Top Five National Parks in Alaska

Snowy mountains in the distance behind vast forest landscape in Denali National Park, Alaska.

Isolated in more ways than one, Alaska puts its unique geographical location to excellent use with 16 national wildlife refuges, as well as 17 parks, 8 of which are NPS-designated national parks.

All of these showcase the state’s undeveloped wilderness and preserve it beautifully, making Alaska an outdoor paradise unmatched in North America.

Since it’s not exactly realistic to visit every worthy site in one trip—tempting as it may be—here are the five best national parks in Alaska, so you can get as much out of your next trip to the last frontier as possible.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Root Glacier aerial view in Wrangell St. Elias in Alaska, the largest of the state's national parks.

Nearest City: Cooper Center, Alaska

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the largest in the United States. In total, it exceeds the acreage of Switzerland, Yellowstone National Park, and Yosemite National Park combined.

The premier attraction of the park is Mount St. Elias, which stands at a staggering height of over 18,000 feet.

However, the park also contains a variety of opportunities for visitors to experience the great outdoors of Alaska.

Supporting a diverse set of hiking trails, backcountry campsites, roaring rivers, and historic mining sites, Wrangell-St. Elias is far from a one-and-done destination. You could camp out for years and still see but a fraction of everything this park has to offer.

The best time to visit Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is during the months of May through September, when all of the park’s facilities are open to the public. During the winter, some areas of the park close and become troubling to navigate.


Denali National Park

Mountain range in Denali, one of the most visited national parks in Alaska, United States.

Nearest City: Healy, Alaska

Previously Mount McKinley National Park, Denali is home to the tallest mountain in North America. Its towering peaks provide an intense backdrop to any visit.

Additionally, varying elevation levels provide visitors a range of ecosystems to explore.

At the lowest elevation levels, Denali National supports a dense forest referred to as the taiga.

As elevation in the park increases, the landscape becomes more barren. In fact, evidence of glaciers isn’t uncommon in these areas.

Wintertime activities practiced in Denali National Park include skiing, snowmobiling, and even dog sledding.


Katmai National Park

A mother bear and her cub standing on an offshoot at a lake in Katmai National Park, Alaska.

Nearest City: King Salmon, Alaska

If you’ve heard of Katmai National Park, chances are good you also know about its large population of brown bears.

The park is located across from Kodiak Island. Besides its staggering population of brown bears, the park is best known for the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

This valley was formed by the 1912 eruptions of Novarupta and Mount Katmai, and still features plenty of volcanic ash as a result.

In total, Katmai National Park covers around four million acres, which places it in between New Jersey and Connecticut in terms of size.

A large portion of Katmai’s recreation opportunities center around wildlife viewing. If you make the trip to Katmai National Park, you’ll definitely want to visit the Brooks Falls viewing platform. There, you can observe brown bears catching sockeye salmon from the falls.

Additionally, various coastal areas of the park—including Hallo Bay—normally host impressive gatherings of brown bears year-round.


Glacier Bay National Park

A cruise ship navigating the waters of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, alongside a glacier and snowy mountain.

Nearest City: Juneau, Alaska

Located in an even more isolated area of southeastern Alaska, Glacier Bay National Park receives the majority of its visitation by cruise ship.

Through a partnership with the National Park Service, these cruise ships are normally the site of several interpretive programs once docked in Glacier Bay.

Park accommodations include the Glacier Bay Lodge. What’s more, trails throughout the park prove ideal for hiking, mountaineering, kayaking, and birdwatching.

Glacier Bay National Park provides undisturbed habitats to a variety of wildlife species, including a diverse array of birds, wolves, wolverines, and various other mammals.


Gates of the Arctic National Park

Fog rolling across a mountain valley in Gates of the Arctic Pass, Alaska.

Nearest City: Beetles, Alaska

Gates of the Arctic National Park is the northernmost park in the United States.

Seated above the Arctic Circle, Gates is famous for its protection of the Brooks Mountain Range.

While the national park is the second largest national park in the country, visitation here is normally quite low compared to other parks, due to its location.

However, the few visitors who do make the journey to Gates of the Arctic National Park are in for an unforgettable experience. Recreation in Gates includes hiking, backcountry camping, mountaineering, fishing, and hunting.

The best time to visit the national park is during the summer. Travel is easier, since there are no established roads that travel through Gates of the Arctic National Park.


An Unspoiled Paradise

Glaciers and snowy mountain caps in Alaska under a slightly cloudy blue sky.
In the outdoor world, Alaska has an impressive reputation stemming from the state’s commitment to preserve its unique landscape, as well as numerous wilderness habitats.

