The Gates of The Arctic National Park

While there are 62 different national parks in the United States, the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve remains virtually unchanged from human development. With no roads, no trails, the Gates of the Arctic is and absolute beauty boasting rugged mountains, crisp clear rivers that meander through glacial valleys. It’s not easy to get to but it would be a adventure of a lifetime.

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is the second largest national site in the country encompassing approximately 8.5 million acres, which makes it slightly bigger than the whole of Belgium. One of the biggest attractions of this site is that there are no roads or trails. Those with a true yearning to see nature in its raw form visit this park every year for a truly woods-experience and to closely observe the intact ecosystems where people have lived with the land for millennia. The landscape of the park has a magnificent combination of rivers, glaciers, and summer lights romancing with the aurora-lit skies in winters. Except the real forces of nature, this part of the country is almost entirely unchanged and unadulterated by any human action.

Quick History Trip!

There is not much to discuss about how the park has morphed over centuries, primarily because it has been left untouched for the most part. What we do know is that nomadic people have inhabited the Brooks Range for as many as 12,500 years, surviving primarily on hunting the local reindeers and other wildlife.

However there is a lot when it comes to how this part of land came into popular view. Gates of the Arctic National Park was named so by a conservationist, Robert Marshall, who visited the area in the early 1930s. Hiking through the valley of the North Fork of the Koyukuk River in June, a month when sunlight keeps the wild land ablaze with a bright red light well into the afternoon, Marshall came upon a pair of unusually steep mountains, flanking the North Flank of the Koyukuk River. He called them the peaks Gates of the Arctic.

“No sight or sound or smell or feeling even remotely hinted of men or their creations,” Marshall would recall later. “It seemed as if time had dropped away a million years and we were back in a primordial world.” He published an account of the place in his 1933 book Arctic Village, and by the 1940s he and researcher Olaus Murie had become convinced that the Alaskan lands would be preserved and so they proposed.

Proper proposals for a national park in the Brooks Range first emerged in the 1960s, and in 1968 a National Park Service survey team recommended the establishment of a 4,100,000-acre park in the area. That same year, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall recommended to President Lyndon B. Johnson that Johnson use the Antiquities Act to proclaim a national monument in the Brooks Range and other Alaskan locations, but Johnson declined. During the 1970s the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) prompted serious examination of the disposition of lands held by the federal government. A series of bills were considered to deal with conservation land proposals authorized under ANCSA, but the legislation that would become the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) was held up in Congress in the late 1970s.

Eventually, on December 1, 1978 President Jimmy Carter used the Antiquities Act to proclaim much of the proposed new Alaskan parklands as national monuments, including Gates of the Arctic National Monument. In 1980 Congress passed ANILCA, and the monument became Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve on December 2, 1980.

As of today, a large part of the park has additional protection as the Gates of the Arctic Wilderness which covers more than 7 million acres. Covering 8.5 million acres and encompassing six wild rivers, two national natural landmarks, and hundreds of indigenous people, Gates of the Arctic National Park is as primitive as ever. Despite the harshness of the land, Koyukon Athabascan and Nunamiut and Kobuk Inupiat peoples have lived in this region for thousands of years. In fact, 1,500 residents in 10 camps still call the park home today. The wilderness area adjoins the Noatak Wilderness and together they form the largest contiguous wilderness in the United States.

Location, Geography and Ecosystem

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve lies completely on the northern side of the Arctic Circle, a fact only intensified by the grandeur of what lies inside its boundaries. The scenic headland of the Brooks Range and the northernmost part of the Rocky Mountains Park and Preserve are both a part of this national park. This part of the park alone is four times as large as the Yellowstone National Park. The NPS website describes the park as “This is the ultimate wilderness that captured the heart and imagination of Arctic explorer Robert Marshall in the 1930s”.

More specifically, the national park lies to the west of the Dalton Highway, centered on the Brooks Range and covering the north and south slopes of the mountains. The park includes the Endicott Mountains and part of the Schwatka Mountains.

