The eight Alaska National Parks are some of the most beautiful places in the United States and are exceptional examples of why places like these are worth protecting. I spent months planning for my Alaska National Parks trip and over a month visiting all eight of the parks. If this is something you want to do, I made a detailed video and blog post to help you accomplish your goal. Watch the video above or read on for tips and links to guides on each of the national parks.
Overall Tips for Visiting the Alaska National Parks
Where are the Alaska parks located? Can you drive to them?
Here is a map that shows the location of all the parks in Alaska. Only three parks – Wrangell, Kenaji Fjords, and Denali are accessible by car. Honestly, Kenaji Fjords requires a boat to fully experience (other than the Exit Glacier hike), so it’s closer to two that are accessible via car. All other parks require you to use a guide service and some type of bush plane to get to the park. Because of this, the parks require a lot of planning to experience. During my trip I rode on seven different types of plane to access the parks, everything from a small two seater to a large ten seater plane. There is no way to visit most of them without doing this.
How do I begin the planning process for visiting the Alaska national parks?
These parks are different from others you have experienced in the USA. Most of them are massive, covering millions of acres, and as such, they have minimal infrastructure. You will typically only see a few short established trails on the park map, and they all require you to be self-sufficient to truly explore them. Because of this, you need to plan how you will make the most of your time and prepare for anything during a visit.
- I picked up a Garmin inReach Mini and paid for an unlimited message service during my month in Alaska. It was nice to text family updates while visiting the remote parks, which never have cell service.
- Also, you should note when specific campsites go on sale. For example, Katmai is typically in January, and they sell out in seconds. So, if you want to go, set reminders for those dates to make the most of your time.
- It would help to plan where you will stay while getting to each park. We planned a month in Anchorage and rented an AirBnB to home base out of. It would be tough to do this efficiently if you do not have some home base to return to and relax at.
I started planning my trip to visit the Alaska parks about a year before we actually went. My advice is to start preparing and saving for this trip as early as possible.
When should I visit the Alaska Parks?
These parks are typically only visited between May / June and September / October. During the summer season, Alaska has days full of sun and generally decent weather. I have no idea how it would be to visit these parks in the winter; that would be an entirely different beast, and most of them are inaccessible during that time.
Cost Saving Tips
Visiting all of the national parks in Alaska is very expensive, and it could easily cost $10,000 – $20,000 to do all of them, depending on how you go about it. I share the cost information on each park we visited on their respective blog posts, but here are few cost savings tips.
- Get an Alaska Airlines credit card – Alaska Airlines often gives 50-60,000 miles for signing up for their card. Plus, they also have a once a year companion pass, where you can fly someone with you on one round trip flight for only $99. I was able to use this for our Alaska flight and then use points for flying in Alaska, which helped a lot with cost.
- Get the Alaska TourSaver App – This app often has coupons for discounted flights to the state from the lower 48, discounts on scenic flights and even discounts on hotels. It is expensive at around $100 but it saved us over $1,000 when we visited the state. Be sure to check whether it is worth it for you before buying it though.
Example 30 day itinerary to visit all of the Alaska parks
Here is the exact way we visited all of the park during our 30 days in Anchorage. You could do this in less but we enjoyed having 30 days as it gave us a few days break in between our national park visits and allowed us to plan for any potential weather.
Week 1 (Wrangell-St. Elias, Kenaji Fjords)
We drove up on the Alaska Highway, so when we entered Alaska, the first thing we did was drive to Wrangell-St Elias National Park. This park is about 8 hours from Anchorage so it made the most sense to drive to it on the way to Anchorage.
After our two days in Wrangell, we drove to Anchorage and then spent a few days getting set up before heading down to Seward at the end of the first week for Kenaji Fjords National Park. For this park we spent the first day in Seward hiking to Exit Glacier, then spent the night and went out on a full day boat tour before driving back to Anchorage.
Week 2 (Katmai)
A few days into week 2, we were on a plane and heading to Katmai National Park. We spent a day getting there, spent the night, had the next day to explore the park and then arrived back late on the second day. This is the only park we visited during week 2 just because it was one of the most difficult to plan.
Week 3 (Kobuk Valley, Gates of the Arctic, Denali)
At the start of week 3, we flew to Kotzebue and planned to have 3 full days in Kotzebue in order to hope for a good weather window to visit Kobuk Valley and Gates of the Arctic. Luckily for us, we were able to get out on a flight the same day we arrived in Kotzebue, which allowed us to visit the two parks and then change our flight back to the next morning, essentially giving us two days back. These parks are remote and difficult to get to, so I suggest you build in a buffer (which you can always change if you need to) so that you have the best chance of getting a good weather window to allow the flights in.
When we arrived back we then took a day at the end of the week to drive to Talkeetna and take a flight and glacier landing in Denali. I had been to Denali previously, so I didn’t need to go in the parks main entrance again and I really wanted to see it from above. This was a fantastic experience as it really helps you see how majestic this park is and the glacier landing allows you to step foot in the park as well.
Week 4 (Lake Clark and Glacier Bay)
On the last week of the trip, we booked a day trip to Lake Clark for a bear viewing adventure. This was one full day, so it was easy to fit into the schedule and it was a great way to experience the park. We then ended the trip by flying down to Glacier Bay and spending a night at the historic lodge to do some hikes in the park and to take the boat tour.
Hopefully this itinerary is helpful. Of course you can do it faster but you have to hope for good weather as all of these trips that require planes are weather dependent.
How to visit all of the Alaska National Parks (individual guides below)
Here are the guides I created on each of the national parks to further help you with your planning. Click the links below to see the post and the video I created about each park.
Kobuk Valley & Gates of the Arctic
I hope these posts help you with planning your trip to Alaska, be sure to let me know what questions you have in the comments.