Alaska is rich in national parks, like Denali, which features North America's tallest mountain.
Enormous and lightly developed, Alaska is a global haven for outdoor and nature enthusiasts. Some of its most stunning quarters are administered as national parks or other public lands, from misty temperate rain forest to windswept tundra on the Arctic Ocean shore. Strictly speaking, Alaska has eight national parks: Denali, Gates of the Arctic, Glacier Bay, Katmai, Kenai Fjords, Kobuk Valley, Lake Clark and Wrangell-St. Elias. All except Kenai Fjords and Kobuk Valley are actually classified as both national parks and national preserves. These holdings cover a great diversity of scenic and wild terrain. Denali National Park and Preserve protects both North America’s highest peak -- Mount McKinley, or Denali -- and wildlife-rich expanses of boreal forest, rolling tundra and braided rivers. Katmai National Park and Preserve features stunning volcanoes and huge brown bears. Many of these parks, like Kobuk Valley and Gates of the Arctic, contain little or no infrastructure and are on a wilderness scale approached by few others places in the world. Mountainous Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the largest national park in the United States at 13.2 million acres.
Some of Alaska's national parks are world-renowned, others are little-known, but all are remote by Lower 48 standards. In 2009, the National Park Service reported 358,041 recreational visitors to Denali National Park, compared with 1,879 during the same year for Kobuk Valley National Park. While some parks, like Denali and Wrangell-St. Elias, can be driven to, others -- such as Gates of the Arctic, Kobuk Valley and Glacier Bay -- are not reachable by road and must be entered by plane, boat, foot or similar means.
Alaska has three national preserves managed by the park service. Such units, by a National Park Service definition, have “characteristics associated with national parks, but in which Congress has permitted continued public hunting, trapping, oil/gas exploration and extraction." Noatak National Preserve protects the biggest pristine watershed on the North American continent, that of the Noatak River. The Noatak drops out of the Brooks Range in Gates of the Arctic National Park and flows into the Chukchi Sea’s Kotzebue Sound. Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve features the wilderness courses of the Yukon and Charley rivers and their tributaries near the Canadian border in interior Alaska. The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve is on northwestern Alaska’s Seward Peninsula and takes its name from the prehistoric land connection in this vicinity that once facilitated travel between Asia and North America.
National monuments managed by both the National Park Service and the US Forest Service are found in Alaska. For example, Misty Fjords National Monument in the southeastern part of the state features temperate rain forest, rugged coastal mountains and rich marine waters. Cape Krusenstern National Monument lies on the edge of the Chukchi Sea, marking the site of thousands of years of human culture and coastal tundra wilderness.
Other Federal Lands
The country’s largest and second-largest national forests, the 17-million-acre Tongass and the 5.6-million-acre Chugach, lie in southern Alaska, protecting temperate rain forest and coastal mountains. Historic parks like Klondike Gold Rush and Sitka educate visitors about some of Alaska’s human history, from varied indigenous cultural traditions to the state’s famous mining heritage. Other federal holdings include wild and scenic riverways and acreage managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
About the Author
Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.