenai fjords national park alaska

Harding Icefield Trail

kenai fjords national park alaska ferry tour

Ferry Tours

How to get here:

Kenai Fjords National Parks is accessible by car. The drive is approximately 2 1/2 hours south of Anchorage via AK-1 and State Hwy 9. You can also take the Coastal Classic train on the Alaska Railroad, which we’d highly recommend if you have the option. During our time in Alaska we traveled 4 sections of the Alaska Railroad, and this was by far the most scenic. 

Where to stay:

There are a number of lodging options in Seward. After extensive research, we decided to splurge for the Harbor360. It is one of the priciest options in the area, but close proximity to the train station. And also the hub for Major Marine tours. If you want to see the view, check out this nifty Seward Harbor webcam

What to do:

  • Ferry Tour: The most common activity in Kenai is to take a ferry tour. Most are operated by Major Marine Tours. We opted for the shorter tour because we wanted more time to explore Seward and get on the hiking trails. If you are looking for the iconic brochure views, you’ll want to opt for the longer tour so you can get around to Aialik Bay to see the famous rock stacks.
  • Hike: Enough about the ferry… Do NOT miss the opportunity to hike in this park. The Harding Icefield trail quickly made it in to my list of top 5 hikes of all time. In fact, the main cover photo for this website was taken there. 
  • Wander around Seward: Grab some lunch to-go and head over to Waterfront Park. If you’re lucky enough to be there on a clear day, the views will not disappoint. 

How to get around: 

If you didn’t drive in to Seward, don’t worry. The little town is very walkable. If you want to keep your time on foot to a minimum, opt to stay at the Harbor360, or one of the hotels closest to that area. The ferry tours leave from directly behind the Harbor360 Hotel. If you’re looking to see Exit Glacier or hike the Harding Icefield Trail, you can take a shuttle bus or a taxi. We shuttled through Exit Glacier Guides, and they also offer guided adventures if you’re looking to do something like ice climbing.  

Denali National Park

tour bus denali national park alaska

The Denali Tour Bus

denali national park alaska mt healy overlook

Mt. Healy Overlook Trail

denali national park alaska sign

Obligatory Sign Picture

How to get here:

Denali National Park is accessible by car. You can drive from either Anchorage (4 hours) or Fairbanks (2 1/4 hours). We took the Denali Star Train on the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage. It was a beautiful route, and we got to see Denali on the way (which we’re told is very rare). The train drops you off right near the visitor center and main park area.

How to get around: 

It can be a bit confusing. If you have your own car, you’ll still need to use the transit bus service to get farther in to the park. Personal vehicles can only drive in as far as Mile 15, while the busses go as far as Mile 43.

If you’ve arrived via train, many of the hotels offer a shuttle service between the park and hotel (This is something you definitely want to confirm before booking your lodging).

The best place for information on bus reservations is the park’s website. You can decide if you want a narrated or non-narrated bus. You can stay on the bus and try to spot some wildlife, or hop off any any point to head out on a day hike.    

Where to stay: 

In our attempt to save money, we stayed at The Grande Denali Lodge.  It was what all the reviews say (A ‘motel 6’ with a pretty exterior).  If you want something nicer, you can splurge for the $400+ per night options.  Just confirm that they have a shuttle to take you in to the park if you don’t have a car.  

There ARE lodges farther inside the park, but most have not been operational since they are beyond Mile 43 (closed due to a rockslide in 2021).

