Guest Author - Dawn Engler
Each year in the US, the park service holds National Park Week coinciding around Earth Day. Here is a little information on a few parks in Alaska. If you have a chance to get out to one of these, or one nearer to your home, the entrance fees are waived at all National Parks in the US during this week.
There are 23 National Parks/Preserves/Historical Sites in Alaska. Probably the most well-known park is Denali National Park and Preserve in the Interior of the state. An interesting tidbit is that it was originally named Mt. McKinley National Park when it was established in 1917. Alaska did not become part of the nation until 1959! It was re-named to Denali in 1980 when the park was enlarged to over six million acres! The park is open year round, but the main road into the park is only open from mid-May to mid-September. This road is open to traffic for a limited distance, but beyond a certain point, (and if I remember correctly-a gate!) it must be traveled via tour bus. It was fun to sit on the bus, while keeping eyes peeled looking for wildlife and enjoying the view of Mt. McKinley. Most tours can be booked through your tour company or with the front desk of the accommodation you stay in while visiting the park. There are also opportunities to white water raft, hike, shop, dine or just sit on the deck of your chalet and enjoy the unbelievable scenery. If you’re in Denali in September, the sales are not to be missed!
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is in the Inside Passage Region of Alaska. Most people visit the park by cruise ship or plane. The tour boats steer through Glacier Bay passing by the 50 plus glaciers in the 3.3 million acre park. You can let the captain steer, while you stand shivering on the deck of a cruise ship, watching the great glaciers “calving”. Calving is what the process is called when the ice breaks off the glacier into the bay. You can see the large chunk of ice (large, like the size of a small house) hit the water, feel the swells of the water against the side of the ship, and then you hear it. BOOM. It is a much unexpected bolt of thunder. Your shivering may be as much from the overwhelming beauty of the whole park as it is from the bitter cold air. Dress warm, get out on deck and enjoy! For the more adventurous, camping and backpacking is a possibility! Float-planes will bring you in, campsites have access to bear resistant food caches, and there are trails galore to be explored. Just stay off the glaciers unless you know what you are doing!
Also in the Inside Passage Region is Sitka National Historical Park, Alaska’s smallest park at 113 acres. A short walk from downtown Sitka, roughly ten minutes from where your cruise ship docks. It was established to commemorate the 1804 Battle of Sitka between the Russians and the Tlingit (Klink-it) natives, but I remember the totem poles the most. There is a path that meanders through many of the 12 foot tall poles. Each one telling a story of the ancestry it represents. The visitor’s center holds a cultural center where you can see artists carving away at totem poles or canoes. The park contains multi-faceted terrain including coastal, open fields, forests, and as is with so much of the Inside Passage Region; a temperate rainforest. The temperate rainforest does not have the high temperatures like that of a tropical rainforest, but does have the constant moisture.
Alaska’s National Parks have much to do, explore, and enjoy. If your time allows, spend it exploring. If you happen to catch National Park Week, enjoy the free entry!