Denali, arguably Alaska’s most well-known national park, raises the bar for nature lovers. Wildlife is diverse and visible, mountains are grandiose, and the farther you travel, the more the subarctic landscape opens up.
Over the past 30 years, tourism to the park has increased 1,000%, and it comes as no surprise why. Alaska is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery, full of glaciers, valleys, cliffs, lakes, and wildlife. And with over six million acres, Denali is no exception.
Within Denali, Toklat River will always have a special significance, as it was the location where naturalist Charles Sheldon built a cabin and was so moved that he fought to preserve the land. So moved by the area, Sheldon moved back east and spent nine years lobbying to create Alaska’s first national park.
Originally named Mount McKinley National Park, it was renamed in 1980 to Denali, which means “the great one.” And that great one has had some historical expeditions of its own. The first recorded attempt was in 1903, yet Mt. McKinley was not successfully summated until 1963.
When to Visit
To avoid the crowds, visit in June but keep in mind, there are up to 21 hours of sunlight in Alaska in the summer. If it seems like a bit much for your taste, try visiting in late August or September. Not only can you avoid the constant daylight, you are in time for the tundra to change to rich tones of crimson, orange, and gold.
If you visit to climb Mt. McKinley, May and early June are the best times to climb. After June, avalanches are more common.
Once in Alaska, trains run during the summer carrying passengers from Anchorage and Fairbanks. Air service is also available from Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Talkeetna. (Find Flights)
If you have a car and are traveling from Anchorage, drive 35 miles north on Alas. I to Alas. 3. Continue north for 205 miles until you reach the park.
If traveling from Fairbanks, take Alas. 3 west and south for 120 miles.
For a seven-day entrance permit, the fee is $10 per person or $20 per vehicle. The fee is collected when you purchase a bus ticket or campground stay. If you are not doing either, the fee must be paid at the Denali Visitor Center upon arrival.
Standard park passes may be used to waive entrance fees, and those who wish to purchase a park-specific annual pass for Denali may do so for $40.
It is difficult not to see Denali’s largest attraction towering 20,320 feet high. Mt. McKinley can even be seen up to 70 miles away on a clear day. If you brave the strenuous summit to the top, you will be rewarded with captivating views of the Alaska Range.
Sable Pass is a prime spot to view grizzly bears. Closed to off-road foot traffic, the area is popular to bears feeding on berries, roots, and even occasionally on other mammals.
Beginning at just below the summit of Mt. McKinley, Muldrow Glacier flows 35 miles through a granite gorge and across the tundra. Twice in the last hundred years, the Muldrow has surged, most recently in the winter of 1956-57.
Five campgrounds are located within the park, many open late spring to early fall. Note: Reservations are strongly recommended during the summer. Riley Creek campground is open year-round, and all but two (Sanctuary and Wonder Lake) offer RV sites.
Also within the park are a few lodges—North Face Lodge, Denali Backcountry Lodge, and Kentishna Roadhouse.
Hotels, motels, and inns are also located around Denali. (Get Rates)
Areas of Interest Outside the Park
Anchorage is home to Chugach National Forest which includes 3,550 miles of coastline and spans over five million acres. More than 200 bird species consider the national forest home, and visitors can enjoy hiking, boating, fishing, and climbing.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is located in Soldotna, where bears, mountain goats, loons, eagles, Dall’s sheep, and arctic char share space.
Denali State Park is wedged between the Talkeetna Mountains and the Alaska Range, and shares much of the attractions as its larger sister. Visitors can stay at campgrounds or cabins, and can enjoy and smaller dose of the scenic land.