Monitoring natural resources in Alaskan national parks is challenging because of their remoteness, limited accessibility, and high sampling costs. We describe an iterative, three-phased process for developing sampling designs based on our efforts to establish a vegetation monitoring program in southwest Alaska. In the first phase, we defined a sampling frame based on land ownership and specific vegetated habitats within the park boundaries and used Path Distance analysis tools to create a GIS layer that delineated portions of each park that could be feasibly accessed for ground sampling. In the second phase, we used simulations based on landcover maps to identify size and configuration of the ground sampling units (single plots or grids of plots) and to refine areas to be potentially sampled. In the third phase, we used a second set of simulations to estimate sample size and sampling frequency required to have a reasonable chance of detecting a minimum trend in vegetation cover for a specified time period and level of statistical confidence. Results of the first set of simulations indicated that a spatially balanced random sample of single plots from the most common landcover types yielded the most efficient sampling scheme. Results of the second set of simulations were compared with field data and indicated that we should be able to detect at least a 25% change in vegetation attributes over 31. years by sampling 8 or more plots per year every five years in focal landcover types. This approach would be especially useful in situations where ground sampling is restricted by access.