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View of Mount McKinley from Eielson Visitor Center in Denali National Park and Preserve
Michael DeYoung/State of Alaska
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Stunning vistas and thrilling outdoor adventures await at these Fairbanks-area national parks.

As Alaska’s second-largest city, Fairbanks is full of modern amenities and attractions: museums, historical sites, international cuisine and year-round events. But with the surrounds of jagged mountain peaks, ancient glaciers and secluded backcountry, the call of the wild is omnipresent. During your visit to Fairbanks, plan to visit the surrounding national parks and preserves to explore Alaska’s natural treasures.

Denali National Park and Preserve

Denali: The word has come to be synonymous with awe-inspiring strength. As you approach North America’s highest mountain, you’ll understand why. Looming at an incredible 6,190 meters high, Denali’s snow-capped summit is enough to take your breath away.

A visit to Denali National Park and Preserve is a bucket-list item for many. The park encompasses more than 24,000 square kilometers of pristine Alaskan terrain protected as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Get there via car, shuttle bus or train from Fairbanks. There is only one road through the park, the 148-kilometer Denali Park Road. The first 24 kilometers are accessible by car. Beyond that, hop on one of the available bus tours, which include fully narrated excursions and free shuttles that can drop you off for a self-guided adventure.

So where do you start when you have an area bigger than the state of New Hampshire to explore? At the end of the paved portion of Denali Park Road is the Savage River area where there are hiking and biking trails. In the winter, you can enjoy cross-country skiing, winter biking and snowshoeing. Camping areas and many more trails are found in less-trafficked portions of the park. Throughout the year, look for wildlife such as bears, moose, Dall sheep, caribou, foxes and eagles; the longer your visit, the more likely you are to see native wildlife.

Stopping to take in the sights on a bus tour through Denali National Park

Stopping to take in the sights on a bus tour through Denali National Park
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Jacob W. Frank/NPS

Beyond Denali: Parks and Preserves Worth a Visit

Accessible only by air from Fairbanks, Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve offers whitewater rafting on the Charley River, canoeing and kayaking on the Yukon River, camping, hiking, skiing, hunting and dog sledding. Save time to visit the Coal Creek Dredge, an abandoned gold mine.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest national park in the USA and boasts both coastal terrain and three mountain ranges. It’s also home to a quarter of all the glaciers in North America. Enjoy backpacking, camping, salmon fishing on the Copper River, sea kayaking, biking, ATV trails and flightseeing.

With no roads, trails or visitor services, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve appeals to the well-prepared, self-sufficient adventurer. Alaska Native tribes still live here, subsisting off the natural resources. Backpacking, hiking and floating on the rivers are the most popular activities.

Native people continue to hunt and gather at Noatak National Preserve, also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Access the park via plane or boat (when available) to enjoy river activities, hunting, backpacking and wildlife watching.

Experience a desert in Alaska at Kobuk Valley National Park, home to Ice Age-era sand dunes that are great for free-form hiking and backcountry camping. The park is also known for its large caribou population, which you’re especially likely to witness during the spring and fall migrations.

Canoeing excursion on the Noatak River in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Canoeing excursion on the Noatak River in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
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Phil Westcott/NPS

Getting There

Arrive at Fairbanks International Airport (FAI) and pick up a rental car, shuttle transportation or taxi to get to town. Be sure to check each national park for available transportation; some are only accessible by plane and offer no services within the park boundaries.