The eastern boundary of the park generally follows the Dalton Highway at a distance of a few miles, with the westernmost part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 10 miles (16 km) farther east. Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge is near the park’s southeast boundary. Noatak National Preserve adjoins the western boundary, and the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska adjoins the northwest corner of the park. Almost the entire park is designated as wilderness, with the exception of areas around Anaktuvuk Pass. A detached portion of the park surrounds the outlying Fortress Mountain and Castle Mountain to the north of the park.

As has been mentioned earlier that there are no roads within the site, but the Dalton Highway (Alaska State Highway 11) comes within five miles of the park’s eastern boundary. However, that too requires a river crossing to reach the park from the road. The Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in nearby Coldfoot is open from late May to early September, providing information on the parks, preserves and refuges of the Brooks Range, Yukon Valley and the North Slope.

The park contains mountains such as the Arrigetch Peaks and Mount Igikpak. The park also features six Wild and Scenic Rivers, namely Alatna River, John River, Kobuk River, the North Fork of the Koyukuk River, part of the Noatak River, and Tinayguk River.

As for the wildlife in the area, grizzly bears and barren ground reindeers, also known as caribou, will be there for you to feast your eyes on. The spacious and fragile tundra of this arctic soil provides them with a natural habitat where they hunt and survive and exist in relation to the weather and temperatures of the northern end of the world. The southern flank of the park samples the boreal forest of Alaska’s interior while its north slope lies at the edge of a polar desert with a level of precipitation that mirrors those of the driest regions of the globe.

Regarding human civilizations, two distinct cultures can be found here – the Athabascan peoples of the spruce-taiga forests, and the Nunamiut Eskimos who hunt the reindeers in the high valleys. Both cultures continue traditional subsistence patterns of life in the park and preserve. Ten small communities outside the park’s boundaries are classified as “resident zone communities” and depend on park resources for food and livelihood. They are Alatna, Allakaket, Ambler, Anaktuvuk Pass, Bettles, Evansville, Hughes, Kobuk, Nuiqsut, Shungnak, and Wiseman. There are no established roads, trails, visitor facilities, or campgrounds in the park. The wildlife and the human cultures existing in tandem provide for a dreamlike escape from what you may experience in New York or another busy state in the country.

Activities at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Even in modern day the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is essentially untouched and remains in letter and spirit a wilderness park. No roads, no trails, and no established campsites makes it more adventurous than several other man made travelling attractions. You will have no boundaries or restrictions of any set routes and you may wander at will across 8.4 million acres of superlative natural beauty. This is a place primarily for those who come with a hunger for discovery and exploration.

However, do keep in mind that considering the undeveloped and unadulterated nature of the park, there are no established services within the park boundaries either and only limited means of communication may work properly to contact anyone for assistance. Cell phones don’t work here so make sure you are prepared and packed for the adventure trip that you are about to embark on once you get here.

One of the things that the NPS and the park management would want its visitors to have is proficiency in outdoor survival skills, and ability to be prepared to care for their own life and their partner in case an emergency arises.

What might be a good or bad thing, depending on your level of curiosity and experience is that the terrain is challenging. In addition to no established trails, the vegetation is dense, and there are tussocks, boggy ground, and frequent stream and river crossings, which can all significantly slow down your initially planned progress across the landscape. NPS website says that experienced hikers consider six miles a good day’s travel in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. “If visitors are not proficient in wilderness backcountry skills, we recommend that they contact an outfitter, guide service, or air taxi operator for assistance.”

Other Instructions that Might Come in Handy

‘For those visitors who don’t have the time, or the backcountry skills to mount an expedition into the park, there are other options. Local air taxis provide flight-seeing trips, day trips or overnight campouts at remote locations. Imagine a day spent fishing at an alpine lake, or watching the caribou up in the northern valleys, or sitting alongside a wild river listening to the wind in the boreal forest. Air taxis will also take visitors into neighboring Kobuk Valley National Park to get their passport stamp.’

Sufficiency and flexibility in travelling, movement, as well as food and water are all necessities for traveling in a remote wilderness park and this national site will be no different. You need to arrive at your jumping off point with everything you need for a safe and comfortable trip.

Bush travel requires flexibility. There are many reasons for delays going in and out of the park. You should take enough food to remain in the park several extra days. It is also a good idea to have a backup route plan with maps just in case. You might also have to fill out the voluntary Backcountry Registration Form.

