From the World Heritage inscription for Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek:
The Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek national parks and protected areas along the boundary of Canada and the United States of America are the largest non-polar icefield in the world and contain examples of some of the world’s longest and most spectacular glaciers. Characterized by high mountains, ice fields, 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. The Tatshenshini and Alsek river valleys are pivotal because they allow ice-free linkages from coast to interior for plant and animal migration. The parks demonstrate some of the best examples of glaciation and modification of landscape by glacial action in a region still tectonically active, spectacularly beautiful, and where natural processes prevail.
Wow. I can’t even express how amazing Kluane National Park was. I had the pleasure of flying over the ice fields on two separate days in both a helicopter and a fixed-wing airplane. The images were incredible. I have so many I have no idea how I’m ever going to be able to pick the best ones. Kluane doesn’t get as many visitors as the parks on the Alaska side of the border because it is more difficult to reach, but it is well worth the effort if you can make the trip.
Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek is a group of sites that make up one UNESCO World Heritage Site belonging to Canada and the United States. It is located in the Yukon area of Canada and Alaska in the United States. All of these national parks are noted for their spectacular mountainous setting and their geological processes that have resulted in the land formation in these national parks today. There are over 100 glaciers in the area and noted for the diversity in wildlife habitat.
Aside from being enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, the site is also believed to contain the largest non-polar icefield. There are four site components that make up this UNESCO site: Kluane National Park and Reserve in Canada, Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve in the US, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in the US and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in Canada.
Kluane National Park and Reserve
The Kluane National Park and Reserve is the first component site of the Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek UNESCO property. It is one of the national parks in Canada and is located in Yukon province. The park was established in 1972 and spans more than 22,000 square kilometers in land area. It also contains Mount Logan, which is the highest mountain peak in Canada. About 83% of the park’s landscape is made up of glaciers and mountains, while the rest is covered with tundra and forest. This park and reserve is home to over 120 bird species and several tree species.
Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve
This is a US national park that belongs to the Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek recognized by UNESCO for its natural value. It is managed by the US National Park Service and is located in Alaska. This is not just a national park and preserve though; it is also an International Biosphere Reserve. It is the largest national park managed by the US National Park Service with over 13 million acres in land area (equal to 6 Yellowstone National Parks!). Many of the peaks that are found within this park are also part of the Saint Elias Mountain range that spans many of the different sites belonging to this UNESCO property.
The Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve are located in the Alaskan panhandle. It is governed by the US National Park Service and was established in 1980. As of 2016, this park and preserve are visited by more than half a million visitors per year. It is also an International Biosphere Reserve and was given that recognition in 1986. The Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve consist of a federally protected marine ecosystem, coastal mountain range, and ancestral homelands. It is also home to a rich array of fauna species that include marine mammals and birds.
This park is difficult to get to with no roads that lead to the park. The only way to get here is via air travel.
Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park
The last park that comprises the Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek UNESCO site is Canada’s Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park. It is located in British Columbia and was established in 1993. The park was initially founded in order to halt mining exploration and development within the area that is now protected as part of the park. It is also recognized as part of this UNESCO site for its biodiversity and natural heritage.
Aside from its natural value, there is also a cultural heritage embedded within the lands that belong within this park. There have been records of settlement for the indigenous people. Most of them lived in fishing villages along the river. Meanwhile, this park serves as a natural habitat for grizzly bears and other fauna species.
View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States.
View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada.