The heartland of Alaska is a landscape of desolate tundra, where the majestic Mount McKinley looms. Denali Park is the key park here - a 6 million-acre wonderland of mountains and wildlife. The Inupiat Eskimo country of the Far North is accessible via Anchorage or Fairfields and combines natural wonders with gold rush history. The Southwest offers the rugged scenery of the Katmai National Park and the infamous Brooks Falls, where grizzly bears swipe salmon from the river during the summer months. Kodiak Island and the archipelago of the national reserve is also a grizzly bear haven where some 3,000 of these ten feet high beasts reside. The south central region is a magical place where you can cruise the fjords and hike the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords, or explore some of the immensely vast Wrangell St Elias, which is true Alaskan backwater replete with wildlife and stunning scenery.
In the high heart of the Alaskan Range, Denali National Park is a 6 million acre area of plentiful wildlife, glaciers, swift rivers and peaceful valleys. This is one of the best places to see grizzly bears as they swipe fresh salmon from the rivers during the summer months to fatten up for the winter. Getting yourself lost in the Alaskan wilderness here is easy. Initially it was only accessible by rail, however in 1950 the Denali Highway was built, and then in 1960 the George Parks Highway ran through the park, connecting Fairbanks and Anchorage. To keep human pollution to a minimum, you cannot bring your own vehicle into the park and activities are monitored. A huge attraction here are the grizzly bears, and Kantishna Roadhouse puts you in a great location for this. From here you can also get a taste for history by panning for gold, or even watch a dog-mushing (a form of dog sledding) demo.
Glacier Bay National Park is the highlight of Alaska’s Inside Passage, part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site of temperate rainforests, wild coastlines and sheltered fjords. An area of primeval wilderness, this glacier encrusted landscape encompasses 3.3 million acres of snow-capped mountains, rising to over 15,000 feet, pristine beaches with protected coves and deep fjords and freshwater lakes. Over a dozen glaciers split and carve into the sea, creating the cannon-shot-like sound of icebergs hitting the sea, and the abundance of wild and marine life makes this a place of limitless adventure and inspiration. Grizzly bears scour the shores, turning rocks looking for tasty treats, whilst mountain goats stick to the waters edge, munching on seaweed and licking the salty rocks. Other mammals include moose, marmots, lynx and black bears, and thousands of harbour seals breed and nurture their pups on the floating ice of John Hopkins Inlet, as well as the rocks of Beardslee Island. The population of sea otters is increasing, and the summer brings humpback whales as well as minke and killer whales. The sea also supports schooling fish, salmon, bald eagles and harbour porpoises, whilst songbirds nest in the newly vegetated hillsides. Beardslee attracts a whole host of shore birds, seabirds and waterfowl, and the long commuter, Arctic tern, makes an appearance on the barren ice-scapes of the glaciers.
At a vast 4.7 million acres, this rugged and remote wilderness represents the northern Alaska Peninsula, formed of sheer cliffs, volcanoes and deep cut rivers, opposite Kodiak Island. Initially formed as a monument to protect the otherworldly ‘Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes’, it is now home to one of the most impressive and world renowned spectacles on earth, as the grizzly bears feast on spawning salmon for the winter. Here you can experience the bears swiping fish from the river with their finger-length talons, or even catch them in their teeth whilst the salmon are mid-jump. It is during the summer months that the salmon spawn and the bears fatten up for the winter, so between June and September is the best time if you are interested in wildlife. You can tour the coast on our Grizzly Cruiser or stay in Brooks Falls Lodge, which is in the perfect spot for some summer bear viewing.
Kenai Fjords National Park is a geological wonderland at the edge of the Kenai Peninsula in South-Central Alaska, dating all the way back to the last ice age. Kenai Fjords National Park is approximately 70,000 acres in area and around half of the park is covered by the Harding Ice Field, one of the four major ice caps in the United States. Despite dating back so far, the fjords are a place of constant movement and change, as the Pacific and North American tectonic plates move on the coast, deepening the fjords and enhancing the beauty of this already breathtaking environment. Best accessed by boat through Seward, a quaint seaside town, the rugged coastline and coastal wilderness is any nature enthusiast’s dream, located just 130 miles from Anchorage. It is also one of just three national parks in Alaska accessible by road, via Exit Glacier and a network of trails. The plankton rich waters of the fjords provide the ultimate environment for whales, and it may be possible to spot orcas and humpbacks. Other marine wildlife includes otters, sea lions, harbour seals and porpoises, as well as puffins which are just as ‘at home’ in the skies as they are under the surface of the crystal, icy ocean. There are 18 species of nesting migratory sea birds found on the island outcrops, including common murres and black-legged kittewakes and despite a majority of the fjord waters being salt, there are some freshwater streams that are naturally filled with salmon.
Separated from mainland Alaska by Shelikof Strait, Kodiak Island is the largest island of the Kodiak Archipelago, and the second largest island in the USA. Having once been encased in glaciers, the landscape has been battered and carved, resulting in majestic jagged peaks, wide valleys and fjord-like deep bays. The spectacular wilderness supports an abundance of land and marine life, now protected by the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Kodiak Island occupies an area of over 9,000 square kilometres and has a rich history and during your stay here it should not be ignored. This includes Alutiiq heritage and the Russian colonisation in the 1700s, and the eruption of Novarupta in 1912, which resulted in the fall of darkness for nearly three days and almost two feet of ash covering the grounds of the town. Today Kodiak town is a successful fishing village with a thriving port and slow pace - a unique island paradise that you have to explore to really appreciate. There are now nearly 3,000 grizzly bears across the archipelago and these massive creatures can reach 10 feet in height standing on their hind legs. We prefer to explore here via small boat and from the ground, enabling unique encounters as we glide through rockbound coves and tread trails lined with wild flowers and Sitka spruce. The best time to see the bears is between July and September, however the whale migration begins before this in April with the grey whale, then June brings Fin, Minke, Humpback and Sei whales.
Inexplicably vast, Wrangell – St. Elias National Park tops the scales. At 13.2 million acres, this is the nation’s largest national park and when paired with Glacier Bay, as well as Canadian National Parks Kluane and Tatshenshin-Alsek, it becomes the largest piece of protected land on the face of the earth. Wild and remote, this little visited park has some of the most impressive collections of mountains and glaciers in the world. The Wrangell, St. Elias and Chugach mountains ranges form the backbone of this massive area of wilderness. There are over 150 glaciers and 9 of the 16 highest peaks in the United States, 4 of which are over 16,000 feet including St. Elias - the second largest mountain peak after Mount McKinley. This challenging environment of cascading glaciers and braiding streams and rivers has some amazing, unlimited opportunities for exploration in a secluded and rugged mountain environment. Ever-changing and unpredictable, journeys through here are absolutely unforgettable and surprisingly easy to access. There are two roads crossing the park boundaries, Nabesha and McCarthy, both with extraordinary views as you enter the heart of the wilderness. This is one of the best places to explore Alaska’s back country. Kayak through fast flowing rivers whilst grizzlies swipe their lunch from either side of you, try rafting or hike throughout the day, which sometime enjoys up to 20 hours of sunlight per day. Yet do not underestimate the forces of nature here, as once you leave the towns and roads, there are no established trails to follow, no facilities and limited search and rescue options, so we do not recommend you travel here individually.