Before you leave for your trip, contact the Park and Preserve for updates and advisories. Visitors in the park must practice minimum impact techniques, adhere to Leave No Trace principles, follow backcountry safety guidelines, and be aware of the fragile ecosystems and private lands within the park, recommends the National Park Service.

If you are entirely new to the area or to the exploration of wilderness, then it might also benefit you to stop by the Bettles Ranger Station, Coldfoot Arctic Interagency Visitor Center, Marion Creek Ranger Station (near Coldfoot), or Anaktuvuk Pass Ranger Station for a backcountry orientation, before you go into the backcountry.

Finally, even if you are not packing your picnic food with you, the Bear Resistant Food Containers (BRFCs) are available at the above mentioned locations. BRFCs are the easiest way to meet the mandatory food storage regulations for all overnight visitors in the Park.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

If you are also missing that sense of wanderlust and wish to rush back to nature and greenery then perhaps you would like to keep Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on your visit list.

The monument gets its name from the actual cacti in the area who in turn get their name because their branches resemble organ pipes. In1976, it was declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve, and the following year. Ninety-five percent of the cacti were declared a wilderness area. It is situated in the extreme south of Arizona, bordering with the Mexican state, Sonora. This is the only place in the country where this type of cactus grows originally and wild.

Even though many other types of cacti are also present in the area along with other types of desert flora native to the area, this one specific type has garnered a lot more fame due to its unique shape. The interesting part here might be that even if you are not familiar with what do Organ Pipe Cactus plants look like, this is the shape and form that you most likely imagine when you think of a cactus. Cartoon images have obviously helped in forming this shape. However, there is a lot more to do and explore than snapping photos of these very picturesque cacti.

Two Sides of the Monument Mirroring the Irony of the Cacti

Before we dive into the beauty and allure of the area for the visitors from all over the country and from the farthest parts of the world, let’s familiarize ourselves with a tragic side to this area as well. Just as a cactus is gorgeous to look at but painful to touch and possibly poisonous, Organ Pipe Cactus monument also has two sides to it – “a paradise for the tourists but a death trap for migrants”. In an article published in The Guardian in 2015, Rory Carrol wrote, “One park with two very different types of visitor. One seeking recreation, the other survival. This is the new normal on the front line of America’s border crackdown.” With this piece of information, one might wonder what secrets and mysteries are buried in these lands and what a tourist might wish to explore, especially after having a brush with looming death even when sitting inside his house. If this information has been enough to pique your curiosity, then let’s educate you more on what to expect, how to prepare, and what to do on your trip to this inspiring national park.

Location and Landscape

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is the large desert area in southwestern Arizona. Its northern boundary is about 15 miles south of Ajo and is accessible by road. The cities of Yuma (northwest) and Tucson (east-northeast) lie about 140 and 185 miles, respectively, from the monument. Britannica notes that Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge also adjoins the monument to the west and northwest, and the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation binds it to the east.

The monument encloses an area of more than 500 square miles of the preserved segments of the rugged Sonoran Desert. Park headquarters and a visitor’s centre are located in the southeastern portion of the monument, about 5 miles north of the border town (within the monument) of Lukeville.

Talking about the landscape, it consists of several ranges of mountains and hills interspersed with broad and relatively flat valleys. The relief rises to its highest elevations in the Ajo Range along the eastern boundary, reaching 4,808 feet at Mount Ajo. A small, permanent, spring-fed pond is located at Quitobaquito in the southwest corner of the national monument; otherwise there are no perennial waterways, explains Britannica. However, several intermittent streams within the boundaries can quickly become raging torrents during and after the often intense thunderstorms that occur during the summer monsoon period (July–September).

The monument is accessible via a north-south road that bisects its eastern portion before continuing on into Mexico from Lukeville. However, unless you are packed for several hours and possibly days if your trip plan is as such, do remember that there are not many facilities available on the way to this park. There are not many restaurants or service stations, and there is no accommodation either for you to rest if it gets late on the way. The only residence you will have is camping that is available within the monument. It is also advisable to plan your trip in relatively cooler months and weather.

