A Family Vacation to Alaska’s National Parks
Alaska’s national parks are nothing short of awe-inspiring and breathtaking. Topping this list of the best national parks worldwide and boasting over 660,000 square miles of incredible landscape, Alaska awards visitors with epic scenery, vast wilderness, wildlife, and unparalleled exploration. Whether you’re traveling with small children, teens, grandparents – or anything in between – family adventures are one of the greatest gifts Alaska has to offer.
How many National Parks are in Alaska?
There are 8 national parks in Alaska:
- Denali National Park and Preserve
- Gates of the Arctic National Park
- Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
- Katmai National Park and Preserve
- Kenai Fjords National Park
- Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve
- Kobuk Valley National Park
Alaska is home to 7 of the country’s largest national parks, with Wrangell-St. Elias National Park topping the charts at 13.2 million acres. The park is the size of Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Switzerland combined, and unlike like many of the state’s parks, it is accessible by road. Many of Alaska's public lands, like Gates of the Arctic National Park, Katmai National Park, Lake Clark National Park, and Kobuk Valley National Park can only be reached by plane and/or boat. Don’t let that deter you, as the aerial views and incredible experiences make a visit well worth the trip.
In planning ahead for your family’s Alaska adventure getaway, here are a few ideas to get you started, however you prefer to travel:
An Extraordinary Family Road or Train Trip
There’s no road trip like a road trip through Alaska. From the vast landscapes, unparalleled mountain and glacier views, and unique wildlife sightings of eagles, moose, and bears (to name a few), traveling by road through Alaska is one of the best ways to experience its grandeur. While not all of the national parks in Alaska are accessible by road, those that are accessible offer incredible experiences not just within the parks, but also on your travels there.
The Alaska Railroad offers spectacular views and is a perfect option for families looking to visit Denali National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park by rail. With daily summer schedules to both parks, be sure to make this scenic experience a part of your family’s travel itinerary!
Denali National Park and Preserve
With six-million acres of breathtaking land, and home to the 20,310 ft. peak of Denali, The Great One, Denali National Park is easily one of the most quintessential Alaska experiences, and one of the easiest parks to get to as it is accessible by road and rail.
Things to Do:
Denali is open to visitors year-round, offering many diverse and exciting opportunities for families of all age groups. There’s no shortage of activities for families at Denali National Park. Upon arrival at the park, be sure to pick up the Denali Discovery pack for kids, which is filled with supplies to help you and your family fully explore all that Denali has to offer. Kids can participate in training to become a Denali Junior Ranger, taking their adventures to the next level.
Your family can also enjoy summer camps, bear viewing, hiking, and searching for wildlife on one of the many guided bus tours through the park. Take a walk along the Teklanika River at mile 29, or pick up a bike rental and embark on an epic family bike ride along the Park Road. Be sure to stop by the Denali National Park Kennels and meet Denali’s dog sled team and make some canine friends for the day!
Places to Stay:
With many hotels, lodges, and cabins located near the park entrance, accommodations for the whole family are easy to arrange. For more information about lodging, transportation and additional activities, visit our Denali National Park and Preserve page.
A note for visitors from 2023 - 2026:
The Denali Park Road will be open until mile 43 from 2023 - 2026 due to road improvements. Narrated bus tours and transit buses will continue to be available for guests visiting the park and will travel as far as mile 43. The main visitor center will remain open along with four campgrounds and numerous trails accessible via the park road. Please check with Kantishna-area businesses about their operational plans for lodging and excursions from 2023 - 2026 . Free shuttle bus service will run every 15 minutes during peak visitation times between the Denali Bus Depot / Denali Visitor Center to the Mountain Vista and Savage River Trailheads.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Spanning over 600,000 acres just outside of Seward, Kenai Fjords National Park offers some of the most unique landscapes in the state. Located just 130 miles south of Anchorage, you can travel by train, car, cruise, or plane. With 60 percent of the park covered by snow and ice, the fjords grant some unique - yet family friendly - adventures!
Things to Do:
After your arrival, get up close and personal with marine wildlife on a glacier and wildlife cruise, where spotting glaciers, whales, and otters is just the beginning of what awaits sightseers. Fishing is available both on and off shore and there are many fishing charters to choose from. For families seeking some truly adventurous thrills, the coastal fjords offer incredible kayaking. The Exit Glacier area - the only part of the park accessible by road - offers several great hiking options, including the family-friendly Glacier View Loop Trail.