What to do:

  • Take the bus: Denali is tricky (or at least has been since 2021). There is one main road that goes all the way through the park that is about 89 miles long. After the damage in 2021, visitors can only go as far as Mile 43. Personal vehicles are only allowed to drive in as far as Mile 15.  So, the park offers a bus system to take you all the way in.  
  • The ‘crown jewel view’ is said to be from Wonder Lake. Unfortunately the lake is at Mile 85. We still chose to go knowing this. But I would go back just to be able to go all the way to Wonder Lake, I’m sorry we missed it. 
  • Hike: We did Horseshoe Lake, Savage Alpine, Mt. Healy Overlook, River Hike at Savage Alpine.  
  • Flight-see: Doing a ‘helicopter that lands on a glacier tour’ is the #1 most recommended thing to do in Denali, and pretty much all of Alaska.  There are only a few companies authorized to do it:  We didn’t do this b/c it’s crazy expensive, and we hiked on to a glacier in Wrangell St. Elias. If you drive from Anchorage to Denali, stop in Talkeetna to do this.  The companies that fly from there are less expensive.
  • Mushing: Another popular thing to do is to see the sled dogs, but we skipped that to hike instead.

Wrangell St. Elias National Park

mccarthy road alaska wrangell st. elias national park

Driving McCarthy Road

alaska wrangell st. elias national park kennicott glacier lodge

Kennicott Glacier Lodge

alaska wrangell st. elias national park

Hiking On A Glacier

How to get here:

Wrangell St. Elias National Park is accessible by car from Anchorage… BUT: The route takes you down a (mostly) unmaintained dirt road. Most rental car companies will not allow you to take their vehicles here, but you can rent from specific 4×4 places that rent for this specific purpose.  

-BY PLANE: WSE is accessible by plane. Many people will drive to Chitina and use Wrangell Mountain Air to fly in to McCarthy. You skip the ‘nerve wracking’ drive, and also get a flight-seeing tour of the park from the air.

-BY CAR: We rented a 4×4 (using Turo) and did the drive b/c we wanted the adventure. It was fun, but if we had to do it over I’d opt to fly instead to be able to get the aerial views of the park. 

-SHUTTLE: If you want the adventure of doing the drive but don’t want to brave it on your own, you can take a shuttle from Anchorage, Valdez, or Glenallen. 

How to get around: 

If you’ve opted to drive, you’ll have to park your car at the famous McCarthy Road footbridge. From here, you can take a shuttle to your lodge. You’ll want to confirm with your hotel prior to booking. 

If you are staying at the Kennicott Lodge, all of your activities are within walking distance. The adventure guides, tour companies, and hiking trails basically start at the foot of the hotel. 

There is a free shuttle between McCarthy and Kennicott.  

Where to stay: 

The Kennecott Lodge is the best/most convenient option in the area. It’s nicely done for what it is, but it’s still pretty old, simple, and basic. They offer meal packages, which is super convenient given the remote-ness of the area. They also offer a shuttle in to the little town of McCarthy where you can find a museum, other lodging, and a couple restaurants. Definitely upgrade to a room with private a private bathroom. We did not, and regretted it. 

What to do:

  • Tour the Kennecott Mine: Guide required.
  • Hike on Root Glacier: Tour companies are available with guides. We used St. Elias Alpine guides. They will provide you with spikes, and lunch if you do the full day option). A major bucket-list experience, especially if you opt for jumping in one of the many glacier pools! They also offer ice climbing.
  • Hike: There are a couple hikes you can do.  We chose Bonanza Mine, which was probably the hardest, most challenging hike we’ve ever done. Sadly it wasn’t a great weather day so we didn’t get the full view at the top. But if you’re up for a challenge, this is it.
  • Flight seeing tour: Wrangell St. Elias is the largest national park in the country. With limited options for back-country hiking and zero options to drive through it, the best way to see as much is possible is by plane. Wrangell Mountain Air and Copper Valley are the two main contacts for this service.  

Other notes: 

Our guide told us that 2 weeks before we arrived the mosquitoes were so bad they were all wearing face nets.  Somehow we got lucky and didn’t have that issue at all, but be prepared for that.

Kobuk Valley & Gates Of The Arctic National Parks

*These are probably the two most remote, difficult to reach National Parks in the country. We didn’t actually make it here due to time and budget constraints 🙁  But here are the notes I made while planning:

How to get here: 

-Gates of the Arctic is only accessible by hiking or flying in.  From Fairbanks you can fly to Bettles, Anaktuvuk Pass, or Coldfoot, and then take an air taxi from there.  Coldfoot is *technically* accessible by car via the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks, but it is said to be unpaved, industrial, and does not have any services.   

