Take Me Out to the Park
Denali National Park is one of Alaska’s major tourist destinations. Most travelers make Denali a “must
good reason – it’s in beautiful country, with abundant opportunities
for viewing wildlife. Take a bus into the park to see Alaska and Denali
Lots of New Changes At Denali Make It Easier
Wilderness Access Center (the former visitor center building) is at
Mile 0.6 on the park road on the right, just past the campground. It’s
a reservation center. In this building, you can make or pick up bus and
campground reservations. If you haven’t made your reservation in
advance, you’ve got to go here to see if there’s space available on the
buses or in the campgrounds. You’ll also board your bus here.
The Backcountry Information Center is next to the Wilderness Access
Center in the parking lot. You go here if you want to enter the
backcountry of Denali on your own. There are rangers here who can talk
with you about the backcountry, set you up with bear canisters, and
give you helpful information about traveling safely through Denali
National Park. You can also view a video about how to behave in a bear
The Murie Science and Learning Center is an educational facility. In the summer, this building houses a wilderness
institute program that works closely with the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and other schools. There’s a wolf skeleton in the
lobby. You can inquire at the visitor center about programs offered here.
Denali Visitor Center is at mile 1.5. It includes a theater, exhibits,
a book store, and information desks staffed by National Park personnel.
You have to pass by several other buildings on your way to this new
center, but it’s the place to go to find out about what to do in the
park. There are rangers, exhibits, information on the park, a theater,
a web cam, and access to the railroad depot, a food court, and a
bookstore. Check here for information about ranger programs, and
ranger-led walks and hikes.
How to Get Into the Park
You can drive 15 miles to Savage River and hike there, parking your car near the river, and going up to the
rock formations or along the river loop trail.
you want to go past Savage River, go to the Wilderness Access Center
and sign up for a bus (where you bring your own food and water and can
get on and off) or a tour bus (where a box lunch and drink are provided
at a higher cost.)
When you sign up, you’ll also
pay your entrance fee to the park as part of the ticket. Rates vary according to the distance.
Taking the Bus
National parks have a long history of bus travel. Back in the 1930’s, in the Grand Canyon, lodge employees used
to sing to tourists as their buses arrived and left.
today, school buses are used in Denali National Park. Fancier buses are also be available – for a price. They feature rows
of indoor video screens, operated by the bus driver, for close-up views
of the animals outside the bus.
million people enter the park each year.
Plan to stick around the Denali National Park area for a few days.
Don’t plan on taking the bus the first day. You’ve
just had a long drive.
Spend your first day at the visitor center, orienting yourself, and take at least one short hike.
The raft trips down
the Nenana River are also fun. A wide variety of raft trips are available.
You can also go flightseeing. Be sure to visit the neighboring towns of Cantwell and Healy!
National Park Destinations
Free shuttle buses will take you around the entrance area (and to the dog sled demonstration) in the summer.
• Savage River (Mile 15) You can drive or take the Savage River Shuttle.
• Sanctuary River (Mile 23) Ranger
station, tiny tent campground, and hiking.
• Teklanika Campground (Mile 29) RV’s and vehicles only.
• Igloo Creek (Mile 34) Tent
campground. Closed this summer.
• Polychrome Pass (Mile 46) Glaciers, wild animals, hikes in high country, mountain views.
River (Mile 53) Dall sheep, cliffs, rivers, visitor center, ranger guided hikes, book store.
• Fish Creek Turnaround (Mile 64)
(Mile 66) Visitor Center at Mile 66 of the park road.
• Wonder Lake (Mile 85) McKinley view, campground, visitor center.
• Kantishna (Mile 90) Private
advice: Don’t commit to a long ride to Wonder Lake on your first bus
trip. Start with a shorter ride. Even a “short ride” will seem pretty
long. Especially on a rainy day.
(Photo, Robert Gaucher)
Following the Rules
If you’ve been traveling around Alaska, you’ll notice that Denali National Park is heavily regulated when compared
to places like the Denali Highway.
For example, if a moose comes near the road, park personnel may soon arrive on the scene also, to monitor
benefit to this is that you’re more likely to get help and guidance if
you need it than in other parts of the state, where you are on your
own, with little chance of assistance or rescue if you get in trouble.
Remember, the rules at Denali are designed to protect the wilderness
Bear Very Wary
If you’re going to camp in the “backcountry” you have to pick up a bear-resistant food container from the
Backcountry Information Center.
Keeping a Lid on Climbing
Since the first climber tried to summit McKinley in 1903, 30,049 climbers have made the attempt.
Now, over 1,000
are trying each year. About 500 of them succeed.
It’s hard to keep that much wilderness traffic under control. Starting in 2007,
no more than 1,500 a year will be allowed to climb the mountain.
Park's Dog Kennels
There are a number of Alaskan dog mushers who live near Denali National Park. Some give tours of their kennels.