Kids ages 4-12 can earn their Junior Ranger Badge, while kids ages 13 and up can enjoy writing in their Explorer Journal and earning their own Explorer Badge. Families can enjoy an Art for Parks pack and capture experiences through artistic expression. All are available at one of the Visitor Centers, from a Ranger, or can be picked up on the glacier and wildlife cruise boats.
Where to Stay:
For overnight adventures, there are plenty of hotel and B&B options in Seward. If you'd like to stay in the park, there are a few public use cabins, a small campground, and a wilderness lodge within park boundaries. For more information on accommodations and activities, see our Kenai Fjords National Park page.
A Breathtaking Family Fly-In
Experience Alaska’s majestic views from the sky as a family. While an aviation vacation to these national parks in Alaska may sound somewhat overwhelming, rest assured, this is one of the most common modes of transportation in Alaska! In fact, only 20 percent of this magnificent state is accessible by road, while 80 percent of Alaska communities are accessible only by plane.
While Katmai National Park and Lake Clark National Park share a lot in common with the other fly-in only parks, they have family-friendly options and lodging available so that you can take your family adventures to the next level.
Katmai National Park and Preserve
If you’re looking for brown bears and salmon, look no further than Brooks River in Katmai National Park. Home to 2,000 bears and 3,000 salmon and located 290 air miles south of Anchorage, Katmai National Park is home to one of the most iconic Alaska scenes, where massive brown bears wait to snatch spawning salmon as they leap up Brooks Falls. Travel by plane from Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak, Kenai, or King Salmon, or by boat from King Salmon.
Things to Do:
The best time to watch the salmon run is July-August, and most visitors choose to come between May and September. The viewing platforms at Brooks Camp are the best places to see bears, but they can also be seen throughout the park.
Travel by boat from King Salmon to Brooks Camp for a nautical experience of the park.
Katmai also offers fishing, flightseeing, camping, boating, and backcountry hiking. Walk the Brooks Falls Trails, enjoy Naknek Lake – the largest in the park – for breathtaking views and wildlife sightings. For a moderate hike, try Dumpling Mountain, which starts from Brooks Camp. Enjoy a hike or bus ride to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, where your family will be able to witness one of nature’s most incredible volcanic landscaping. The valley was created by ash flow from the erupting volcano, Novarupta, in 1912 – the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century.
Where to Stay:
Staying at the Brooks Lodge will provide early hour access to see bears without the crowds, but reservations need to be made through lottery, at least a year in advance. Or, you can camp at Brooks Camp Campground, which also requires advance reservations. If you’re not able to book the lodge, there are several other wilderness lodges located within the park.
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
With less than 200,000 visitors a year and spanning 4 million acres, Lake Clark National Park is a phenomenal Alaska national park experience for adventurous families. If you're seeking the tranquility and genuine peace that Alaska has to offer, look no further.
Things to Do:
The park is home to the state’s largest lake, and boasts waterfalls, mountain views, glaciated landscapes, granite spires, as well as stunning coastline. If your family enjoys backcountry adventures, Lake Clark National Park offers fishing, river rafting, wildlife viewing, and backpacking. For a day trip into the park, take to the sky on a flightseeing tour that departs from Anchorage, Homer, Kenai, King Salmon, or Kodiak for aerial views of the park along with time on the ground to view the area's diverse wildlife including bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and wolves.
Where to Stay:
The park can be enjoyed as a multi-day excursion at a backcountry wilderness lodge or camping, or as a day trip. The best time to visit is between June and September.
A Family Adventure
When traveling through any of Alaska’s national parks, safety should always be a priority. Wildlife and weather are always something to respect and account for, especially when traveling with young children. Be sure to pick up safety information at each visitor center so your family can have the best experience possible.
Whether your Alaska travels take you by train, road, plane, or boat, Alaska’s national parks offer quintessential experiences for your family, and memories that will last a lifetime. Remember that while this incredible state offers vast exploration for even the most seasoned explorers, Alaska has epic wonders in store for the entire family to enjoy!