Denali National Park and Preserve spans six million acres, and natural beauty abounds throughout each acre. Denali itself is the highest peak in North America. Note that many people mistakenly call the majestic mountain Mount Denali, but it is simply called Denali. Public access to the park via your own private vehicle is limited to the first 15 miles of the 92-mile restricted-access road into the park. Still, you can choose to stay deep within the park in places such as the Backcountry Wilderness Lodge, which is located about as deep into the park as you can go.
The park entrance is nearly 250 miles north of Anchorage. Going with a tour group such as Pursuit is easier because they’ll take care of lodging reservations, dining plans, and transportation to the park. They can even plan a scenic commute to the park from Anchorage via the Alaska Railroad. No matter how you get there, these 10 stunning spots in Denali National Park will have you wanting to come back.
Grizzly bears, Dall sheep, willow ptarmigans, and wolves! These are just some of the animals you may spot in the Denali National Park. The “big five” that most tourists try to see while in the park are Dall sheep, wolves, moose, bears, and caribou. Gray wolves are probably the rarest animal that can be observed within the park. You may also see foxes, red squirrels, and marmots. The National Park Service reports that 39 species of mammals, 169 species of birds, 14 species of fish, and one species of amphibians live in the park. The more time you spend in the wild areas, the more likely you are to see the animals.
The Igloo Forest is located along Miles 31 to 39 of the park road. The tent-only Igloo Creek Campground is located around Mile 35 between Igloo Mountain and Cathedral Mountain. Animals such as snowshoe hare are often seen here. Sable Pass, which is 5 miles to the west of the campground, is a popular place to linger and look for raptors. Igloo Mountain is beautiful, and some people summit it with much planning.
Glaciers and the Alaska Range
Given the size of the park and the way it is protected, the glaciers and the Alaska Range are perhaps best observed through an aerial perspective. An air taxi service between Kantishna and the Denali Backcountry Lodge empowers visitors to see more of the park’s natural beauty than most ever will, and the aerial perspective can give you a firsthand view on how massive and awe-inspiring the park is. You’ll soar through the sky in a small plane for “flightseeing” and see how the landscape changes so significantly throughout the park. Wildlife is often spotted from the air, and the Kantishna Air Taxi pilots offer insights on the scenery as it unfolds below. Seeing Denali from the above and below provides the best sense of how incredible it is.
Denali Backcountry Lodge
Take in a lot of gorgeous scenery during a stay at the Denali Backcountry Lodge. In addition to the beauty you can take in from any spot at the lodge, guided hikes are offered each day. You’ll find a lot of beautiful contradictions here. You are staying in a rustic environment deep in the wilderness, yet you have many of the amenities of an all-inclusive resort. It’s upscale lodging—with meals included—in the wilderness. The heated cabins have beautiful views and include a private bathroom and shower. Fresh, seasonal cuisine is served for three meals per day, and a vegan meal option is always available. The chef and cooks are knowledgeable about a plant-based lifestyle and accommodate other dietary needs.
Murie Science and Learning Center
Take a field course at the Murie Science and Learning Center for in-depth learning about the splendor of the mountain, park, and surrounding area. Alaska Geographic coordinates them, and they provide more than just access to sights of stunning beauty. The courses are taught by leading experts and scientists who provide an interactive learning experience. During the winter, the Murie Science and Learning Center serves as the visitor’s center for the park, and they can loan you a pair of snowshoes for going out and exploring the park.
When you are staying at the Denali Backcountry Lodge, a free shuttle is available to Wonder Lake each day. Camping is also available at Wonder Lake. The Wonder Lake Campground is at Mile 85 of the 92-mile road. You may hike or bike around the lake. When the skies are clear, you can enjoy a jaw-dropping view of Denali and other mountains in the Alaska Range. If you have a packable raft or kayak, you’re allowed to bring it and use it on the lake.
Bring your camera for sunrise (or sunset) at the Reflection Pond near Wonder Lake. On a clear day, the Reflection Pond will probably provide the best chance to take photos of Denali reflected in a body of water.
From wildlife to views of Denali on a clear day, you can see a lot of beauty along Savage River. For a more leisurely trek, the 2-mile Savage River Loop Trail goes around the river for about a mile of stunning scenery followed by a small footbridge. This trail winds back to the parking area. If you are up to a challenge, the Salvage Alpine Trail is over four miles long. It is strenuous, and be aware that it has several stairs on the west end. In addition to gorgeous sights along the river, you have the fun of hiking through tundra and into a birch forest. During the summer months, the Savage River Shuttle will take you back to the park entrance or your car. Also, during the summer, you might see wildlife such as Dall sheep, and you might find berries such as huckleberries or crowberries.
The sections along either side of the National Park Road from Miles 37 to 43 are the only part of the park that’s permanently closed for wildlife protection. So, it’s no surprise that you can often see a lot from the road. Located at Mile 39.05 of the Denali Park Road, Sable Pass is an especially great spot for seeing animals such as grizzly bears. Although hiking off the road is prohibited at Sable Pass, you can walk along the road and pause to marvel at the birds and other animals you may see off the road. Also, look at the wooden Sable Pass sign, which often has chew marks on it from bears who like to chow down on it.
If you don’t want to delve too deeply into the park, you can still see stunning scenery from Horseshoe Lake, which is accessible from the Denali Visitor Center. Beavers, moose, and waterfowl are among the wildlife often spotted along the lake. Also, another highlight of visiting Horseshoe Lake is an overlook where you can sit on a bench and take in all the beauty that surrounds you. Hiking around Horseshoe Lake tends only to take around three hours, although you can do it in two hours if you don’t make stops along the way, according to the National Park Service.