Road Trip Alaska’s National Parks

By Becky Lomax, author of Moon USA National Parks

Be ready to pound down wild miles in this epic road trip that links the three road-accessible national parks in Alaska. Fly into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage and rent a car capable of driving gravel roads.

Kenai Fjords National Park

135 miles / 2.5 hours
From Anchorage, drive south for 2.5 hours to the east side of the Kenai Peninsula. In Seward, take Exit Glacier Road (aka Herman Leirer Rd.) to enter the park to see Exit Glacier and Exit Glacier Nature Center. From your two-night lodging accommodations in Seward, hop a full-day boat tour to see a tidewater glacier in Aialik Bay. Depart the following morning, unless you want to tack on the climb to the Harding Icefield.

Entrance and Fees
From Seward Highway (AK 9), the main vehicle entrance is via Exit Glacier Road (signed as Herman Leirer Rd.), three miles north of Seward. This is the only road that enters Kenai Fjords National Park. It takes about 20 minutes to drive to its end at the Exit Glacier Nature Center, where trails head to Exit Glacier, the closest glacier to reach on foot, and the Harding Icefield. There is no entrance fee.

When to Go
June-August is the peak season for visiting. Services are reduced in May and September. Be prepared for cool, rainy weather in summer, though temperatures can climb to the low 70s.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

377 miles / 7 hours
From Kenai Fjords, the route to Wrangell-St. Elias retraces the drive to Anchorage before following the Glenn Highway (AK 1) east to the Richardson Highway (AK 4) and the Copper Center Visitor Center. Overnight at a motel on the Richardson Highway.

The next morning, take the Edgerton Highway east to enter Wrangell-St. Elias on the unpaved McCarthy Road. At the bumpy road’s terminus, walk into McCarthy to explore the funky town. Catch the shuttle and spend two nights at Kennicott Glacier Lodge. The next day, explore the ghost mine and hike to Kennicott Glacier.

Entrance and Fees
The main entrance to the park is south of Glennallen along the paved Richardson Highway (AK 4), which runs through the town of Copper Center. There is no entrance station and no entrance fee.

When to Go
The best time to visit is June–mid-September, when balmy summers peak with highs in the 70s by July.

Denali National Park and Preserve

335 miles / 9 hours or 2 days
From Wrangell-St. Elias, regain the Richardson Highway (AK 4) north to the Denali Highway, a mostly gravel 134-mile trek through the Alaska Range. At Cantwell, turn north on Parks Highway to the park entrance at Denali Visitor Center.

Plan to overnight at one of the entrance hotels, then catch your transport the next morning to relax at North Face Lodge for several nights. En route, look for wildlife and explore Eielson Visitor Center. At the lodge, paddle Wonder Lake, hike, and gaze at the mountain Denali. To return to Anchorage, drive south on Parks Highway for 238 miles (4.25 hours).

Entrance and Fees
There is only one entrance to Denali, located at Mile 237 between Healy and Cantwell on George Parks Highway (AK 3). The entrance fee is $10-15 per person and is good for seven days. The fee is collected when reserving bus tickets and campsites; if you’re not riding the bus or camping, pay the fee in person at the Denali Visitor Center.

When to Go
Peak season (mid-May-mid-Sept.) is when services throughout the road system are fully operational. Once mid-September rolls around, many visitor-oriented activities and services—chief among them the “town” just outside the entrance to Denali National Park—shut down almost completely.

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