Denali National Park and Preserve
Hours: Open year round to visitors. Peak season is May through September, and during this time the park road is open (weather permitting).
Fees: Park entrance is $10, or $20 for 7 days. Permits are necessary for certain activities in the park (such as climbing). Permit information can be found here.
Location: Approximately 240 miles north of Anchorage, 125 miles south of Fairbanks, and about 12 miles south of Healy, AK.
Activities: Auto touring, backpacking, biking, camping, climbing, cross country skiing, dog mushing, fishing, hiking, mountaineering, nature walks, snow skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and stargazing and wildlife viewing.
Contact: By mail at Denali National Park, P.O. Box 9, Denali Park, AK 99755-0009 or Talkeetna Ranger Station, Box 588, Talkeetna, AK 99676, by phone at 907-683-2294 or by fax at 907-683-9617.
More than just your average preserve, Denali National Park is home to Mount McKinley, North America’s largest mountain, which stands at 20,320 feet. Known as McKinley National Park from 1917 until 1980, the park was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976. Its more than six million acres are considered a sub-arctic ecosystem, home to a diverse range of wildlife including more than 37 mammal species and 159 types of birds. You’ll also find moose, grizzlies, caribou, dall sheep, wolves, and many smaller animals, including lynxes, wolverines, foxes, hares, and beavers roaming within the park’s boundaries.
Most people access Denali through the park’s north entrance, which can be reached by car, or by train via Alaska’s State Railroad, which runs directly to the entrance. The more adventurous types might consider coming in from the south side, but this is mostly reserved for mountaineers and climbers. Don’t forget that all climbers must have proper permits and check in with a ranger before climbing anywhere in Denali.
If you’re interested in camping, you can venture out on your own into the backcountry with proper permits. Denali requires you to do a few things to get your permit, including watching a video and attending a safety talk. You should leave at least an hour to complete the process and in busy seasons, it can take up to two days to actually process and receive your permit. More information on backcountry camping in Denali, what to bring and what to expect, can be found here.
For those who would rather not venture out on their own, Denali features five different campgrounds throughout the park, with a total of 291 camp sites. Denali can accommodate all types, with sites for campers without vehicles, for those with tents, and for people with trailers or RVs. All sites can be reserved on a tangent of the Denali website found here, but campers should keep in mind that things fill quickly, and certain campsites may close throughout the year for various reasons, including weather and wildlife activity.
If you’re an animal fan, take some time to watch one of the three daily sled dog demonstrations at the park during peak season. A full list of current canines, their bios, and adorable pictures can be found here. If you’d prefer to take fun in the action instead of just watching it, consider contacting Denali West Lodge, Inc. or Earthsong Lodge Dog Shed. Both offer day and multi-day guided tours of Denali Park by dogsled, and are two of only three concessionaries permitted to do so in the park.
One of several bus rides is a also a great way to see the sights. The Denali Natural History Tour is a five hour fully narrated tour that takes you 17 miles into the park. You’ll visit the historic Savage Cabin, and take part in an Alaska Native interpretive program. This tour typically departs three times per day. The Tundra Wilderness Tour explores deeper into the park, and ventures to mile 29 during off season, and mile 53 during peak times. The off season tours generally take four to five hours, and with peak tours you should expect to be gone six to eight hours. On or off season, plan to depart at one of two times; in early morning or early afternoon. Both the Natural History Tour and the Wilderness Tour provide a box lunch and hot drinks along the way! Don’t forget to bring your camera and plenty of film (or should I say a big memory card?!) At the time this article was written, tour costs were not yet available for the upcoming 2006 season.