Wildlife in the Monument

In addition to the primary attraction organ-pipe cacti, several other desert plants can also be found here, including desert ironwoods, flowering spiny shrubs, large candelabra-shaped cacti, creosote bushes, and the rare elephant tree. The times when the clouds shine upon the area and bless it with some rainfall (especially during the winter and early spring) certain wildflowers also bloom profusely giving an almost dreamlike color to the scenery.

Desert Coyote

If you are also interested in spotting the animals of the desert then you can find mammals like desert bighorn sheep, javelinas, coyotes, a variety of kangaroo rats, and the Sonoran pronghorn – an endangered species of antelope. If you are lucky, and hopefully prepared, you might also catch sight of the occasional mountain lions.

Among the numerous birds you might catch flying above you are the northern cardinals, Gila woodpeckers, cactus wrens, and several species of hummingbirds. Looking on the ground while your strolls can make you see desert tortoises, chuckwallas, venomous Gila monsters, and several species of rattlesnakes. Scorpions, tarantulas and other desert spiders, and the endangered Quitobaquito pupfish are among the smaller creatures found there, according to Britannica.

Things to do at the Cactus Park

According to NPS website, most visitors visit this national monument in December, January, and February to enjoy the Sonoran Desert’s winter warmth, but each season offers a unique perspective and experience. Choosing when to visit may depend on your length of stay and what you like to do. Leisurely hiking trails and those designed for the experienced hiker meander through a diversely vegetated landscape. Your options may range from photography and night-sky gazing to wildflower walks, camping, ranger programs and the scenic drives.

There are also Ranger Programs available at the monument, but those are better suited for those with more thirst for knowledge and exploring the secrets of why the native cacti don’t grow anywhere else. For those wishing to breathe in the desert air, soak in the sun and the colors of the land, and to take photographs of nature being wild and beautiful, there are other things to do, as mentioned above.

Nearby National Parks

Women looking at a map driving to the next national park in Arizona

There are also several places to visit nearby the monument, each with something unique to offer the visitors. These include national park sites and other cultural attractions. Saguaro National Park is one option that contains some of the most pristine and impressive forests of the Saguaro cactus. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is slightly farther, which was created as the nation’s first archeological reserve in 1892. The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument preserves the remains of an ancient farming community. Tumacacori National Historical Park is another option where you will find the three Spanish colonial mission ruins in southern Arizona, founded in the 17th and 18th centuries, respectively.

Explore Gunnison National Park

Gunnison National Park

If you are the kind of traveler who is simply not satiated with plains and forests, and you want to feel the thrill of danger and unexplored areas, then the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado is the place for you.

Even if you are not much of an adrenaline junkie, Even though this national park has been there for ages, it remains one of the least visited parks, so better use the opportunity while it still remains.

Black Canyon

A natural site, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, encompasses a narrow but steep 15 miles gorge. Established as a national monument in 1933 and then elevated to the level of national park in 1999, the Gunnison National Park is situated on a total area of 47 square miles. Located in western Colorado, Black Canyon gets its name from the black-stained, lichen-covered walls as well as the fact that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day.

The dramatic landscape alone is enough to leave you mesmerized, let alone experiencing the beauty of Montrose, Gunnison and Crawford altogether. The national park itself contains the deepest and most dramatic section of the canyon, but the canyon continues upstream into Curecanti National Recreation Area and downstream into Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. The Black Canyon is the habitat of mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, rock squirrels, and a wide variety of birds, including the golden and bald eagles. Most of the monument has a vegetation cover of Gambel oak and serviceberry.

What to expect when planning a trip to the rim of this 2,000 feet deep canyon

While a few minutes of internet search will tell you that Black Canyon is neither the steepest nor the longest canyon in the US, nothing will prepare you for the irresistible magnetism of this site that comes from the rare combination of extraordinary steepness, narrowness, and darkness. Despite all its beauty, however, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park remains one of the least explored sites in the country. It could be because of the fact that only the bravest and the most avid of adventure seekers have thought of visiting this amazing part of the world, but as of now there are a little over 300,000 visitors annually.

Another factor contributing to the lower number of visitors is the five hour drive from the nearest airport, located in Denver, as well as notable distance from any other major interstate. Minimal infrastructure combined with low accessibility mean that you really want to see this place to actually reach this place, but if you do, chances are that you won’t be able to forget the experience for a lifetime.

