For most people, a visit to Alaska's Denali National Park and Preserve is a unique and long-anticipated adventure. It's an opportunity to spend time among spectacular scenery and varied wildlife, to gaze upon Mount McKinley and the jagged peaks of the Alaska Range. The taiga and tundra landscape of Alaska's interior is unlike anything most have experienced before, providing a rich experience filled with new sights, sounds, and ideas. Because Denali National Park is a vast wilderness, largely inaccessible to vehicle traffic, most visitor activities within the park take place in the northeast section of the park.
Here are some of the most popular attractions and activities you can enjoy in Denali National Park.
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The main visitor center is located just inside Denali National Park's northeast entrance. Ideally, you should explore this facility at the beginning of your visit in order to orient yourself to what you'll be seeing and doing in the park, to find out about tours and activities, and to learn from the fascinating exhibits. Interpretive displays, animal models, and hands-on activities provide the opportunity to learn about the flora and fauna that live through the region's harsh winters and short summers. The visitor center's film, "Heartbeats of Denali", is excellent, filled with images of wildlife and the changing seasons. The film is highly recommended.
The Denali Visitor Center is part of a complex of facilities that also includes, the Alaska Railroad Depot, the Murie Science and Learning Center, the Alaska Geographic Bookstore, restrooms, and the Morino's Grill. Several hiking and biking trails can be accessed from the visitor center complex.
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Very few vehicles are allowed more than 15 miles into the park, so if you want a chance to take in the most available scenery and wildlife, one of the bus tours is the way to go. These tours are full-day adventures, running from 4.5 to 11 hours. The longer the tour, the farther into the park it goes. All tours are led by expert drivers and include some refreshments and restroom stops. Be sure to dress in layers and bring your camera and binoculars. You will not have much opportunity to hike, but you will be able to get out and stretch your legs and take photos a few times. The wide open windows of the buses allow you to take some fairly decent pictures from your seat.
- Denali Natural History Tour (4.5 hours)
This tour focuses on how humans have lived in and experienced the park, from the Native Alaskans to the earliest explorers, settlers, and visitors.
- Tundra Wilderness Tour (8 hours)
The most popular option, this tour focuses on the land and the plants and animals that live within the park. The bus stops frequently for a closer look at wildlife, including grizzly bears, moose, wolves, and caribou. The drivers carry zoom-lensed video equipment, using it to provide live views of distant wildlife that can be viewed on drop-down screens at each bus seat, making it easy for you to see the wildlife no matter where it is relative to the bus.
- Kantishna Experience Tour (11 hours)
This tour covers the entire length of the approximately 90 miles of road into the park and is a good choice for those who wish to see as much of the Denali wilderness landscape as possible. This is the only tour that stops at Eielson Visitor Center, which is located 66 miles into the park. A National Park Ranger joins the bus for the very last section of the tour from Wonder Lake.
Tickets for these tours must be purchased online and should be obtained in advance.
Those who wish to camp and/or spend time independently within the park can choose the shuttle or camper buses, which provide transportation into the park without so much stop and go. Reservations are available for these as well.
- Denali Natural History Tour (4.5 hours)
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Located at mile 66 on the park road, this updated visitor center can be accessed by shuttle bus or as part of the 11-hour Kantishna Experience Tour. On a clear day the Eielson Visitor Center allows spectacular views of Denali. Facilities at this visitor center include an art gallery and restrooms. National Park Rangers are on hand to answer your questions. Hiking trails, both easy and difficult, can be accessed from Eielson.
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Other Fun Things to Do in Denali National Park
Denali (the mountain) is over 20,000 feet high. Denali National Park and Preserve covers well over 4.5 million acres. The scale of Denali can be overwhelming to take in. Yet there are many small ways to have fun during your visit, to enrich your park experience, and to make lifetime memories, including:
- Bicycle the Park Road - You can head out from the main visitor center or take your bike on some shuttle buses to travel the road farther into the park. A bike trail also runs from the visitor center to the Nenana River at the entrance area.
- Sled Dog Demonstration - Sled dogs are vital to Denali National Park, particularly for winter operations. Free visits to Denali's sled dog kennels are available throughout the day. The summer months bring puppies and training. The kennels, where the demonstrations take place, can be reached by free shuttle, or you can choose to walk the 1.5 miles from the visitor center.
- Ranger-Guided Walks and Hikes - These expert guided hikes are a great way to learn about Denali National Park and Preserve's flora and fauna, geology, and human history.
- Alaska Railroad Depot - Located adjacent to the Denali Visitor Center, the outdoor waiting area at the depot offers a number of interesting interpretive panels covering Alaska's railroad and tourism history.