At times, Alaska can seem a bit daunting to explore as a tourist, due to its sheer size. Travelers might fare better using Anchorage as a starting point, since it contains the state’s largest airport.

What’s more, you can plan your trip beyond the national parks of Alaska by starting in Anchorage. The city features a vibrant scene of restaurants, bars, and historic locations.

“America the beautiful” is more than just a saying – it’s truly a reality. With gorgeous acres of land running through states like, Texas, Florida, Oregon, and many others, one could spend a lifetime visiting them all. Of course, while that’s possible, you’d definitely need to be prepared with tents, backpacks, water filters, and a solid plan.


Best National Parks in the United States

Mountains in Yosemite National Park, United States, during sunset and with a purple-pink filter applied.

A common bucket list item is to visit all 63 national parks in the United States, and that’s no easy feat.

If money, time, health, or other travel restrictions keep you from your goal, don’t worry. When it comes to nature, quality beats quantity any day of the week.

These five national parks are the best in the United States—and much easier to check off your list, with the right planning.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National, one of the most visited parks in the United States depicting a still lake reflecting the background of large cliffs and a waterfall.

Location: California

Made famous by the writings and advocacy of John Muir, Yosemite National Park is the most visited national park in the state of California.

It’s located among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and preserves a unique wilderness area. This park contains groves of giant sequoias, waterfalls, granite cliffs, impressive rock faces, and an important biological diversity.

Recreation in Yosemite National Park is led by 800 miles of hiking trails. One of the most popular trails leads to the summit of Half Dome.

Other recreational activities include backpacking and rock climbing. In the winter, you can participate in downhill skiing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.

While Yosemite National Park and the surrounding valley have always been a mecca of rock climbing, recent events—including the release of Free Solo, a documentary which features the free climbing efforts of climber Alex Honnold—have promoted the sport even more.

However, the park urges every rock climber to practice safe climbing practices, and only participate in climbs within their comfort and experience levels.


Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park in United States with stunning view of mountains and crystal blue water with a tree-line shore.

Location: Montana

While the likes of Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon often overshadow Glacier National Park, it has much to offer its visitors.

Located in northwestern Montana, Glacier National Park is situated upon the Canadian border. In total, it encompasses more than one million acres. Additionally, it stretches across two different mountain ranges.

Visitors who plan a trip to Glacier National Park will find stunning views of glaciers. You can also hike along the highline trail, experience some of the best fly fishing in the world, and potentially catch a glimpse of several elusive and rare wildlife species.

The vast ecosystem of Glacier National Park is supported by several geological features. These include over 130 named lakes.

The flora species of Glacier National Park exceed 1,000, while more than several hundred species of wildlife call the area home.


Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park at sunset with reflections on water.

Location: Colorado

The Rocky Mountains of Colorado are unlike anywhere else in the continental United States.

These mountains are equal parts treacherous and inviting. Rocky Mountain National Park in particular, manages a diverse acreage that includes lush meadows, staggering peaks, calm creek beds, and roaring rivers.

It’s also one of the most visited national parks in the United States. While yearly visitation totals over four million, about a quarter of that comes from just a single three-week span during the summer.

Summertime visitors flock to Rocky Mountain National Park to hike, backpack, camp, and fish.

The most famous trail is the keyhole route, which gives visitors the opportunity to climb to the top of Longs Peak.


Yellowstone National Park

Golden colored rock and mineral deposits at Yellowstone National Park, with water and mountains in background.

Location: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho

Yellowstone was designated a national park in 1872—the first one established by the federal government.

The success, importance, and reputation of Yellowstone quickly led to further development of the National Park Service, as well as other national parks around the United States.

Yellowstone preserves a variety of mountains, lakes, rivers, and open meadows. Here, visitors may hike, kayak, fish, and view wildlife.

The wildlife of Yellowstone is very diverse. It includes large mammals such as bison, elk, wolves, and bighorn sheep.

Additionally, Yellowstone National Park maintains nine visitor centers, where you can learn more about the park, plan your trip, or chat with park rangers.


Zion National Park

Zion National Park, United States, with star-filled night sky and views of sandstone formation and desert plants.

Location: Utah

Some of the most unique parks in the United States are located in the state of Utah, and Zion National is the premier destination.

Famous for its reddish-orange layers of Navajo Sandstone, Zion Canyon attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every month.

Popular recreation activities of Zion National Park include hiking and rock climbing. The Narrows allows visitors to traverse through tight sections of Zion Canyon.

Use caution, however.  Altogether, this hike is about 12 hours from start to finish.  It also requires you to traverse more than 16 miles of uneven terrain.


An Endless Adventure

Rocky Mountains at overcast sunset with snow and greenery visible.