To shed more light on the matter, the inner canyon is a designated wilderness area, meaning that there are no maintained trails that directly lead to the Gunnison River at the bottom of the chasm. It does not mean that you cannot get closer to the bluish-green trout-teeming water, which has carved the canyon over millennia. However, it does mean that only those who have above-average fitness, exceptional route-finding skills, an insatiable thirst for adventure, and plenty of courage should consider exploring the true depths of this national site. All others are politely advised to roam the North and South rims, and enjoy the breathtaking and possibly head-spinning views, either through a vehicle or on the few walking and hiking paths along-the-edge. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park promises you an overwhelmingly huge yet incredibly intimate experience of thrill and adventure combined with the beauty of nature.

Steep trip down memory lane

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison was established as a national monument in March 1933, and was given the status of a national park on October 21, 1999. However, the first renown expedition to the site can be dated back almost a century. In 1853, American military officer and explorer John William Gunnison went on a crusade to survey a railroad route between the 38th and 39th parallels, from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.

He and his companions traveled along the Arkansas River, navigated the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and crossed the Continental Divide before coming upon the Grand River and the intimidating canyon. Gunnison concluded the canyon to be impassable and led his team around the South Rim. As per his written records of the experience, he found the Black Canyon to be “the roughest, most hilly and most cut up he had ever seen”.

It would be three more decades before another human being would take heart to explore this formidable area, and that too for the purposes of establishing a rail track. In 1883, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad was quickly expanding its tracks from eastern Colorado and on its way to Salt Lake City. When the line reached a natural break in the cliffs of the canyon at the Cimarron, the engineers had a tough decision to make. They could either continue the tracks down the canyon and the town of Delta or take them over Cerro Hill and into Montrose.

Black Canyon Exploration

An explorer named Byron Bryant was contacted to conduct a survey to see whether the company’s line could continue west through the middle and lower stretches of the canyon. The initially planned exploration project of 20-days with 12 men ended up extending to more than two months with only five men with the heart to continue. Byrant finally ruled that bringing the railroad through the canyon would be finally catastrophic. One of Bryant’s crewmembers Harvey Wright recalled the experience as, “Hereto was unfolded view after view of the most wonderful, the most thrilling of rock exposures, one vanishing from view only to be replaced by another still more imposing.”

Several more expeditions were conducted, each ending up with the same or similar outcomes and opinions, and all solidifying the Black Canyon’s reputation of being untamable and unconquerable.

After another expedition in 1901 that finally led to the fraught-with-difficulties construction of the Gunnison Tunnel, eventually, in 1933 the site was declared a national monument. Two years later, the Civilian Conservation Corps built the North Rim Road to design by the National Park Service easing the access to the canyon. Right about the turn of the century, in 1999, it was finally redesignated to a national park.

What to do at the Black Canyon?

Even though the inner canyon will be the most challenging of the exploration journey with extremely difficult hiking, rock climbing and kayaking as the possible options, there are other less terrifying avenues for hiking, driving around, watching wildlife, and exploring the night sky.

The main tourist attraction – and thereby the easiest accessible part of the park – is the scenic drive along US Highway 50 and Colorado Highway 92, as well as the south rim. The east end of the park, where it meets Blue Mesa Reservoir at Blue Mesa Point, is the area most developed for camping. You can do tent camping and RV camping with full hookups, and can also take canyon tours, and go for hiking, fishing and boat tours.

The Curecanti National Recreation Area

The Curecanti National Recreation Area is nearby, which also includes a visitor center, provides marina facilities and is among 10 campgrounds within the NRA, the Lake Fork Campground. You can also access the west end of the park through a car, and you will easily find tour guides there as well to further enlighten you of the mysteries that this steep slope has been holding for millions of years as it was being carved by the Gunnison River.

A short hike is also possible at Blue Mesa Point Information Center that heads down to Pine Creek and the Morrow Point. You may also take boat tours here and do fishing. At the south rim there is one campground for tent and RV camping, one loop of which has electrical hookups, and several hiking and nature trails. The north rim is also accessible by automobile and has a small, primitive campground. Automobiles can access the river via the East Portal Road at the south rim.

