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North to Alaska! The 49th State's Great National Parks

Although this guide looks closely at the national parks in the American West of the continental United States, we must point out that some of the country's most beautiful and pristine national parks are in a destination a bit farther north: Alaska. In fact, more than two-thirds of America's national park acreage is in our northernmost state, encompassing huge areas of wilderness and near-wilderness, with few roads, buildings, or even airplane landing strips.

Most of the Alaska parks are challenging, both to get to and to explore. One exception is Denali National Park (tel. 907/683-2294; www.nps.gov/dena), which provides visitors with easy access to genuine wilderness. Denali has sweeping tundra vistas, abundant wildlife, and North America's tallest mountain: 20,320-foot Mount McKinley. But what makes this park unique is that its accessibility hasn't spoiled the natural experience. That's because the only road through the park is closed to the public. To see Denali, you must ride a bus. The grizzly bears and other animals are still visible, and their behavior remains more normal than that of the animals seen in the more visited, vehicle-intensive parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Another recommended Alaska experience is Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve (tel. 907/697-2230; www.nps.gov/glba), a rugged wilderness the size of Connecticut that can be seen only by boat or plane. Created by a receding glacier, this bay is a work in progress, where you'll see a vast variety of flora and fauna, including grizzly bears, mountain goats, seals, and especially whales, including humpback whales breaching (leaping all the way out of the water).

Other national parks in Alaska include Katmai National Park & Preserve (tel. 907/246-3305; www.nps.gov/katm), the site of a phenomenal volcanic eruption in 1912 and now an excellent place to see relatively close up the huge Alaska brown bear as it devours a seemingly endless supply of salmon. Kenai Fjords National Park (tel. 907/422-0500; www.nps.gov/kefj), a remote area of mountains, rocks, and ice, is the spot to see a vast array of sea lions, otters, seals, and birds. And Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (tel. 907/822-5234; www.nps.gov/wrst), which, at over 8 million acres, is by far the largest unit in the National Park Service system, consists of numerous rugged mountains and glaciers, plus some fascinating history from its early copper mining days.

The above parks, plus a number of other national parks, monuments, and preserves, are explored fully in the most recent edition of Frommer's Alaska (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), by Kris Capps, Mike Dunham, Charlotte Glover, and Dave Kiffer.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.