Everyone needs to see the rugged and wild beauty of Alaska at least once in their lifetime. The land is virtually untouched, and the people that brave the harsh, dark winters are rewarded by a few weeks of summer with almost 80 days of continuous light. The park is also a park and preserves that encompasses over 6 million acres of pristine land. There are glaciers, mountains, rivers, valleys, forests, tundra and much more to be seen and explored here. The best time to visit is in the summer when the light never ends, allowing visitors and locals to enjoy as much of the outdoors as they wish. Wintertime activities are available, and they include dog-sledding, skiing, and other various winter activities. Wildlife roams the area freely, and you might be able to see them as you travel through the vast park under the shadow of the mighty Denali Mountain.
Denali National Park; The “High One”
“Denali” means “the high one” in the Athabaskan language which is native to the area. This name refers to the huge mountain in the park, which is known as the highest in North America. Its former official name was Mount McKinley, but was changed to “Denali.” The summit elevation is a staggering 20,310 feet above sea level. It is the centerpiece of the Denali National Park and Preserve and is the third most isolated peak followed up by only Mount Everest and Aconcagua, found in Argentina. The mountain is regularly climbed today, but only half usually reach the top. By 2003, Denali had claimed over 100 lives of mountaineers who attempted the ascent of the massive rock. The climb takes anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks, and most do not make the final ascent.
Take a Bus
Denali National Park is unique in that it encourages visitors to explore by bus. Taking a bus that is offered reduces traffic and congestion and therefore reducing pollution, noise, and accidents to help preserve the park. The only road through the park is the Denali Park Road, which travels along the Alaska Range and runs through mountains and valleys. Personal vehicles can only be driven the first 15 miles to a place called Savage River on the 92-mile road. After Savage River, the road turns from paved to gravel and only buses are allowed. There are shuttle buses or tour buses to choose from. Shuttle buses make many stops at scenic points if wildlife is spotted, for restroom breaks, etc. There is no narration on the shuttle buses, but there is on the tour buses. If you would like to hear about the area and listen to a guide, a tour bus is an option for you. The buses offer different length tours and stops, so you can tailor your visit to how long you want to stay or how much of the park you would like to see.
Meet the Park’s Huskies
Denali is the only national park that has and cares for sled dogs that are used to take care of the park. The dogs are considered “working” dogs that are trained to pull a sled along with a team of dogs. During the winter months, they patrol the wilderness areas of the park where motorized vehicles such as snow machines are not allowed to go. The Denali website has a map that tracks the sled teams in the park and where visitors can check online to see where they are. The dogs are also bred at Denali and during the summer bouncing puppies can be watched via the park’s live “puppy cam.” The website also has links for people to consider adopting a retired sled dog, a kennel blog and short video series about sled dogs.
Take a Hike in Denali National Park!
Join a ranger for a hike or explore one of the park’s trails on your own! Choose from the McKinley Station trail, Mount Healy Overlook trail, Roadside trail, Rock Creek trail and the Triple Lakes trail. These are best hiked in the warmer summer months to fully appreciate the water, forests, flowers, and wildlife. The McKinley Station trail is a more comfortable trail that connects the Denali Visitor Center and the Riley Creek Campground. The two-mile trail is a good starting point and is convenient if you are camping in the campground. The Mount Healy Overlook trail is a strenuous 4.5-mile hike that takes approximately 4 hours round trip to hike. The views are worth the trip, but use caution and stay on the trails.
Test Your Mountaineering Skills
Are you ready to take on the highest peak in North America? Mountaineering is very popular in the Denali National Park, and many try their luck and skills at climbing the mountains. The park has a “mountaineering booklet” available, as well as a blog where previous climbers tell their tales of the climb, the conditions and many other facts and tips. The website has planning tools to help you for your trip, as safety is a key factor. The Alaska Range offers many climbing opportunities besides Denali Mountain. There is a “backcountry climbing and mountaineering” section in the booklet as well to help safely plan your trip. Annual mountaineering summaries are also available on the park’s website under the “mountaineering” section. Staff is available at the visitor center to help you with your trip or answer any questions you might have.
An Alaskan highlight
Denali National Park is one of the highlights of Alaska. The preserve and park keep a natural mountain range and surrounding lands protected while still allowing visitors to see its beauty. The rugged wilderness of Alaska is famous for its stunning scenery, severe weather and untouched lands. Watch the popular dog sled puppies grow up via webcam in their kennels or track the sled dog teams during the winter out on patrol on the park website. The park is a photographer heaven and many flocks to capture the stunning scenery. Camping, cycling, hiking, backpacking, and fishing are also all available activities within the park. Don’t forget to try a tour bus on the scenic drive and stop by the visitor center to hear a ranger-led talk or participate in a guided activity. Wildlife sightings will make your trip exciting and try a winter visit to experience the winter activities available. This park may be quite different than parks in other states, so be prepared. Weather and wildlife can catch visitors by surprise, but so will the beauty of the mountains, especially that of Denali Mountain. Camp under the stars in the summer and explore the wilderness of wild Alaska at its finest.
This is definitely on my bucket list! I love hiking and I love mountains. I’ve hiked a few mountains in the Rockies, but nothing as epic as Denali National Park. Do you know whether there are guided hikes up the mountain? Or whether the mountain climbs are very technical? I will have to research into it a bit more and also start some training – I’ve gotten a bit out of shape over winter.