National Parks are some of the greatest treasures America has to offer. I’ve been lucky enough to attend quite a few, while I still have many on my bucket list. They offer hiking, camping, and exploring the most amazing earth-made creations in the world- if you like the great outdoors- you’ll love any National Park.
Today we’re going to go through every single park and discover the best things to do there! This will be helpful if you’re attending any of them, or just a fun read for National Park lovers like me. You may discover parks and attractions you’ve never heard of before.
Do you know how many National Parks are in The U.S.? 58! How lucky are we?! If you plan on exploring a few of them, I recommend purchasing an annual pass for $80, allowing you to get into every single one for an entire year. Parks can cost up to $35 to enter, so in the long-run, you’ll save a ton of money. I talk more about the pass in this post.
Instead of writing short summaries on each park, I’ve opted to split up the country into chunks that way I can go into more detail per park. Today, we’ll delve into Alaska and Hawaii, both noncontiguous American States. Alaska has eight, while Hawaii has two- all equally beautiful.
This park consists of 6 million acres filled with forest, glaciers, and wild animals. The Denali Mountain stands over 20,000 feet tall which makes it a huge draw for visitors. It’s so large you can see it from over 200 feet away. If you keep your eyes peeled you can spot moose, bears, wolverines, red fox, arctic squirrels, and a ton more. This park is perfect for somebody looking for a serene and quiet getaway.
Interesting Fact: Denali Mountain was formerly Mt. McKinley named after the president William McKinley in 1917. The mountain was known as Denali only to Alaskan Natives. It came from the Koyukon people, Alaskan Athabaskans, whose word for “the high one” was “Deenaalee.” It wasn’t until just a few years ago, 2015 when Barack Obama decided to officially change the name to appease and celebrate the Alaskan people.
Gates of the Arctic
This park is famous for being the northernmost park in the United States, and the second largest. Although it’s huge, it doesn’t have any roads or trails. It was actually meant to be a National Monument but was turned into a National Park via the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act enacted in 1980. In all the years being a park, it hasn’t changed a bit. It’s kept all of its natural characteristics seemingly down to the tree. It is home to six rivers all with their own incredible views. This makes the park perfect for kayaking, hiking, camping, and a lot of adventure.
Interesting Fact: Since there are no roads, it’s one of the least guest-populated parks in the country with, on average, 12,000 visitors a year. This is one of the reasons the park is in such great shape.
Glacier Bay is named after- you guessed it- the glaciers. Similarly to Gates of the Arctic, it was initially a national monument until it was called a National Park in 1980 by the ANILCA. Subsistence hunting is only permitted in the preserve, not the park, which makes it different from the other Alaskan National Parks. The earliest trace of people at Glacier Bay was over 10,000 years ago. It’s beautiful scenery, and rich history makes it very popular for tourists- specifically those arriving by cruise ship as the park rests along the ocean. Cruise ship guests make up 80% of the park’s visitors, only four ships a day are allowed in the bay. This park is also very environmentally cautious of ocean preservation; they take no shortcuts when it comes to making sure harmful items like plastic and paper aren’t outside during their visit to the park.
Interesting Fact: The biggest marine sanctuary in the country lives at Glacier Bay. It’s extremely common to spot a humpback or killer whale in its natural habitat.
This park is located on a peninsula at the bottom of Alaska. Forests, lakes, mountain, and tundra are upon the rich landscapes you’ll come across on a visit to Katmai. This makes it the perfect environment for many different animal species. Bears are the fan-favorites; they have a few different spots made specifically for catching bears up close and personal (safely, of course.) A large volcanic eruption caused a vast area of lava tracks that make up “The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.” The park is home to nearly twenty volcanoes, but none that have been active since 1900.
Interesting Fact: The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 caused huge damages to Katmai- over 90% of the coastline was drenched in oil. It took until 1991 to remove it all. This accident instantly resorted in a tourism lapse.