The top national parks of the United States are all breathtaking, each possessing unique geographical features, wildlife, and recreational opportunities.

That said, they’re far from the only parks worth visiting! “America the beautiful” isn’t just a saying. These vast parks with what seem like endless lands litter states such as California, Utah, Arizona, Florida, as well as many others.


National Parks in Colorado

Overcast late sunset at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

The state of Colorado holds four national parks within its borders—Great Sand Dunes, Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Together, they form a diverse playground that continually attracts visitors to The Centennial State.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Person in the distance walking along sand dunes at the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.

Nearest City: Alamosa, Colorado

True to its name, Great Sand Dunes National Park preserves a number of sand dunes—the largest in the United States, in fact.

The park is located on the eastern edge of the San Luis Valley, and is a unique natural and cultural area.

Throughout Great Sand Dunes National Park, you’ll find evidence of human settlement which dates back over 10,000 years. The largest tribes to settle in the area include the Southern Ute, Apache, and Navajo Native Americans.

Recreation in Great Sand Dunes National Park includes dune exploration, hiking, sandboarding, and camping.

In order to access the dunes, visitors must cross Modano Creek. Most days out of the year, this creek is shallow and wide.  Therefore, you’ll probably only need to traverse a few inches of water.

Once across, you’ll then be able to hike across the sand dunes as much as you like. However, keep in mind that these dunes reach extreme temperatures in summertime—and can therefore become fairly dangerous to explore.

As for sandboarding, you can rent boards and sand sleds from an outfitter located just outside the park, such as Oasis or SpinDrift.


Rocky Mountain National Park

Bright blue sky and white clouds over the Ship's Prow of Long's Peak at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Nearest City: Estes Park and Grand Lake, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park is the most popular national park in Colorado, and one of the United States’ most frequently visited parks overall. On average, its yearly visitation totals more than 4.5 million people.

Even more impressive is that most of this visitation occurs during just four weeks.  Peak season runs through June, July, and August.

With that in mind, you’ll probably want to plan your trip in a less crowded season, to get the most out of the experience.

The landscape maintained and protected by Rocky Mountain National Park includes several peaks, mountain lakes, and bountiful meadows. While hiking and backpacking are the most popular activities there, admiring its diverse population of wildlife is another big draw.

The most notable animal species living in Rocky Mountain National Park include moose, elk, black bears, bighorn sheep, and coyotes.

In addition to these large mammals, Rocky Mountain also provides a home to many songbirds, and a few amphibians and reptiles.


Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff Palace, ancient homes carved into rock wall at Mesa Verde, one of four national parks in Colorado.

Nearest City: Cortez, Colorado

Sitting just north of the New Mexico border, Mesa Verde National Park preserves one of the most unique cultural settlements in the United States.

Inside the park’s borders, visitors will find the largest collection of ancestral puebloan artifacts, as well as several ancient cave dwellings. These sites are open to tours, under the supervision of a park guide.

The most popular cave dwelling is the Cliff Palace, which is thought to be the largest cliff dwelling on the entire continent.

Besides transporting visitors back in time, Mesa Verde also provides ample opportunities to hike and explore the landscape of southern Colorado.

The name, Mesa Verde, translates directly to “Green Table.”

Springtime visitors will quickly see why. Flora species there thrive among woodlands, shrublands, open meadows, and grasslands.

Additionally, nature lovers will find ten hiking trails throughout the Morefield, Chapin Mesa, and Wetherill Mesa areas of the park.


Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Deep blue river running through steep cliffsides in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado, United States.

Nearest City: Montrose, Colorado

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located in western Colorado.  It’s frequently overshadowed by Great Sand Dunes and Rocky Mountain, which are more popular.

However, visitors to Black Canyon will find this journey well worth it.

The park contains some of the best hiking in the state, including three steep descents down into the Black Canyon Wilderness Area.

Once at the bottom, you’ll be able to take in the sights and sounds of the basin. This is one of the least explored areas, and thus provides the perfect amount of solitude.

In addition to being a hiker’s paradise, the park maintains several backcountry and frontcountry campsites where visitors can rest for the night.

Wildlife species frequently spotted in Black Canyon of the Gunnison include mule deer, black bears, and coyotes.

Visitors wishing to hike into the Black Canyon Wilderness Area will need a wilderness permit.  These are free, and obtained from the park’s visitor center.


Colorado: An Outdoor Playground

Landscape portrait of Great Sand Dunes, one of the most popular national parks in Colorado.

When it comes to outdoor recreation, stunning wildlife, and a diverse landscape, the state of Colorado has much to offer.

While Rocky Mountain and Great Sand Dunes are larger and more popular than the other two national parks in Colorado, you can’t go wrong with any option—or, even better, all four.

