Denali National Park and Preserve

Located: Alaska  -  Established: February 26, 1917

The ParkYou may know this as the park formerly known as Mt. McKinley as it was named when Congress established it as a National Park in 1917. The local Athabaskan’s refer to it as “The High One” or Denali in Athabaskan. The High One stands as the tallest mountain in the US at 20,320 feet above sea level. 

Denali is often shrouded with a thick coat of clouds that obscure the mountain for months at a time. Hence, getting a glimpse of The High One can be iffy! Oddsmakers give you a one in six chance of seeing the mountain.We’ve been fortunate to clearly view the mountain during all three visits!

John and Charlie trekking Mt. Healy. Park visit  #27 .

John and Charlie trekking Mt. Healy. Park visit #27.

There is but a single road that enters the interior section of the park and at mile 15, the road is restricted to Shuttle Busses and a very limited number of passes.  At this juncture, you can hike, bike or take a Shuttle Bus into the far reaches of the park. If you opt to take a bus ride into the park, we suggest you go at least as far out as the Eielson Visitor Center at mile 66. 

The ride out to Eielson rewards you with a genuine sense of the wild and an expansive view of the grandeur that is Denali. It’s not uncommon to spot moose, caribou, mountain goats and grizzlies along the route. 

Getting thereDenali is located 236 miles north of Anchorage, AK off AK-3 – the George Parks Hwy – or 120 miles south of Fairbanks.

The road to Denali. 

The road to Denali. 

When to visitSummer is the primary season to visit Denali. Winters can bring on severe weather and limit access into the park; however, crowds will be minimal. September proved to be an excellent month to visit. 

What to do A visit during the winter months will provide you with opportunities to do cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and aurora watching; however, most of the wildlife will be in hibernation.  Summer offers the best opportunity to view a park teaming with an amazing array of animal life. If you opt to take a bus ride into the interior of the park, chances are very good you will get to observe grizzlies, moose, elk, dall sheep, eagles, red fox and other critters that roam freely about. 

Hiking: There are two ways to trek about Denali – on a groomed trail or off-trail in the wilderness. Most of the groomed trails are located near the Visitor’s Center. 

The Mt. Healy Overlook Trail near the Visitor’s Center is a steep hike out of the forest and into the alpine country. You’ll be exposed to breathtaking views as you climb 1700 feet up the trail. 

For an excellent view of the mountain, take the bus out to Eielson Visitors Center and hike up the Eielson Alpine Trail to the top of Thorofare Ridge. Here you will be treated to generous views of the Alaskan Range. 

Discovery Hikes. If you have the time, I recommend you take a “Disco Hike.”  A Discovery Hike will give you an intimate off-trail look at the park and is guided and professionally narrated by a knowledgeable Ranger.  Limited to 11 hikers, reservations are a must!

Local Griz searching for berries.

Local Griz searching for berries.

Wildlife: Denali is teeming with wild creatures. There are 39 known mammals living within the park. The "Big Five" include moose, grizzly, wolf, caribou and Dall sheep. We were fortunate to have seen four of the five. The wolf escaped our view. However, we did see hoary marmots, red fox, arctic squirrels, snowshoe hares and black bear!

Flightseeing: If the mountain is “out,” meaning it’s in view, a flightseeing tour around the mountain is an exhilarating way to get up close to the High One!

Where to stayThere are 6 established campgrounds within the park and six million acres of wilderness for those who prefer the backpacking experience! For lodging inside the park, you’ll need to travel to the end of the park road at Kantishna at mile 92 or stay in one of the many hotels located just outside the park.

Denali shot from our Cessna at 11,000 feet. 

Denali shot from our Cessna at 11,000 feet. 

Memorable moments: Flightseeing around the mountain in a small Cessna tops the list of memorable moments followed by Disco hikes, wildlife viewing and lodging at the Kantishna Roadhouse located at the end of the 92-mile road.   

Trivia: Denali is home to both black bears and grizzly (brown) bears. Black bears inhabit the forested areas of the park, while grizzly bears mainly live on the open tundra. Almost all bears seen by visitors along the Park Road are grizzlies. 

Banner: Landscape near the Savage River.

Experience these Check List:

  • Stop by the park’s two Visitor Centers (Denali and Eielson)  
  • Take a Disco Hike 
  • Take the bus to the Eielson Visitor Center…or further!
  • Hike Mt. Healy
  • Hike the Savage River Loop 
  • Shoot the "Big Five" (with your camera!)
Terry gearing up for the tundra!

Terry gearing up for the tundra!