Golden Eagle was especially helpful when I called, but they were booked over a year in advance. The full list is air service providers is listed on the park’s website

–Kobuk is only accessible via air taxi.  From Kotzbue (you can fly here from Anchorage) or from Bettles (you can fly here from Fairbanks). The full list of air service providers is located on the Kobuk NP website.    

Where to stay: 

-We were attempting to do a flightseeing tour that took us to both parks, but it was pretty pricey.  Most people do each park separately and stay in Kotzebue and then Coldfoot or Bettles.

 What to do: 

-GAAR has visitor centers and/or ranger stations in Anaktuvuk Pass, Coldfoot, and Bettles.  

-Most people do ‘flightseeing tours’ of these parks, due to their remote locations and lack of official trails inside the parks.  

-Kobuk is known for the caribou herds, and the sand dunes.  

-You can also arrange to camp, fish, or hunt.  

Other notes: 

-Both parks are in the Arctic Circle 

-If you are able to drive from Fairbanks, the official “Arctic Circle” sign is at Milepost 115 of the Dalton Highway


7/19/22: Fly into Juneau  TPA – JNU

7/20/22: Explore Juneau, Fly to Gustavus JNU – GST

  • Taxi/Uber to Mendenhall Glacier. Visitor center, short hikes. 
  • Shuttle to downtown Juneau. Walk around, explore, have lunch. 
  • Flight to Gustavus, take Glacier Bay Lodge shuttle to lodge
  • Stay at Glacier Bay Lodge (2 nights)

7/21/22: Glacier Bay Boat Tour

7/22/22: Fly to Anchorage GST – ANC

7/23/22: Drive Anchorage to Homer

7/24/25: Brooks Falls Bear Viewing Plus Remote Landing in Lake Clark 

  • Have one of the most amazing days ever with Beryl Air

7/25/22: Drive Homer to Anchorage

7/26/22: Alaska Railroad Anchorage – Seward

7/27/22: Hike Kenai Fjords National Park

  • Harding Icefield Trail

7/28/22: Alaska Railroad Seward – Anchorage

  • Attempt to hike Mt. Marathon in the morning but got way off trail
  • Explored Seward, grabbed lunch to go and ate at Waterfront Park, stopped at Kenai Fjords NP Visitor Center
  • Stay at Hilton Anchorage (again)

7/29/22: Explore Anchorage

  • I took an Uber to Chugach State Park and did the Flattop Mountain Hike (highly recommend! Hard up with amazing 360 views)

7/30/22: Drive Anchorage to Kennicott

  • Rent car through Turo – drive to Kennicott
  • Stop at Wrangell St. Elias visitor center 
  • Stay at Kennicott Glacier Lodge (3 nights)

7/31/22: Full Day Glacier Hike

8/1/22: Hike in Wrangell St. Elias NP 

8/2/22: Drive Kennicott – Anchorage

  • Return rental car
  • Stay at Hilton Anchorage (again!)

8/3/22: Alaska Railroad Train Anchorage – Denali NP

  • Visit Denali NP Visitor Center
  • Hike Horseshoe Lake Trail
  • Stay at Grand Denali Lodge (2 nights)

8/4/22: Denali NP Shuttle

  • Hike Savage Alpine Trail
  • Hike Mount Healy Overlook Trail
  • Each eat an entire pizza from Prospectors Pizza 

8/5/22: Alaska Railroad Denali – Fairbanks

8/6/22: Explore Fairbanks

  • See the pipeline
  • Drive through the actual North Pole
  • Visit the very cheesy, very touristy Santa Claus House
  • Visit the very touristy, very cheesy Aurora Ice Museum
  • Visit the very touristy, very cheesy Chena Hot Springs

8/7/22: Flight FAI – TPA

Leave a Comment

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