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Aug 27, 2021| Top Activities & Things To Do

All About Denali National Park

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Visitors to  Denali National Park are treated to spectacular landscapes covering over six million areas with sparkling lakes and craggy mountain peaks, including North America’s tallest, Mount Denali, which rises more than 20,310 feet into the Alaskan skies. It’s so tall it can be seen from many vantage points throughout Anchorage, which is 240 miles south. But the park may be best known for its wildlife, with some of the state’s most iconic animals often spotted here, including grizzly and black bears, caribou, moose, and wolves. Capturing photos of Denali National Park are what many come to do, with countless opportunities for Instagrammable moments. 

One can experience the park from the comfort of a bus. However, the more adventurous and independent can explore on foot, trekking into boreal forest, among snow-capped mountains and tundra. Denali National Park’s massive size covers an area bigger than Massachusetts, bringing endless opportunities to take in some of the world’s most remote and breathtaking wilderness. 

Denali National Park Quick Facts

  • Established in 1917
  • Covers over 6 million acres
  • $15 entrance fee per person (16 and older only)
  • Northern region experiences warm summers and cold winters with little precipitation
  • Southside has a transitional maritime climate with milder temperatures and more rain
  • The latter half of May and early September are the best times to visit Denali National Park
  • Denali is one of the best places in the U.S. to watch the northern lights (possible from fall through early spring)

 

The History of Denali National Park

There are many interesting Denali National Park history facts, but to sum it up, the park was originally established as Mount McKinley National Park in 1917. It was created to preserve the vast wilderness surrounding North America’s tallest peak, then known as Mount McKinley. This was the very first national park specifically established to protect wildlife. In 1980, it was significantly expanded, incorporated into Denali National Park and Preserve. Thirty-five years later, Mount McKinley was renamed Mount Denali, paying homage to the Athabaskan people who called this area home. In their native language, Denali translates to "mountain-big,” or "the tall one.”  

How to Get to There

Tucked into the Alaska Range, which extends 600 miles across the state, most visitors travel to Denali National Park from Anchorage after flying into Anchorage International Airport. It’s a remarkably scenic 240-mile drive that takes about 5.5 hours to complete. Along the way, you can stop for an easy one-mile trek to 200-foot-tall Thunderbird Falls and Talkeetna village, a popular place to visit with artisans selling their handmade wares on Main Street. It’s also possible to fly to Fairbanks and then drive 120 miles south to the park.

A state-owned railroad linking Anchorage to Fairbanks runs directly through the Denali’s entrance, making it possible to take the train via Alaska Railroad. In the summer there are a variety of private van and bus services that operate daily to and from both Fairbanks and Alaska. 

 What Makes Denali National Park Unique

Denali is where many people come to see the "big five of wildlife,” which includes its five largest mammals, grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, moose, and Dall sheep, although there have been 39 mammal species documented here. It’s also possible to see nearly 170 bird species and more than 1,500 species of plants. The park also has a rich history and is still a very important place for Alaskan natives. For thousands of years, they’ve lived on the land that surrounds the Denali area, taking advantage of its resources for shelter, food, transportation, handcrafted goods, clothing, and trade.

It also stands out for its park rangers, some of whom are four-legged. Ever since the park opened, sled dogs have been helping out the rangers when patrolling. They’re the only ones in the country working in a national park and visitors can watch sled dog demos during the summer, the dogs at work in the winter, or see them in their kennels throughout the year.

The Best Time to Visit Denali National Park

Although the park is open year-round, mid-June through mid-August is the peak time for visitors. The majority arrive during the summer season, which officially runs from May 20 through the second weekend after Labor Day in mid-September. This is the only time of the year busses will be operating within the park. As there is no public transportation to the area outside of this period, most visitors in the spring or fall rent a vehicle and then travel to the park. Winter is a great time to explore and enjoy some of the most pristine landscapes on foot, snowshoes, or skis. Snow may start falling as early as September, although conditions may not be suitable for skiing until December. Snow tends to stick around until April or May.

Many feel the best time to visit Denali is during the second half of May or early September when there are relatively few visitors. Keep in mind that no matter when you come, as the park is so large, it’s always easy to find a spot for solitude. 

Where to Stay 

Accommodation options in and around Denali run the gamut with everything from camping and rustic cabins to luxury lodge resorts. For an authentic wilderness experience, you might book the remote bush cabin where you’ll be guided in, hiking five miles from Talkeetna. Of if you’re looking for more luxuries, the Denali Backcountry Lodge is nestled deep within the Alaskan tundra. It’s one of the national park system’s most remote in-park accommodation options, providing an all-inclusive stay in cabins with private decks, black-out curtains, heating, and full bathrooms. 

A half-dozen campgrounds can be found within the park, best reserved well in advance to avoid disappointment. Reservations are possible as soon as December 1st of the year before you plan to visit. 

What to Do

Denali is a popular place for hiking, mountaineer, and rafting the Nenana River during the warmer months, with both gentle float trips and more thrilling rides available. For a less active experience, you can take a tour bus or shuttle from Mile 15 for a scenic drive on the 92-mile Park Road (private vehicles aren’t allowed past that point). You’ll be able to hop on or hop off along the way. 

Some of the best ways to explore the park in the winter are snowshoeing fat bikes, and cross-country skiing, all possible on trails and roads around the visitor centers and beyond. There are also excursions that can be arranged through various outfitters such as dogsledding trips, "aurora chasing” tours for viewing and photographing the northern lights, winter photography workshops, and more. Year-round, dinosaur fossils, abundant in the 70-million-year-old Cantwell Formation, can be viewed at the Denali’s Murie Science and Learning Center.

Overall, Denali National Park is full of activities for families and adventure lovers alike. 

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