There are a variety of ways to experience Alaska's Denali. The mountain rises over 20,000 feet, making it the highest peak in North America. Formerly called Mount McKinley, Denali means "The High One" in the language of the native Athabaskan people. While a hardy few attempt to climb the mountain, most of us are content to enjoy Denali's majesty from a distant viewpoint or on a flightseeing tour. Denali is part of the Alaska Range; the mountains of the Alaska Range lie within Denali National Park and Preserve. You don't even need to visit the park to enjoy your own experience with this prominent peak.
Late May, June, and September are the months where you have the highest probability of clear Denali-viewing weather conditions. Even then, the cloud cover and visibility varies. Given the fact that you have a good chance of NOT seeing the mountain during your Alaska visit, Denali National Park and Preserve are still well worth visiting. The landscape is vast and... colorful. You'll see all kinds of wildlife, including moose, bears, and sheep. On your way there and back you'll pass through amazing, unspoiled scenery.
Here are some of the popular ways that visitors enjoy "The High One."
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Take a Denali Flightseeing Tour
Even during the summer months, the mountains of the Alaska Range are often shrouded in clouds. Unless you arrive during exceptionally clear weather, your chance for an extended view of Denali is well below 50 percent. You can increase those odds considerably by getting above the clouds in an airplane or helicopter. Most of these tours approach one side of Denali for viewing, a few afford the opportunity to circle the peak.
The available flightseeing tours over Denali National Park are many. Most leave out of Talkeetna, a small town located just southeast of the park along Highway 3. Talkeetna is 113 miles north of Anchorage. Flightseeing tours are also available out of Anchorage and Fairbanks, as well as from other small communities adjacent to Denali National Park.
The National Park Service permits a select few of these flightseeing operators to actually land on a glacier within Denali National Park.
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Along the eastern edge of Denali National Park runs the George Parks Highway (also known as Highway 3), passing through Denali State Park. The Parks Highway begins near Anchorage and runs for 323 miles up to Fairbanks. The drive itself is an official "Alaska Scenic Byway" and comes with ever-changing aspects of the Alaska Range. Several viewpoints along this driving route provide amazing views of Denali. Resorts, campgrounds, or other accommodations are often found at these prime viewing locations. In addition to the mountain views, the George Parks Highway takes you through miles of breathtaking landscapes, past lovely lakes and the famous Hurricane Gulch.
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Enjoy the Views From Aboard the Alaska Railroad
A trip on the Alaska Railroad, particularly in one of their luxurious domed cars, is a fun and relaxing way to take in views of Denali, the Alaska Range, and the amazing and colorful Alaska landscape. Several routes will take you between Anchorage and Denali, skirting the east side of Denali National Park. Travel on the Alaska Railroad is often included as part of an Alaska land tour package or can be booked separately. The Alaska Railroad has sit-down dining rooms and offers snack and beverage service.
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Take Lodging at a Denali Viewpoint
Another way to increase your chance of experiencing a clear and spectacular view of Denali is to spend a considerable amount of time at a known viewpoint. Fortunately, there are a number of lodges and resorts that are positioned appropriately. These accommodations allow you to spend your time relaxing on a deck, enjoying a beverage and good company while waiting for the weather conditions to clear.
Here are some options:
- Talkeetna Denali View Lodge
15669 East Coffey Lane, Talkeetna, Alaska 99676
- Mount McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge
133 N Parks Highway, Trapper Creek, AK 99683
- Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge
23601 S. Talkeetna Spur Road, Talkeetna, AK 99676
- Talkeetna Denali View Lodge