Magazine article Sunset

Planning a Trip to Alaska's Wilderness Parks

Magazine article Sunset

Planning a Trip to Alaska's Wilderness Parks

Article excerpt

Planning a trip to Alaska's wilderness parks

Time, effort, and money are what it takes to plan a worthwhile trip to any of Alaska's 13 new or expanded national parks and preserves (cover story, page 120).

You don't have to be a hairy-chested mountain man. Three of the parks are accessible by car; six have some form of lodging. But almost all these lands are true wilderness. The more remote and wild your destination, the more research and preparation you will need to do.

Last summer, we spent about a month visiting these new parks. Our suggestions may help you in your own plans.

Three "Rs": research, reading, writing

Perhaps the toughest decisio is where to go. We've limited our report to national parks and preserves because they are generally accessible and most have experienced outfitters offering guided trips. All offer spectacular scenery in a variety of climates.

Along with our article, three good books give a broad overview of your options:

Alaska National Interest Lands (Alaska Geographic Society, Box 4EEE, Anchorage 99509, 1981; $14.95), 240 pages heavy with color pictures and park descriptions.

Alaska Wilderness Milepost (Alaska Northwest Publishing Co., 130 Second Ave. S., Edmonds, Wash. 98020, 1988; $14.95), 494 pages of information on bush travel.

Adventuring in Alaska, by Peggy Wayburn (Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1988; $10.95), a complete revision of an earlier book, is due out this August.

Also request a free Official Vacation Planner, listing guides and air taxis throughout the state, from the Alaska Division of Tourism, Box E, Juneau 99811.

Once you've narrowed your choice to two or three parks, write to each nsee page 123) for wilderness travel information lists, including outfitters and air taxis, a reading list, available accommodations, and equipment you may need.

Getting into the country with a guide

Unless you are an experienced wilderness traveler, most Park Service rangers we interviewed recommend that you join a guided trip. Usually, it makes economic as well as practical sense.

Transportation is the big cost of most trips--and outfitters can often make efficient use of air charter time by scheduling overlapping group pickups and drop-offs. Most provide food and heavy equipment such as boats and tents, leaving extra room in your pack (especially on river trips) for gear.

And the guides know the country well: how and where to find wildlife, best hikes, possible dangers. Many--but not all-- carry firearms for safety in bear country, although few we talked to had ever used them. They also know what to do in emergencies or if you're weathered in.

Choosing the right outfitter

The lists of guide services you'll get from the park will be long. To help narrow it, note which of the services are based in the gateways listed on page 123 or in our descriptions of the parks.

Ask these outfitters for brochures and price lists. Specify what you want to do. Questions to ask include: How many years have you been in business? How many trips did you take into the specific park last season? How many people maximum per trip?

Group size, we found, is very important to the overall tone of the trip. "Larger groups tend to focus more on the people inside the group instead of on what's going on around it," mused one guide. "They lose that sense of being one-on-one with the wilderness, and that is really what the back-country experience is all about. We try to limit backpack trips to 6 or 8 and river trips to 10--incuding guides. If you want people, go to Denali and ride the shuttle bus."

When comparing costs of different trips, be sure they're from same point of departure. Also, ask about discounts or custom tours for your own group of at least three persons as compared to the cost of joining another larger group. …

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