Experience North America’s Tallest Peak at Denali

From Taiga Forests to Snowy Mountains: A Scenic Drive Through Denali

Denali National Park in Alaska is home to North America’s tallest peak, Mt. Denali (previously known as McKinley).

Numerous other magnificent mountains and extensive glaciers can be found within the Alaska Range. Large species, including grizzly bears, wolves, Dall sheep, and moose, are all a part of Denali’s full sub-arctic ecosystem, which spans over 6 million acres.

Mt. McKinley National Park was created on February 26, 1917. Denali National Park and Preserve was designated in 1980 to safeguard the original park, which had been declared a wilderness area in 1970. In 1976, the park was officially recognized as a biosphere reserve on a global scale.

Mt. McKinley changed its name to Mt. Denali in 2015 to honor the indigenous Athabaskan people who had lived there; the word “Denali” means “the tall one” or “mountain-big” in Koyukon, the language spoken there.

These days, people come to the park to do everything from watching wildlife to climbing mountains to riding bikes and even going dog sledding! (Denali National Park and Preserve is unique among national parks in that it features a fully operational dog sled kennel.) It still serves as a testing ground for studies in the hard sciences.


What to do in Denali National Park and Preserve?

There are two visitor centers, which serve as information and resource centers for the park, located immediately inside the park’s entrance. There are 14,000 square feet of display space and park rangers ready to answer your inquiries at the Denali Visitor Center.

The park’s fauna and landscape are showcased in a film shown in the theater on the first level, in addition to displays devoted to the area’s natural and human history. A huge relief map of the park’s expansive and mountainous terrain may be found on the second floor.

Exciting interactive displays and a showcase of ongoing park research may be found in the Murie Science & Learning Center. During the summer, the staff puts on events related to nature every day of the week. Between the months of October and April, the Murie Science and Learning Center doubles as the primary visitor information hub.

Denali National Park
Denali National Park

The Eielson Visitor Center is the crown jewel of Denali National Park’s visitor facilities, and it can be found at Mile 66 of Park Road. The 7,400 square foot building houses display about the local ecosystem, a life-size replica of Denali, and expansive windows for gazing onto the continent’s tallest mountain. The Eielson Visitor Center may only be accessed via bus tours of the area.

The best way to see the park is on a bus tour because much of the 92-mile Park Road that goes into the park’s center is closed to private cars. The park’s entrance is serviced by both guided tour buses and regular transit buses.

Tour buses with resident naturalists provide guided excursions to popular attractions and wildlife-watching stops. Depending on how much time you have and how far you want to go along the route, you may choose between a half-day and a full-day option. Denali National Park advises guests to book bus trips in advance and check the park’s website for the most recent information.

Campers and hikers who like their own pace may appreciate the park’s hop-on, hop-off transit shuttles. These buses are less expensive since they don’t provide commentary. Day hikers can hop off the bus at any stop along Park Road and then catch any bus heading back to the park’s entrance when they’re done.

Denali National Park's View
Denali National Park’s View

Denali National Park is remarkable for more than simply its namesake peak. Most people come to the park to observe the “Big Five” animals of Alaska: bears, moose, caribou, wolves, and Dall sheep. Grizzly bears like the wide tundra, whereas black bears are more at home in the park’s wooded regions.

Grizzly bears make up the vast majority of bear sightings along Park Road. Denali is one of the greatest sites in the world to see wild wolves; however, seeing one can be a hit or miss depending on where the wolves have set up their dens that year. Dall sheep, moose, and caribou are frequently spotted.

With over 130 different bird species and 39 distinct animal species (including lynx, marmots, Arctic ground squirrels, foxes, and snowshoe hares), wildlife viewing in the park is an exciting and stunning experience.

Sports to do in Denali National Park and Preserve

There aren’t a ton of routes for hikers to choose from in the park’s huge wilderness region; most of them are clustered close to the park’s entrance. The Denali Visitor Center is within a short distance from eight trails of varying difficulties that go out into the surrounding lakes, rivers, and alpine vistas.

The Horseshoe Lake Trail and the Mt. Healy Overlook Trail are both well-known routes that start close to the park’s entrance and are enjoyed by many.

Sports to do in Denali National Park and Preserve
Sports to do in Denali National Park and Preserve

Savage River path, a flat circle path along the gorgeous Savage River, and Savage Alpine Trail, which rises sharply from Savage River for panoramic views of the surrounding environment, are both popular walks in the Savage River Area, which is located at mile 15 of Park road. Along Park Road, you can access the Eielson Visitor Center and Wonder Lake, both of which feature designated hiking trails.

Denali provides many people with their first taste of the Alaskan outdoors. Backpackers may enjoy a little solitude, even if just for a few days, thanks to Denali’s tight limitations and permits.

Backcountry hiking through open terrains like gravel riverbeds and tundra ridges is the primary option to explore the park on foot due to the scarcity of official hiking paths. The day before embarking on an overnight backpacking excursion, tourists can apply for a free backcountry permit.

The park is split into 87 sections, and each section is provided with a set number of permits each day to ensure that it is not overused. When you apply for your backcountry permit the day before your trip, park rangers will assist you in choosing your backcountry unit.

Bikers looking for an exciting day ride or overnight bikepacking adventure can use the Denali Park Road. Biking the Denali Park Road is hard and dangerous, but it’s worth it for the breathtaking scenery and access to the backcountry of Denali. There are no shoulders on Park Road, and it is not paved.

Denali National Park in Alaska
Denali National Park in Alaska

Park buses utilize the same roads as cyclists, so riders need to be cautious of their surroundings at all times. Bicyclists using Park Road should be mindful of the presence of bears and other animals and act accordingly. To get farther into the park, you may take your bike on the transit buses, but you need to book a spot in advance to make sure there’s room.

To reach Savage River, which is 15 kilometers from the park, visitors must drive their own automobiles. They may either take the gentle 2-mile Savage River Loop along the river or the strenuous 4-mile Savage Alpine Trail to a ridge with panoramic vistas. The parking area at Savage River is small and often full. The shuttle service between the park’s main gate and Savage River is free of charge for visitors.

How to get to the Denali National Park and Preserve?

Denali National Park and Preserve may be reached by automobile, train, or bus. Fairbanks, 120 miles to the north, and Anchorage, 240 miles to the south, are the nearest major cities to the park. Healy, Cantwell, Nenana, and Talkeetna are just a few of the nearby villages that provide hotels, excursions, and other amenities close to the park.

Denali National Park’s gate is on the George Parks Highway at Mile 237. Self-driving to Denali is a great way to see the beautiful landscape and stop in quaint communities. The Alaska Railroad will take you to Denali from any station along the rail belt and drop you off at the park gate so you may rest on the way there. From both Anchorage and Fairbanks, you may take a bus excursion with a private company.

View of Denali National Park
View of Denali National Park

When is the ideal time to visit Denali National Park and Preserve?

The ideal time to visit Denali National Park is from around the middle of May through about the middle of September. After the busy season ends, most hotels, restaurants, and attractions close for the winter, but you can still go if you’re willing to do it on your own and don’t mind braving the cold or if you want to take a day trip from Fairbanks.

If you’re hoping for some peace and quiet, off-peak times like the first week of May or the third week of September are your best bets. The park has few facilities and tours, but September is a great time to visit (if the weather is good).

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