Alaska is home to eight national parks, and that includes some of the most- and least-visited in the United States. The national parks are a big draw for visitors and there are several new updates at parks around the state for 2019.
Western Arctic National Parklands is holding its biennial, weeklong Qatnut Trade Fair in Kotzebue around the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Qatnut means “bringing people together” in Inupiaq. This festival recognizes a time, thousands of years ago, when people on both sides of the Chukchi Sea would gather to trade items, such as seal oil, caribou meat and birch baskets. Today, the gathering honors the shared traditions and cultural connections through dance, presentations, drum making, and local arts and crafts. Western Arctic National Parklands is composed of four parks: Kobuk Valley National Park, Noatak National Preserve, Cape Krusenstern National Monument and Bering Land Bridge National Preserve
Katmai National Park and Preserve is finishing construction of a new, elevated boardwalk across the Brooks River to create more opportunities for bear viewing. The boardwalk is expected to be completed in advance of the summer 2019 season. The elevated bridge will make it safer to view the bears and also prevent delays in return trips when bears would oftentimes block the trail for visitors to get back to Brooks Camp.
The popular Fat Bear Contest is back for the fifth consecutive year. In October, Katmai National Park and Preserve encourages the public to vote on Facebook for the fattest bears on the Brooks River. No fat shaming here — brown bears need an increased body weight before hibernation. This contest promotes a fun, interactive and educational way to learn about Alaska’s brown bears.
Lastly, don’t forget to watch the Katmai bears this year on the upgraded, live bear cams. This fan favorite draws in an estimated 20 million viewers worldwide – a bigger audience than TV shows like “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars.” Watch the Katmai bear cam from your computer or smartphone or plan a visit to Alaska to see the bears in person.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, located in Skagway, is adapting several programs this summer to fill up a visitor’s day with learning about the history of this Inside Passage community. Start with “Untold Stories,” which highlights women in the Klondike Gold Rush, like Harriet Pullen, who baked and cooked for the stampeders and then eventually ended up owning the fanciest hotel in town, the Pullen House. Visitors to Skagway can learn about other stories during the 45-minute daily tour.
Take an afternoon trip through history on the Buffalo Soldiers Walking Tour. The tour revisits the 24th Infantry Regiment, which was one of four segregated regiments of African American soldiers stationed in Skagway in 1899. These soldiers played a vital role in keeping the peace during the Gold Rush boom. Due to the walking tour’s popularity, park officials decided to make this a daily program in 2019.
Skagway is also home to what one National Park Service employee calls the “strangest museum” operated by the National Park Service. The Jeff Smith’s Parlor Museum is filled with animatronic animals, taxidermy and 1900s artifacts. The museum has three openings a day for all visitors to spend some time indulging their curious side.