For better or worse, we structure our trips around our National Parks Bucket List. We decided, several years ago, to plan our trips around spending ‘quality time’ getting to know our nation’s national park system. There are more than 410 National Park units scattered across almost all 50 states. Given its size, location, and history, it isn’t surprising that Alaska has a good number of park units within its own state boundaries.
In fact, there are nineteen NPS units in Alaska. However, not all of them make it on to our bucket list. National Preserves , Wild Rivers, and Historic Trails are typically mostly wilderness areas with minimal camping or tourist facilities and so they aren’t exactly for people like us. If we went to those kinds of parks, we wouldn’t really be able to enjoy them. So we quickly eliminated Alagnak Wild River, Bering Land Bridge, the Iditarod Trail, and the Noatak, and Yukon-Charley Rivers Preserves. The Aleutian World War II National Historic Area and the Inupiat Heritage Center In Barrow, are both rather unusual NPS sites that don’t fit in any normal NPS category. And because of their very remote locations, we also excluded those two sites.
Still, though, that gave us a bucket list of twelve National Parks, Historical Parks, and Monuments scattered across five out of the six major regions of Alaska (the Aleutian Islands chain is the only region we will not see at all – although we will get close when we visit Aniakchak National Monument). Using the bucket list to structure our trip will give us a good overview of the entire state – its history and geography.
In the Southeastern region – often referred to as the Alaskan Panhandle – the bucket list includes Glacier Bay National Park, Sitka National Historical Park, and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. This area also includes Juneau, the third largest city, and is where the Inland Waterway is found, connecting Alaskans via the Alaskan Maritime Highway (ferry boats!)
The South Central region includes Anchorage, the largest city and major transportation hub. It also includes the Kenai Peninsula where Kenai Fjords National Park is located and includes most of the nation’s largest National Park unit, Wrangell – St. Elias National Park.
The largest region is the Alaskan Interior. Alaska’s second largest city, Fairbanks, is in this region as is Denali National Park, home of the continent’s tallest mountain. On the southern slopes of the Brooks range is where most of Gates of the Arctic National Park is found. This is the only region that does not have a coast.
The largest chunk of Southwest Alaska is on the large bulb called the Bering Peninsula, but it also includes the smaller Alaskan Peninsula which is where the chain of Aleutian Islands begins. Two major National Parks are found there, Lake Clark and Katmai. Further south is Aniakchak National Monument.
The North Slope is properly thought of as the tundra north of the Brooks Range extending to the Arctic Ocean. But it also includes the Northwest Arctic area which is anchored around the town of Kotzebue and contains Kobuk Valley National Park as well as Cape Krusenstern National Monument.
With these twelve parks driving the itinerary, we will have an opportunity to see most of the state.