Fjords, carved by the approximately 40 glaciers, are laden throughout the over 1,000 square foot park. Bear Glacier is the largest one- over 13 miles long. This park was also affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill and was contaminated until 1991, but only 4% of the park was effected in comparison to Katmai’s 90%. It attracts many cruise ships like the other Alaskan parks, although it’s only the fifth most visited park in Alaska. This could be because it’s one of the smallest at only 670,000 acres, compared to Denalis’ six million. The parks tourism has consistently increased throughout the years, up to 321,000 last year (2018). It’s an ideal park to spot wildlife both on land and in the ocean.
Interesting Fact: It is completely free to enter, park, and camp at Kenai Fjords.
Kobuk Valley is just a bit bigger than the entire state of Delaware at 1.8 million acres. The Valley has no national preserve land, only national parkland, which makes hunting only permitted for locals. The most exciting event at this park is the annual migration of caribou. Nearly 500,000 caribou trek through the dunes and river every year. The name is Inupiat for “big river,” referring to the river that runs through the entire park. It’s home to otters, beavers, and many different types of fish including pink salmon and rainbow smelt.
Interesting Fact: Since the park is located so far North, the temperatures can be extreme. This leads to almost no amphibians or reptiles in the entire area.
Lake Clark is a one-of-a-kind, National Park. There are no roads in the entire park- the only way to visit is by boat or plane, and it’s definitely worth to trip. Volcanic steam can be seen along the mountain range. This, paired with the ultra-blue lakes, makes for a once in a lifetime view. Although the scenery is impressive, only about 12,000 people visit the park every year due to the more extensive traveling involved. It’s very popular to backpack along one of the many routes scattered throughout the park. With a lake, volcanoes, and mountains strewn around the four million acres, there is something for everyone at Lake Clark.
Interesting Fact: You May recognize Lake Clark from a documentary, “Alone in the Wilderness.” It’s about a man who built a cabin on his own and then lived minimally in the wild. This is based off a true story, and you can even visit the real cabin he lived in.
Wrangell- St. Elias
This is the largest National Park of all 58 in America at whopping 13.2 million acres- larger than the entire country of Switzerland. This alone draws crowds of 80,000 visitors which is a lot more than the other Alaskan parks. 66% of the part is designated as wilderness. It’s also home to many volcanoes including Mt. Wrangell and Mt Churchill that are still active today. There is also no entry fee to visit this park. As you can imagine with all this land, you can do just about any outdoor activity your heart desires.
Interesting Fact: Most visitors prefer to tour the park by plane due to the extremely wild landscape and animals that inhabit Wrangell- St. Elias National Park.
This National Park takes up three-quarters of the Maui Island. Haleakala may also be referred to as the East Maui Volcano. The volcano is attached to popular folklore that a Demi-god named Maui caught the sun and decided to make the days longer. You can walk a trail up to the summit of the mountain if you’re up for the adventure. It’s a trendy area for swimming, hiking, and even horseback riding. With so much to do, the park attracts nearly 1.5 million visitors a year.
Interesting Fact: This park is vital in the fact that it’s home to more endangered species- animals and plants- than any other parks in the country. Green sea turtles, humpback whales, and hoary bats are just a few species in jeopardy of becoming extinct.
This National Park holds many volcanoes, obviously, and some are still active. Back in the day, they were considered home to a sacred goddess named Pele. This opted guests to visit to bring gifts to their goddess. There is a set of footprints that can be visited at the park that date all the way back to 1790. Due to the active volcanic life in the area, the landscape is always changing which makes it a park that draws millions of visitors every year.
Interesting Fact: Over 1000 different species of plants can be found in this park with most of them only being seen at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
There we have the ten national parks of Alaska and Hawaii. With Alaska having some of the largest parks, and Hawaii having the most unique, there’s something for everyone in the noncontiguous American states. I hope you learned something you didn’t know before, and you can be inspired to add a few of these locations to your bucket list.