Denali National Park // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): Visitors can kayak in Glacier Bay National Park. // © 2016 Christopher Batin
The National Park Service’s 100th birthday this year offers many planned festivities nationwide. But few places offer better value than Alaska, with its 54 million-plus acres of parklands, historic areas and landmarks. Plus, Alaska may be the destination of choice this summer thanks to its easy access, familiarity and, best of all, its possibility for adventure.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park tops the country’s biggest geological birthday cake with 20,310-foot Denali. Try sampling it with a flightseeing trip through the park and around the mountain with Denali Air, or take a mountaineering expedition to its summit with Alaska Mountain Guides.
Weather permitting, perhaps the best roadside Denali views are found along Talkeetna Spur Road and the Parks Highway north of Talkeetna. Those who want to sit on a cabin porch and soak in the wilderness and mountain scenery should schedule a week at Camp Denali.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
Kennecott Copper Mine, in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, is the perfect ghost town to explore under the midnight sun, with original mine buildings nuzzled against the panoramic backdrop of the massive Root Glacier. Book several nights at the non-haunted, turn-of-the-century Kennicott Glacier Lodge. It’s an easy, three-minute walk to the St. Elias Alpine Guides operations cabin for day treks to explore the area.
Kennecott was a prosperous frontier mining town from 1911 to 1938, after which copper mines became depleted. The park service’s interpretive displays and restored mine buildings and ore processing areas are considered some of the world’s best remnants of 20th-century copper mining.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, located near the coastal city of Gustavus, offers adventure combined with unparalleled beauty and abundant wildlife. It’s a similar experience to Denali, but the only access is by boat instead of bus, and there are few, if any, crowds.
Un-Cruise Adventures operates smaller cruise vessels here that hold 40 to 80 guests, who spend days exploring the backcountry areas that larger cruise ships can’t reach. Shore excursions include bear viewing, kayaking, glacier exploring, whale watching and, my favorite: photographing abundant sea life while snorkeling at various marine parks.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Located a short, two-hour drive from Anchorage, Harding Icefield in Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the last four remaining icefields in the U.S. and the only one entirely within its borders. Touring the 700-square-mile expanse of glaciers and mountains is best done from the quaint town of Moose Pass, home of Scenic Mountain Air.
A viewing of the icefield is possible with Kenai Fjords Tours, as well as the opportunity to see whales and sea life at its base. Hands-on adventurers can hook up with Exit Glacier Guides for a trek across its expanse. For a less strenuous day adventure, do-it-yourselfers can drive to the trailhead of the 8-mile Harding Icefield Trail at Exit Glacier, just outside of Seward.