By Heather Kasvinsky
What is Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek?
This UNESCO World Heritage site, declared in 1994, spans across Canada and the USA, including four distinct parks: Kluane National Park in Yukon, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia.
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Together they make up the largest transboundary protected area in the world: 9.8 million hectares or 38 thousand square miles! These parks are spectacular wilderness areas with an abundance of wildlife; grizzlies, salmon, moose, lynx, wolves, Dall sheep, and mountain goats all thrive here.
Kluane National Park (Yukon)
Kluane National Park is a haven for adventurers and nature lovers, boasting Canada’s highest peak, Mount Logan, and vast icefields. There’s the perfect blend of challenging hikes and amazing flightseeing tours, offering epic views of pristine landscapes. Kluane seamlessly combines rugged wilderness exploration with the comfort of cozy lodges nearby, providing a unique wilderness experience.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (Alaska)
As America’s largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias is a colossal expanse of untamed nature. It’s a popular bucket list destination for serious hikers and mountaineers, with vast glaciers and some of North America’s highest peaks. The tiny local town of McCarthy and the Kennecott Mines showcase the park’s rich history, offering a blend of adventure and heritage. Accommodations range from backcountry campsites to comfortable lodges.
Glacier Bay National Park (Alaska)
Glacier Bay is a marine wilderness paradise with tidewater glaciers, deep fjords, and a thriving ecosystem. Kayaking and boat tours are available for intimate encounters where whales and seals are abundant. The park has an excellent visitor center and also have guided tours which provide educational opportunities. Accommodations within the park are limited.
Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park (British Columbia)
Tatshenshini-Alse is best known for its magnificent river corridors and scenic rafting opportunities with a mosaic of glaciers, rugged peaks, and vibrant wildlife. This park is a favorite for whitewater rafting enthusiasts and the campgrounds offer a genuine wilderness experience. Nearby towns provide more comfortable lodging options.
Why is Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek a UNESCO World Heritage site?
The Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek region is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its remarkable natural features and geological significance. This area has the largest non-polar icefield in the world, and its landscapes showcase some of the most extensive and dramatic examples of glaciation and ongoing geological processes in a tectonically active environment.
UNESCO states that “Characterized by high mountains, icefields and glaciers, the property transitions from northern interior to coastal biogeoclimatic zones, resulting in high biodiversity with plant and animal communities ranging from marine, coastal forest, montane, sub-alpine and alpine tundra, all in various successional stages.”
What can you expect on a visit to these parks?
Visiting these parks is a journey through some of the most stunning and unspoiled natural landscapes in North America.
I first ventured into the wilderness areas of Kluane National Park in Canada and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, only months apart, amidst my move from Vermont to Alaska. They made quite an impression me and I remember feeling very small compared to my surroundings.
Entering Kluane National Park, my jaw dropped when I was greeted by the vibrant icy blue lake on the Al-Can. Likewise, the dramatic sight of Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak and focal point of the park, is equally impressive and stands pure white against a bluebird summer sky.
In Wrangell-St. Elias, it’s incredible to find yourself in a vast wild place surrounded by glaciers and towering mountains, where the scale of everything is amplified. Whether you’re flying over glaciers and the Nizina River (my favorite) or trekking its remote trails up to old mines, the park exudes a sense of adventure and exploration.
There aren’t many places on the planet this remote and pristine that encourage exploration. These parks are a rare treasure. The delicate balance between preservation and access is gracefully maintained, allowing us to witness ecosystems that have remained largely untouched.
Are these parks worth visiting?
Absolutely! This UNESCO site is a must-visit for anyone who cherishes adventuring outdoors and doesn’t mind the effort needed to reach each location. Allocate several days per park to truly immerse yourself and enjoy. And, for those traveling in Wrangell-St. Elias, the array of things to do in McCarthy, Alaska makes the trip even more worthwhile. Especially because you’ll be visiting one of the only towns located within a US National Park!
What sorts of travelers would like Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek?
Wilderness lovers, adventure seekers, backpackers, mountaineers, and photographers will find themselves in absolute paradise here. The region’s diversity is unmatched. The vast wilderness of these interconnected parks provides an immersive experience into some of the most spectacular and untouched areas of the North American continent.
Tips for visiting the parks
When visiting these parks, having the right gear is key and it’s definitely one of the most important factors for a successful trip! Pack layers for variable weather, and sturdy walking shoes are a must. Waterproof gear is necessary.
Since popular tours and camping spots fill up fast, book your adventures and stays well in advance. If you’re driving, especially on the McCarthy Road, be ready for some rough terrain and make sure your rental car is allowed to be driven here! Certain companies allow their cars on gravel roads while most do not. Some will allow only 4WD vehicles to drive on unpaved roads.
Also, combining your trip with nearby attractions can add to your experience. For example, after exploring Kluane, a trip to Whitehorse could be great. And remember, these places are wild and remote, so staying informed about the local conditions, respecting the environment, and being prepared for limited cell service are crucial for a safe and enjoyable visit.
Where is Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek?
Accessing the Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek UNESCO World Heritage site involves several entry points due to its vast coverage across Canada and the USA.
For Kluane National Park and Reserve in Canada, the nearest major city is Whitehorse in Yukon. From there, you can drive two hours to the park, which offers a range of wilderness experiences and spectacular natural scenery. If you’re short of time, sign up for a day trip to the park.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska is accessible from both Fairbanks and Anchorage. Visitors most commonly drive from Anchorage to McCarthy via the McCarthy Road, where there is also access to Kennecott. This takes approximately 7.5 hours. Entry to the park is also possible via the Nabesna Road. The Nabesna Road, offering access to the northern parts of the park, is about a 6-hour drive from Anchorage. Both roads are partially unpaved and can be rough, so a sturdy vehicle is advisable for the journey.
This 11-day Great Alaska Adventure includes a bush flight over Wrangell-St. Elias, among many other highlights.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska is typically accessed by plane or boat. Visitors can fly into Gustavus or Juneau, with Gustavus being the primary gateway to the park. Many visitors also arrive via cruise ships that tour the bay, offering a unique perspective of the park’s tidewater glaciers.
Tatshenshini-Alsek Park in British Columbia, Canada, sits between Kluane National Park and Reserve in Yukon and Glacier Bay and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks in Alaska. This park is more remote and is often visited as part of a river rafting or wilderness expedition.
Each of these parks offers unique experiences, from guided glacier hikes and historic site tours to flightseeing and kayaking adventures. They are vast and remote, so planning your trip with the park’s conditions and available facilities in mind is important.
For more information about the parks included in this UNESCO World Heritage site, when each is open, services, fees, restrictions, trail closures, and more, check each park’s official website:
- Kluane National Park
- Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
- Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
- Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park
Text and photos provided by Heather Kasvinsky of This Noshtalgic Life, where she shares her flair for transforming simple ingredients into extraordinary backcountry meals. Heather travels often with her family from their home in Central Vermont to their summer cabin in McCarthy, Alaska where they explore for a month at a time.
Have you been to any of these parks? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!