Travel Advisor Breanna Purnell just returned from Alaska where she spent three weeks exploring four of the eight National Parks it has to offer. Alaska is a massive state, and is about 2.5 times the size of Texas. “The Last Frontier” also has the largest National Park in the entire NPS system; Wrangell-St Elias National park which includes 13 million acres.
Ways to Explore and See Alaska
Although there are many ways to explore Alaska, Breanna decided to road-trip there from Seattle, Washington. Surprisingly, many people drive there for the flexibility and affordability of having their own vehicle—an important consideration on trips of more than a week. Below are a few other ways to explore Alaska:
- Cruises are a great relaxing way to travel to Anchorage if you’d prefer to avoid driving.
- Some cruises will also stop in the state capital Juneau, where Glacier Bay National Park is also located.
- Cruise & Rail combination
- Bus tours within the parks to spot wildlife
- Hike to viewpoints, along the river beds, or explore off trail
- Wade in the rivers while fly fishing to see the salmon
- Boat day trips to see aquatic wildlife
Steal Breanna’s trip
It took 4 nights and 5 days to drive from Seattle to Alaska. Breanna and her friends decided to camp each night to create more flexibility on their travel days.
- 3 nights in McCarthy Alaska, accessing Wrangler-St. Elias National park
- NEED TO KNOW:
- To get to McCarthy, there is a 60-mile dirt road that is unmaintained, therefore rental cars are not recommended on this road, another reason it’s beneficial to have your own car in Alaska. This is a very remote area and one of the least visited parks in the national park system.
- McCarthy is a single street town with one general store, two or three restaurants, and just as few lodging options. The Root Glacier and the other few hikes begin from Kennicott—an abandoned mining town that you can tour as well.
- 4 nights in Denali National Park
- NEED TO KNOW:
- Denali has a single park road that is 92 miles long, but there was a rock slide in 2021 that destroyed the park road at mile 46. Therefore the buses can only drive to mile 42, the East Fork.
- You CANNOT drive your personal car on the park road past mile 15, it is also only paved until mile 15.
- Past mile 15, the Savage River stop, you must have bus reservations to access the road. There are non-narrated transit buses to pick you up and drop you off wherever you would like. They also have narrated bus tours for those who want to learn a bit more information, without exploring much on their own.
- Drive Denali National Park to Seward
- Stop and hike Curry Ridge Trail for a great view of Denali if it’s a clear day.
- 3 nights in Seward Alaska to access Kenai Fjords National Park
- Day 1: 7.5 Hour Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise Highlights
- If you’re lucky you can view gray, blue, and orca whales, sea otters, dall porpoises, harbor seals, steller sea lions, and both types of puffins.
- Day 2: Hike the Harding Icefiled Trail
- Drive to Anchorage
- 1 night in Anchorage
- There are two ways to get to Katmai National Park. You can fly to Brooks Camp via float plane from Anchorage, Homer, or Seward.
- Breanna opted to take a commercial Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to King Salmon, then take the water taxi 45 mins to Brooks Camp.
- 2 nights in Brooks Camp OR King Salmon
- A once in a lifetime experience, watch multiple full grown grizzlies hunt salmon at Brooks Falls to gain as much weight as possible for hibernation. This is a very fragile environment with strict food protocols, all to protect the bears. There is a food and gear storage building immediately off the beach where you arrive.
- All visitors must watch Bear 101 which is an 8 minute instructional video on the protocols and rules in the park before they leave the ranger station to explore.
- No scented items are allowed to be carried on your body – only to eat or store the food. All eating must be done within an eating pavilion with an electric fence. These food rules ultimately protect the bears. Once bears learn & eat human food, they begin to associate people with food items which causes them to gravitate towards people.
- The bears at Katmai are very special because they have NOT made the attachment between people and food and therefore most of the bears don’t want anything to do with you. The grizzly bears at Katmai are only there to eat endless amounts of salmon to gain weight for the winter.
- Most people opt to do the day trip to Katmai, since accommodations are very limited and are booked over a year in advance. Breanna recommends trying to avoid the day trip as that’s when most people are there to see the bears, making the wait time very long.
- The main Brooks falls platform has a 30-minute time limit to ensure everyone has an opportunity to see the bears. There is an alternative platform downriver that does not have a time limit and still has great opportunities to see bears.
Best Time to visit:
For the best wildlife viewing, June to August is a great time to go, especially in July when the salmon are traveling upstream to spawn. If you want to try and catch the Northern Lights, visit in the fall, winter or early spring when the sky is at its darkest.
Before you head off planning your trip, don’t forget that all 4th graders have access to the ‘Every Kid Outdoors Park Pass” giving your child access to all 63 National parks and 361 additional parks and national forests.