Alaska Scenes

all rights reserved

Caribou grazing in Denali National Park
A caribou grazes on the tundra in Denali National Park.

Alaska's parks

Kenai Fjords glacierMore than 2 million people visited Alaska's 15 national parks during the first 10 months of 1999, according to the National Park Service. The parks can easily handle that many people, however; Denali National Park and Preserve alone is almost as big as the state of Massachusetts (Massachusetts has an area of 8,284 square miles, compared with 7,409 square miles for Denali park).

Denali National Park and Preserve, home of North America's tallest mountain -- McKinley, at 20,320 feet -- encompasses 6 million acres. Visitor attractions include wildlife viewing, mountaineering and backpacking. Some of the park is open to snowmachines in the winter; the Park Service is fighting efforts to open up more of the park to them.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Southeast Alaska and Kenai Fjords National Park in Southcentral Alaska are best seen from the water. There is no land access to Glacier Bay park. Most visitors see it from cruise ships, though some use air-taxi services from Juneau, 65 miles south of the park. An airline also provides daily jet service from Juneau to Gustavus, a town near the park visitors center, during the summer.

The tourists at right are waiting in their excursion boat for icebergs to calve off the face of an iceberg in Kenai Fjords National Park. Several Kenai Fjords cruise lines operate from the Seward small boat harbor.

Other national parks in Southeast Alaska include Sitka National Historical Park and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

Sitka Historical Park is the state's oldest national park. It was created in 1910 to commemorate an 1804 battle. The park, at 107 acres within a temperate rain forest, is the smallest in the state. It includes a trail with totem poles, the site of a Tlingit Indian fort that was burned by Russians after the 1804 battle, and a Russian bishop's residence built in 1843. Sitka, once the capital of Russian Alaska, is a coastal town protected by several small islands.

The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park has visitor centers in Seattle's Pioneer Square and Skagway. The park includes the White Pass and Chilkoot trails that "stampeders" took to reach the Yukon gold fields.

In Southcentral Alaska, there are also the Wrangell-St. Elias, Katmai and Lake Clark parks and preserves. The Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, at more than 8 million acres, is even larger than Denali park. It is a wilderness park that includes Mount St. Elias, at 18,008 feet, the second highest mountain in the United States (the second highest mountain on the continent, Mount Logan, is in Canada and is sometimes visible from the left side of the plane on flights from Seattle to Anchorage.) This park includes the old copper mining town of Kennicott, which is now a national historical site.

Katmai National Park and Preserve is famous for its volcanoes. It includes the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, containing the ash flow from the 1912 volcanic eruption of Novarupta, the biggest explosive eruption of the 20th century. In July and September, salmon runs attract grizzly bears to the Brooks River, Brooks Lake and Naknek Lake. That in turn brings tourists to Brooks Camp to view them. Advance reservations are required for Brooks camp, which is accessible only by small plane.

Portage Glacier in the Chugach National Forest has for years been one of the most-visited sites in Alaska. Unfortunately, the glacier at the far end of Portage Lake is receding and its face can no longer be seen from the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center at the west end of the lake. The center is still worth a visit though, for the informational film it shows on Alaska glaciers. The five-mile drive from the Seward Highway to the visitor center affords spectacular views of several hanging glaciers (that is, glaciers that descend partway down a mountain's side). It is also possible to hike to a glacier from Portage Lake.

In northwest Alaska, there are the Gates of the Arctic, Bering Land Bridge, Kobuk and Noatak national preserves and parks, and Cape Krusenstern National Monument. Gates of the Arctic is a remote wilderness park, so remote that it averages only 4,000 visitors annually. It has no roads or even trails and, at 11,756 square miles, it is larger than the state of Massachusetts. Access to the park is generally by air.

The Bering Land Bridge visitor center is in Nome. The preserve is located on the Seward Peninsula north of Nome. It is accessible via small bush planes and boat in the summer, and by snowmachine, dog sleds or small plane on skis in the winter.

The Kobuk, Noatak and Cape Krusenstern parks can most easily be reached from Kotzebue by air-taxi, watercraft in the summer, snowmobile in the winter, or by hiking.

In the interior, there's the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. The preserve is a seldom-visited park along the Canadian border in central Alaska. It averages about 1,500 visits a year, according to the National Park Service. It includes 115 miles of the Yukon River and the Charley River basin. It has a number of rustic cabins and historic sites that date from the 1898 Yukon gold rush. Access is from the town of Eagle, at the end of the Taylor Highway.

In the Aleutians, which were created by a chain of volcanoes, there's the Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve. This is a 10-square-mile volcanic caldera that includes lava flows, cinder cones, and explosion pits, as well as Surprise Lake.

There are many state parks, too, including a Denali State Park at the southeast corner of Denali National Park. The most accessible include Chugach State Park, which surrounds Anchorage on three sides, and Independence Mine Historic Park in Hatcher Pass, an easy day-excursion from Anchorage.

The National Park Service provides more information about national parks in Alaska.

               Denali Cabins