Gunnison Point Trail at the South Rim is another destination but it is relatively harder to best as compared to the Morrow point. The river can be accessed by steep, unmaintained trails, called routes or draws, on the north and south rim. These routes require about two hours hiking down, and about twice as much to hike back up, depending on your hiking skills and which route you take. All inner canyon descents are strenuous and require at least Class 3 climbing and basic route finding skills. You will have to deal with not only steep talus and impassable ledges, but also a lack of cover. Beware of the Poison ivy as well as it grows abundantly in the draws and on the canyon floor. Long sleeves and hiking boots are strongly recommended if you are determined to see the trail for what it is.

The flow rate of the Gunnison River should also be considered for those planning on camping in the canyon, as high tide levels can wash out the camp sites. The National Park Service warns, “Routes are difficult to follow, and only individuals in excellent physical condition should attempt these hikes. Hikers are expected to find their own way and to be prepared for self-rescue.” A free backcountry permit is required for all inner canyon use except at the west end.

If you plan on fishing, then remember that the Gunnison River is designated as a Gold Medal Water from 200 yards downstream of Crystal Reservoir Dam to the North Fork. Only artificial flies and lures are permitted, and all rainbow trout are only catch and release. Fishing is completely prohibited within 200 yards downstream of Crystal Dam.

Going towards the East Portal, that is where you can go for rock climbing. Again, most of the climbs are difficult and are better left to be attempted only by advanced climbers.

Rafting opportunities are also possible depending on the tide levels, weather and time of day, but the run through the park itself is a difficult and technical run suited to only the best kayakers. There are several impassable stretches of water requiring long, sometimes dangerous portages. Downstream, in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, the river is somewhat easier to navigate, though still very remote and only for experienced runners.

Why You Need to Discover Katmai National Park and Preserve

Chances are that if you have heard about Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, you have also heard some reference to bears. The link between the two is based on truth but bears are not all that there is to this national park. Katmai has an amazing history from its origin and it continued development. Katmai now attracts tourists from all corners of the world and has lots in store for you to explore and enjoy.

Trip Down History Lane

In 1912, Novarupta Volcano on the Alaska Peninsula erupted and shook the entire area that now makes Katmai National Park and Preserve. What used to be just wilderness was turned into a valley of smoke and ash. Mountains in the area had layers of ash upon them and small holes and cracks which let out steam and gas. It is said that such a violent volcanic eruption had not happened for millennia before this.

In 1915, a botanist named Robert Friske Griggs led an expedition of the National Geographic Society to observe the aftermath of the Katmai volcanic eruption. Upon seeing the valley floor with so many steam vents, he named it “The Valley of 10,000 Smokes”. In 1917, Griggs and his fellow explorers went back to the Katmai area to primarily explore the valley and quickly worked their way up through the ash-filled river valley and over the pass. Historians have recorded the experience as “a month of terror and elation” for these explorers who made sure to take chemical and geological samples and photographs from the area, as they also made rough maps for their own remembrance and records.

This expedition was important beyond a regular geological research attempt. The world was going through World War I and here was a natural event of a volcanic eruption that had shaken the area beyond the capabilities of any man-made explosive. Americans were tired of the war and at the same time were enthralled by the volcanic discoveries that were being made at that time in Alaska. While Griggs’ explorers were recording he eruption, Griggs himself was focused on preserving the site.

The vivid descriptions that made part of the articles Griggs wrote about the Katmai site proved to be a perfect distraction and a perfect opportunity of advocacy for the subscribers of National Geographic, which slowly but surely turned into a full-fledged conservation movement in the United States. Chiefs of National Geographic became Griggs’ partners in campaigning for the preservation of the valley and finally, in 1918, enough pressure and persuasion had been built that the then President Woodrow Wilson declared the 1,700 miles of Katmai land as a National Monument.

The boundaries of the land were changed several times here and there, but in 1980, it was formally enlarged from its natural approximately 4 million acres to 4.2 million acres and was transformed and named a national park and reserve. From 1918 to 1950, despite the site being a national monument, Katmai remained a destination of only the bravest and the boldest. In 1950, it is estimated that the first rangers were stationed at the site. Even today, the Katmai National Park and Preserve remains to be more of a natural wilderness than an artificially developed tourist destination. 