For more travel recommendations, check out the state and national parks in California, Oregon, or Utah, or these buyers’ guides to the best water filters and packs for hiking and camping.

Comparison of the Best Camping and Backpacking Packs

A camper backpacking long a beautiful mountain lake on an overcast day.

It would be quite challenging to go backpacking or camping without reliable and sturdy packs to carry and protect your supplies.

After all, it doesn’t help to be prepared for anything and everything if a sudden storm soaks your gear, or your straps break in the middle of a trail.

One of the most important features of the pack is reliability. And – if you can’t rely on the pack to protect and haul your favorite tent, water filters, and cooking supplies and food then you likely won’t enjoy your experience.

Below, you’ll find the five best camping and backpacking packs on the market, which excel in terms of weight, performance, and overall durability.


Best Overall Backpacking Backpack

Granite Gear Blaze 60

Price: $269.95

A design marvel, the Granite Gear Blaze 60 scores high on durability, weight, and comfort.

What’s more, it’s highly functional: there isn’t much the Granite Gear Blaze 60 can’t do. Despite weighing just slightly over three pounds, this pack can haul over fifty pounds of gear without sacrificing the wearer’s comfort.

Additionally, the Granite Gear can withstand more than several trips’ worth of snags and drops.

When it comes to flaws, the pack’s small buckles might be annoying during cold excursions, when gloves are involved.

Other than that, though, the Granite Gear Blaze 60 is a phenomenal option almost any hiker or backpacker should have in their arsenal.



Best Value Backpack


REI Co-op Flash 55

Price: $199.00

At the end of the day, no matter how great a pack is, it needs to be affordable. While budget-friendly options abound, far too many cut costs at the expense of function.

The REI Co-op Flash 55, however, sacrifices neither. With a price tag under $200, it’s the ideal blend of value and performance.

Several external pockets and straps support a variety of gear, including two side pockets sized for water bottles.

The Flash 55 maintains a footprint of less than three pounds, and offers decent durability. Quite likely, it won’t hold up to extreme terrain or weather conditions, but it can handle more standard outings with ease.

Simply put, if you look after the Flash 55, it will continue to look after you.



Most Comfortable Backpack


Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50

Price: $240.00

Comfort is a huge factor when comparing packs for camping and backpacking. For many outdoor enthusiasts, in fact, it’s the most important determinant.

Ultimately, how long you can stand to wear your pack might dictate the length of a hike, and how much ground you cover per day.

In terms of comfort, no pack performs better than the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50.

At a capacity of 50 ounces, the Gear Gorilla is able to carry upwards of 30 pounds of gear while maintaining its promise of superior comfortability on the wearer.

With a combination of custom Robic ripstop nylon, air mesh fabric, power mesh fabric, and several pockets, the Gear Gorilla is well-designed for cushioning and breathability.

What’s more, the Gear Gorilla is offered in several colors, so every member of your party can travel in comfort and style.



Best Backpack for Long Distance


Ultralight Adventure Equipment Catalyst

Price: $280.00

Are you on the trail every weekend for miles and miles at a time? If so, then you need a pack specifically geared towards an enthusiast with your activity level.

The Ultralight Adventure Equipment Catalyst is designed to live on the trail. It’s super light, comfortable, and ready for just about anything Mother Nature can dish out.

Ultralight Adventure (ULA) is not as well-known or mainstream as brands like The North Face, Patagonia, or even Osprey. Among hiking enthusiasts, however, ULA camping packs are revered for their performance, and the Catalyst is a prime example of why.



Best Ultralight Backpack

HMG 2400 Southwest ultralight pack. Black mesh over light grey backpack


HMG 2400 Southwest

Price: $310.00

Hyperlite Mountain Gear created the 2400 Southwest to offer an ultralight backpack that can be used on even the narrowest of trails.

Composed of three external Dyneema pockets, a Dyneema high density hip belt, and a foam back panel pad, the 2400’s total weight is under two pounds.

It’s also equipped with an ice axe loop, a hydro port, and optional accessory straps.

The obvious flaw to the 2400 Southwest? Its price tag. At over three hundred dollars, it’s one of the most expensive camping packs on the market.

However, if you can afford the pack and are looking for an ultralight product, your money can’t be better spent.


A Hiker’s Best Friend

As any outdoor enthusiast knows, a poorly performing pack can ruin an otherwise perfect excursion.  Likewise, quality packs can make even the roughest camping or hiking trip incredible.

A reliable backpack soon becomes more than a piece of equipment: it becomes a best friend. Choose wisely, and don’t let price dictate your decision alone.

Instead, choose a pack that suits your activity level, weather conditions, capacity requirements, and comfort needs.