Denali National Park, rangers give dog mushing demonstrations at 10 am,
2 pm and 4 pm every day. There is a special free Sled Dog bus that
takes visitors to the Park Kennels.
Check the bulletin board in the visitor center for details on this popular program.
Take the Train!
Long before the Parks Highway was built in the 1970’s, people traveled to Denali National Park either by train or over
the Denali Highway from the eastern side of the state of Alaska.
The train ride from Anchorage or Fairbanks into Denali National Park is still just
as exciting today. The train wends its way along the rivers and mountains of Alaska.
The new Denali National Park visitor center is close to the
Alaska train depot.
in the Park
Evening and morning are especially good times to take photographs on sunny days. Mountains tend to look flat in the
middle of the day.
Use a telephoto lens and include foreground to make the mountains look more dramatic.
Fall is great for photography
because animals are in their prime after eating all summer and their antlers are fully grown.
You can get unforgettable mountain photos
from a flightseeing trip.
People taking bus trips have a very good chance of seeing major wildlife.
The area deep in the park near Toklat
is also good for bear viewing.
+ More tips on Photographing Denali, from the Denali Summer Times.
the Park Road: Animals Rule
There are lots of animals that live in the country near the Denali Highway and Denali National Park. There
are trumpeter swans, moose, sheep, marmots, golden eagles, caribou, beaver. wolves and bears.
The problem is that they’re hard to spot
while you’re driving. Find
an open high place, pull off the road, and look over the country with binoculars.
Viewing is best in the evening or early morning.
the park, you have a real advantage in animal viewing. The animals are
unafraid of humans, and they venture very close to the park road. Foxes
routinely trot alongside the buses. When someone views an animal,
everything stops. Cars and buses pull over. At times, park officials
actually have to show up to direct traffic.
you’re near an animal, you won’t be allowed out of the bus. But if you
see some interesting country with a good viewpoint, you can ask to be
dropped off to check it out. Later, you can flag down another bus and
continue your journey.
chance of seeing wildlife while in Denali National Park is very high.
It isn’t that there are more animals here. Just a combination of open
country and the animals not being pursued. You have only a 25% to 30%
chance of seeing Mt. McKinley on your trip, but a 95% chance of
spotting a bear.
Things: Denali Creature Feature
many visitors, one of the best things about going to Denali National
Park is that you see wildlife. Whether you’re hiking or taking the bus
– or just driving the first 15 miles of the park road, you’re very
likely to see animals. Be sure to keep your binoculars and camera handy.
Brown (Grizzly) Bears
Brown bears are found throughout Alaska. Alaskans use the term “brown
bear” when they’re talking about larger salmon-fed bears along the
coasts. “Grizzlies” are brown bears found in Interior Alaska. The brown
bear has a shoulder hump, rounder ears, and longer, straighter claws
than a black bear. Its fur can be blond to dark brown. It has a
flatter, broader face than a black bear. And it’s big. Brown bears
weigh from 300 to 900 lbs. When brown bears stand upright it is to get
a better view – not to charge. If
you are charged, don’t run. Experts say to lie face down, protect your head, and play dead.
North America’s smallest bear is the black bear. “Small” is a relative
term, because black bears can easily weigh 200 lbs. Despite their name,
they’re not always black. In Alaska, black bears are often brown or
“cinnamon” in color. It’s good to know the difference between blacks
and grizzlies. Don’t “play dead” around a black bear.
Instead, stand your ground. Black bears are like dogs. Treat a hostile
black bear like a bad dog. Like most wild animals, most black bears
Denali National Park is home to a herd of 1,800 to 2,000 caribou. In
the winter they stay near Stampede Flats and west of the visitor
center. In the spring, they travel to the end of the park road, up in
the mountains, where they calve in May and June. Both female and bull
caribou have antlers. The males lose theirs every winter and they grow
back bigger the next year. You often see pairs of bulls browsing along
the park road.
Up to 2,000 moose live in Denali National Park. They are commonly seen
in the area near the parks entrance. Moose like forested areas. You
rarely see a moose above the tree line. Good spots to view moose are
from the park entrance to Mile 12, and in the Teklanika-Igloo area. Cow
moose don’t have antlers. You’re more likely to see a cow moose, often
with her calf or twin calves, than a bull. Cows like to feed in ponds,
while bulls tend to live at higher elevations.
+ For more information about Denali, check out our Denali 101 web site including these sections on animals.
+ Check out the Denali Big Animals Checklist.
+ Check out the Denali Small Animals Checklist.
+ Check out the Denali Wildlife Tracks Checklist.
+ Check out the Alaska Wildlife section.
Make Reservations on the Phone,
Or in Denali National Park Itself.
Some people make reservations for camping and buses in advance. This isn’t
a bad idea – if you know the exact days you intend to
be here, and are willing to take your chances on the weather.
You can call up to one day in advance for a reservation. You can also make reservations
If you’re more interested in flexibility, and haven’t made reservations ahead of time, reservations at the
desk are available – but
no more than two days in advance.