Landscape, Ecosystem, and Wildlife

Now before you get scared that there are still volcanoes that might erupt anytime in Katmai National Park and Preserve, the truth is that there are only fumaroles left now, and even among those only a few are active. It is believed that t the peak of the volcano collapsed and transformed into a lake of nearby volcanic Mount. Since the eruption, the Ukak River and its tributaries have cut gorges into the ash that accumulated in the “Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes”. So if you are planning your next trip to Katmai, you can expect to only see steam if anything.

Now moving on to the ecosystem of the park, Katmai has garnered a reputation for its lakes, mountains, wild rivers, forests and marshlands. The wildlife attractions in the area are a whole another reason for explorers and adventure seekers to take a trip to this national site.

As was mentioned at the beginning of this article, a very notable part of this wildlife is the grizzly bears, also called Alaskan brown bears. If you pick the right time of the year to visit – summery weather – you might also catch dozens of these bears feeding along the Brookes River. You might have seen on TV how a bear can catch a fish from inside the water at a lightning speed but in Katmai, you get to see that in person.

However, bears are not the only animal residing in the Katmai National Park and Preserve. You may also come across wolves, foxes, moose, and reindeers. Several species of birds may also keep your eyes busy towards the sky. If aquatic life is what interests you, then Katmai still has you covered.

The national park is also home to several large lakes including Alagnak Wild River. The second largest lake, Naknek Lake, is known to support all five species of Pacific salmon as well as rainbow trout, Arctic char, Arctic grayling, and northern pike. All this also makes this park a favorite destination for sport anglers.

Floatplanes will take you to the main visitor area of the park, without you having to fight bears along the way. Should you also wish to see the stunning coastline, then you will also have the option of boats. Katmai National Park and Preserve truly has the fjords along with breathtaking cliffs and waterfalls.

A New Addition

It might be of interest to you that within this national park, preserving more than 9,000 years of human history, there is one little modern addition to see as well – a new bridge. Constructed in 2018-19, this permanent bridge and corresponding elevated boardwalks came into being to remedy the lengthy and frequent delays from the older floating bridge. The new 366-meter long bridge averaging a height of 8 to 10 feet above the ground level cost around $6 million to build, according to the National Park Service (NPS) website.

Granted that this newer construction reduces the thrill and danger of crossing the Brooks Rover, but at the same time, this means that you can now enjoy and access the area without worries. Another interesting nugget here to note would be that this bridge is also an improvement for wildlife movements and access in the lower Brooks Rover in addition to being a more efficient way to transfer lodge facilities.

Is There More than Sightseeing?

Now that you know about the place and the surroundings that will be welcoming you on your trip, what are the activities can you add to your to-do list?

First, consider the floatplanes. Who doesn’t want to sit in a small aircraft and feel like they are on a secret mission like James Bond? Well, this is your chance to do that, with the added advantage of absolutely beautiful scenery underneath you as you fly towards the visitor area.

If you are feeling even more adventurous, then try rafting. Kayaking is also an option through the chain of lakes and rivers called Savonoski Loop. For the more fit and active ones among you, there is also the option of hiking through the Valley of 10,000 Smokes just like Griggs and his fellow explorers did. You can also do camping in the backcountry.

However, while you are planning this trip, you might want to remember that just like any site worthy of adventure and exploration, Katmai National Park and Preserve is also not easily accessible through the roads by any nearby town. This means that you will need to do some extra planning and preparation, and also set some money aside for advanced reservations. Several companies offer attractive and cost-effective tour packages to the park, including one-day trips. So make sure to do your research and planning before embarking on this exciting journey.

Final Word

Let’s get your adventure spirit back with one last detail. When you get to Katmai National Park and Preserve you will have to watch a video on bear safety. Unless your floatplane pilot doubles as your guide, you will be on your own afterward. The good part about this place is because of its vastness, even with as many as 200 visitors on average at any day during the peak season, it does it not feel crowded.

Bears have also become used to human presence but you should be prepared that they don’t shy away either. You can watch them feeding, playing, or even sleeping in their natural habitat while also enjoying the wildlife around them and yourself. Just throw in some rain gear, some strong boots, and a pair of binoculars in your travel bag. After you have done the necessary research for travel, you’ll be ready for your trip to Katmai National Park and Preserve with your friends or family.

