Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska was founded in 1917 as Mt McKinley National Park. The centerpiece is Mt McKinley (known to locals by it’s native American name, Denali), North America’s highest peak at 20,320 feet, but the park’s 6,000,000+ acres are also home to a fantastic array of wildlife including moose, caribou, Dall sheep and, of course, grizzly bears!
Visitor Rating (write your own review below)
|Scenery||Glacier-covered mountains and tundra foothills|
|Uniqueness||Highest mountain in North America resides here|
|Wildlife||Multitudes of Bear, Moose, Caribou, etc.|
|Diversity||Many scenes, mountain climbing, bus tours, trails|
ILNP Park Review
In a Word “Wild”
“Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” -Isaiah 40:12
Our Visit I lived in interior Alaska for a year, so I’ve been to Denali twice. The first time was with friends preseason in early May, and the second was with my wife in July. During preseason, you can drive several miles into the park in your own vehicle, and there are NO crowds whatsoever! Also in May, the bears have just awaken from hibernation, but the fauna isn’t quite green. During the summer (Alaska’s tourist season), you have to park at the visitor center and take a bus into the park. While the animals are certainly more active and the park greener, your chance of seeing Denali peak is pretty slim because the weather is usually overcast.
Our Weather In May, the weather was hazy and around 40 degrees. In July, it was a bit warmer (about 65 degrees), but the skies were overcast and obscured Denali.
Overall Impression Denali reminds all of us there is still wilderness left out there. Traveling the short road, you’re struck by the fact that there is nothing but trees, rivers and mountains for hundreds of miles in all directions. The ruggedness adds something more to the beauty. Because it’s so remote, Alaska is one of the best places in the world to see wildlife, and Denali is no exception. Bear and moose are everywhere reminding you that this is their domain, and you are the stranger.
Favorite Spot Difficult to say.
Minimum Time Required About 2 hours. This will allow you to drive to Savage River (the furthest point for private vehicles) and perhaps see some wildlife. We’d highly recommend spending longer and taking a bus tour.
A Longer Visit Many adventurous campers hike well off the road and stay several days, but most folks would be content with the full bus tour (about 8-10 hours) in the park. With a full day, you’ll want to take the bus at least as far as Eielson Visitor Center (pronounced “EYE-ul-son”) or even farther to Wonder Lake. The bus ride is well organized, and you pay according to how far you want to get into the park. The bus stops for wildlife so everyone can get pictures, and there’s PLENTY of wildlife to see. Don’t be surprised if some of your best sightings are near the end of the trip, but no one wants to stop any more because the bus has already stopped 482 times.
Suggestions If you can go pre or post season, you won’t have to fight the crowds, but you can’t get very far into the park. Unlike many of the parks in Alaska, Denali is right off the main highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, so it’s easy to incorporate into an Alaskan vacation and well worth your time.
If you’ve never been to Alaska, you simply have to go at least once in your life. The harsh climate in winter yields beautiful, bright summers with 20+ hours of daylight and fields of wildflowers. Anywhere you go, you’re surrounded by wildlife and wilderness unlike any in the lower-48. Unfortunately, Alaska’s few highways become overcrowded with campers and tourists from June-August, so if you don’t like crowds, your best bet is to come in mid May or September when many of the attractions are still open. It starts to get dark at night again in September, so you’ll have a good chance of catching some awesome aurora displays as well.
The weather around Denali is finicky and often obscures the peak in clouds. Planning a 2-3 day stop in the area will improve your chances of seeing the mountain, but even if you don’t, the wildlife in the park is worthwhile. The mountain is so huge, you can see it from Anchorage on a clear day–that’s 4 hours away by car. If you’ve got the time and money, consider a cruise up the Inside Passage (where you can see Glacier Bay NP) and a trip to Denali by train from Anchorage.
Nearby Towns Healy, Cantwell, Talkeetna (Alaska)
Other Nearby Attractions Nothing big for hundreds of miles (except bear, moose and mountains)
Official NPS Website Denali NP and Preserve
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