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The past year while I’ve been stuck on 191 of 193 UN countries I’ve been working on completing my US 50 states and starting up on US national parks.
With recent trips to New Mexico, Arizona, and Montana, I’m up to 44 states.
In the past year I’ve visited 11 national parks, bringing my total to 14 of 61.
The parks in the lower 48 are all rather accessible if you don’t mind some long drives.
Alaska and the islands take a bit more. I regret when driving around American Samoa that I didn’t turn left up the hill to visit the national park there.
Alaska has 8 national parks out of a total 24 National Park Service units (see Everything Everywhere’s Alaska National Parks Guide for details on them all).
At first blush I thought visiting them would take charter flights or cruises. Is that true?
National Parks on Points?
I am narrowly defining national parks on points as airline miles for flight award tickets that reach the park (within a reasonable shuttle or rental car drive).
For this post, I am not considering hotel points for accommodation or pay with points programs for cash rates. I’ll explore those when I map out visits. Most important to me is can I get to the park on an award flight.
I frown on posts that tout theoretical awards. By that I mean awards that are on an award chart that someone writes up without testing if they actually are bookable or ever have award space.
So, full disclosure, this post is provisional and I have not yet tested booking. The good news is that Alaska AIrlines Mileage Plan parters PenAir and Ravn Alaska are bookable online and I see no reason to believe they can’t be ticketed.
Examples: for Katmai National Park, you can see PenAir to King Salmon (AKN):
What Points Do You Need to Visit Alaska’s National Parks?
Tip: Alaska Airlines allows stopovers on one-way awards, though this usually does not allow backtracking through the same airport. It is feasible to stop in Anchorage to visit parks there, and continue onward to your destination. Stringing together multiple parks on one ticket will be an exercise in trial and error.
If you can reach your destination on Alaska Airlines flights, then Alaska Airlines partners like American Airlines, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, and more come into play.
Other US airlines are mainly limited to service to Juneau (JNU), Anchorage (ANC), and Fairbanks (FAI). These service can be seasonal, such as Delta’s Seattle-Juneau flight.
Seasonality is important – flights may be limitd to certain parts of the year. Make sure there is a scheduled flight before trying to find award seats.
Alaska’s 8 National Parks on Points
Alaska Airlines seasonal (summer) service from Juneau to Gustavus (GST), 10 miles by road from the park headquarters at Bartlett Cove.
This park is a popular cruise ship stop.
Multiple options for this park. A 200-mile drive from Anchorage or 250-mile drive from Fairbanks.
Ravn has some charter services to a string of airports to the north of the park that do not appear to be bookable.
Glacier Bay + Wrangell-Saint Elias Two-fer?
Alaska Airlines flies to Yakutat Airport (YAK) that is in Yakutat Borough, which “contains part of the protected areas of Chugach National Forest, Glacier Bay National Park, Glacier Bay Wilderness, Tongass National Forest, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness and the Russell Fjord Wilderness.
Start your research at the Yakutat Ranger District for what’s feasible.
120 miles from Fairbanks, 240 miles from Anchorage. Lots of flight options.
126 miles from Achorage, outside Seward.
West of the park is Kanai (ENA), serviced by Ravn. With several rental car agencies you can consider a one-way rental from Anchorage.
This is the first one we are out of luck. No roads in. You’ll need to fly via one of the air taxis from numerous airports.
PenAir to King Salmon (AKN) which is at the King Salmon Visitor Center and park entrace.
With a name like Gates of the Arctic, you can expect to be a tough one.
Air taxis, or hike in from the Dalton Highway (AK-11), which the excellent Your Guide to the National Parks notes, “…comes within 5 miles of its [the park’s] eastern boundary. Economically minded hikers can begin on foot from Dalton Highway (river crossing required).”
Ravn has charters to Anaktuvuk Pass which is a walk-in point as well. I don’t think these are bookably by miles, but worth a call to Alaska Airlines if you are so motivated.
Ravn also has chaters to Bettles, which has air taxis to both Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley.
Air taxis again, though you can get to the jumping off point for them by Alaska or Ravn to Kotzebue (OTZ).
Starting out, I expected at best four of eight parks to be reachable on points.
With three drivable from Anchorage, one more served by Alaska, and another served by PenAir, you’ve got five of Alaska’s National Parks that you can fly to on points. The savings on flight cost can go to what no doubt are pricey activites in these parks.
Readers, what are your thoughts, expertise, and experiences visiting Alaska’s national parks?