Five Least Visited National Parks in the US

There is nothing like the feeling of spending time outdoors and exploring new areas. As we have been traveling less abroad, we can take advantage of some of the most beautiful places on the planet right here in the United States. Many people have been travelling to see national parks and because of that some parks have become very busy. We’ve picked our top 5 beautiful national parks that are some of the least-visited, but most beautiful places so you can start planning your next national parks get-away. 

Alaska is the Place to Experience Several Facets of Nature

Katmai National Park and Reserve

In Southern Alaska, Katmai National Park and Preserve is home to the world’s largest population of Alaskan brown bears. Now before you get scared of imagining gigantic bears feeding on salmon-rich diet, consider that you get to view the brown bear fest at Brooks Camp, from a safe distance and from one of the park buses that take you through the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. An additional site to look out for here is the remains of smoking fumaroles. More than a century ago when they erupted, they left creeks and carved canyons into the ash which are now available for visitors as a peek into the layers underneath the earth’s surface.

Alaska Has Even More Potential to Delight Your Wanderlust

Gates of the Arctic Circle

Gates of the Arctic is another national park and it’s big enough in size to leave Belgium behind. Situated entirely north of the Arctic Circle, this park is for those who cannot have enough ice and snow. Not only this but the terrain and minimal road development of the park means that it is a place nature designed only for the truly adventurous travelers.

With gigantic spectacular glaciers and Brooks Range straddling the park from East to West along the Continental Divide this is the place to watch the water run-off to the northern side of the Arctic Ocean. The best way to enjoy this family trip would be to start from the park headquarters in Fairbanks and then drive to the ranger station at the south of the park.

Colorado Has Got You Covered If You Prefer Mountains Over Ice

Gunnison National Park Colorado
Gunnison National Park

Gunnison National Park has the steepest canyon in North America where you can see the Gunnison River plunging at more than 10 meters per mile through this narrow national park. For comparison, the Colorado River has an average speed of 2.3 meters per mile through the Grand Canyon.

The place is called Black Canyon and its namethat is derived from thethe fact that only limited sunlight, and they are made even darker by the black Precambrian gneiss and schist rock of the walls of the canyon. The site is said to be 1.7 billion years old and has become extremely hard and therefore excellent for rock climbing. However, that is a feat still better left to experts. For your family trip and sight-seeing go to the easier three miles trail hike on the north rim, known as Exclamation Point.

Arizona is Your Pick if it’s The Heat You Seek

Organ Pipes National Park, Arizona
Organ Pipe Cactus

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a beautiful slice of the Sonoran desert. This is also the only place in the country, if not the world, where the stunning and rare organ pipe cactus grows wild. An interesting thing for you to note would be that this cactus is primarily pollinated by bats and it has the heft and presence of the iconic saguaro cactus, but with many more arms snaking upwards from its central trunk.

In the upcoming spring months, there will also be other types of cacti giving the whole area a beautiful and vibrant colorful view. If you wish to work up your legs too after this quarantine time, then cycle from the 21 miles fromling Ajo Mountain drive to the Arch Canyon trailhead which will take you to a 1.2 mile round trip trail with a 25 meter wide natural arch view.

Florida Will Make an Entrance Here Too

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park, quite opposite to its name, is the perfect place for you if your family has some avid swimmers. The name, however, comes from the fact that this park has an abundance of turtles as well as a lack of potable surface water.

Despite being one of the most aesthetically pleasant and spiritually healing destinations in the country, the number of visitors is not very high, primarily owing to the fact that this park is only accessible by boats. Right in the center of this turtle dominated park, is the massive unfinished remains of the glorious Fort Jefferson. It is the largest masonry building in the western hemisphere and was built around the late 1800s.

On top of it all, if you get the chance to visit this place in April or May, you will be able to spot 100, or even more, species of birds flying over Dry Tortuga and landing on the island to rest for a while. If you have the need for that extra kick of history along with sight-seeing then it might interest you that this fort had also been used as a prison as well as medical quarantine facility before being turned into a National Monument in 1935 and then into a national park later in 1992. Fitting the times, isn’t it?