Alaska national parks: choose your own adventure

You’ve probably heard of Denali National Park, home to the tallest mountain in North America. And if you’ve taken an Alaskan cruise you might have also visited Glacier Bay National Park. But a rental car and a willingness to venture off the tourist track will reward you with rich and wild experiences that many folks miss on a trip to Alaska.

Following are two lesser-known national parks that are a day’s drive from Anchorage, but first, a fact: four of the five biggest national parks in the US are in Alaska, and seven out of ten. They are home to grizzlies, caribou, salmon, and eagles, among many, many others.

The biggest national park in the US, Wrangell-St. Elias, is accessible by car and about a six-hour drive from Anchorage. It’s home to several 16,000ft-plus mountains, as well as well as the second-highest peak in the US, Mount St. Elias, which measures in at just over 18,000 feet. Once there, you can visit the historic Kennecott Mine, and drive the road to McCarthy.Much closer to Anchorage is Kenai Fjords National Park, a stunner bordering my hometown of Seward. Though most of the park is accessible only by boat (and there are plenty of tours out there), you can drive to Exit Glacier. Here you’ll find a small visitor’s center with guided hikes. Those with gumption and muscles can follow a long, difficult trail up to the Harding Ice Field – one of my favorite hikes and a truly rewarding one.

For more information on Alaska’s national parks, visit the NPS page on the state and follow the links.