Remember, there are many fine facilities, adventures and campgrounds just outside the park.
Denali National Park
In Anchorage, call 272-7275.
Take A Shuttle
If you bring your bike north, you’ll find shuttle services will take you between the major rural communities
Shuttles run from Anchorage to Fairbanks. They’ll stop and let you off or pick you up all along the
buses within the park can carry you – and your bike – if there’s enough space.
In Anchorage, city buses have front-mounted
bike racks to make it easier for you.
The Area Outside Denali National
to the park entrance, there’s a small pocket of intense commercial
development. The immediate area north of the park is known as “The
Canyon” locally. The businesses here are, for the most part, only open
in the summer.
little farther to the north and south of the park, toward Healy and Cantwell,
there are year-round communities that also offer accommodations and services.
Until recently, there were no traffic lights in the 300 miles
between Fairbanks and Wasilla. Now stop lights halt traffic
for visitors crossing the highway in the Canyon.
A new bike path connects the commercial area to the park entrance.
Denali s America’s highest mountain. At 20,310 feet, it makes the Denali National Park area a major draw for people
from all over the world.
The state’s other accessible national parks, Kenai Fjords National Park, and Wrangell-St.
Elias National Park (on the eastern side of the state), also offer mountains, glaciers, wildlife, and true wilderness.
Rafting the Nenana River
The Nenana River offers thrilling raft adventures to visitors of Denali National Park. There are a number of rafting
outfitters in the region that will suit you up and take you down the river.
+ Activities + Things to Get
+ Where to Stay + Where to Eat
In Denali National Park, Don't
• The sled dog demonstration
• The drive to Savage River
• Take a short guided hike
in the entrance area
• Then take a longer Discovery hike in the backcountry
• The “Canyon” boardwalk
• A raft trip
• The park visitor center
What will I find in DENALI NATIONAL PARK?
Very few year-round residents
238 miles from Anchorage
124 miles from Fairbanks
You will find an extremely well-organized park with lots of tourist activities on the Parks Hwy. Oh, and the
largest mountain in North America.
camp where somebody else has already camped.
2. Don’t leave any signs that you’ve been there – such as piling rocks up.
tent where people can see you from the park road system.
4. Don’t build a fire in the park, except in a campground fire
5. Dispose of human waste by burying it.
6. Pack out garbage.
7. Use your bear-resistant food container.
8. If a bear shows interest in your camp, move.
9. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
10. Don’t overpack.
GOLDEN DAZE: MINING IN DENALI PARK
Kantishna, which is just past Wonder Lake in the park, was the site of a gold rush stampede. Miners behaved like
flocks of birds, rushing from one part of Alaska to another on the basis of rumor.
And by the summer of 1905, rumors in Fairbanks
led them to Kantishna. About 2,000 stampeders took steamboats to the
region, but when gold failed to materialize in quantity, they left the
little boom town to languish.
Earl Pilgrim, a local miner, ran an antimony mine at the end of the Stampede Road until 30 years ago.
CLIMBING DENALI: A SHORT HISTORY
Judge James Wickersham, who was not only a judge but a major Alaskan adventurer, first tried
to climb Denali in 1903.
In 1910, two of four gold miners managed to reach the lesser north peak – 19,470 feet – dragging
a spruce tree up with them.
In 1913, climbers reached the major south peak of 20,310 feet. Bradford Washburn first mapped McKinley
What's the deal with DENALI WILDLIFE?
Denali National Park is one of the best places to view
wildlife in Alaska.
Visitors often talk about seeing “The Big Four” – grizzlies, moose,
caribou and dall sheep. But just as interesting are the golden eagles,
foxes, marmots, wolves and small songbirds that live in the alpine
Hike Denali National Park
Short, Easy Hikes
Check the park bulletin board for easy
guided hikes, their times and locations. Or, walk near the park entrance on sidewalks.
you’d like to go into the backcountry with the assistance of a park
ranger, you can pay for a bus ride to a “Discovery Hike.” The guided
hike is free. Hikes take most or all of the day and there are several
choices. This is a good way to get your feet wet, and learn the
techniques you need for longer hikes on your own.
Hiking On Your Own
shuttle buses will stop at your request along the Denali National Park
Road, and let you off. You can take a hike, on your own, as long as
it’s not a closed area. You don’t have to stay overnight. You can
stroll along the road, or take a short hike to watch birds or take
pictures, without supervision. Then, flag down a bus to get back home.
National Park Service Website
You will certainly want to check out the National Park Service's page
on Denali, which contains in-depth visitor information. Covered are the
shuttle bus service, camping, weather conditions and mountaineering.
DENALI SUMMER TIMES
The Denali Summer Times is a guide to the Denali Area. It has the
infromation you need to make your trip to the park area an interesting
and exciting visit. Denali 101 is the web site for this publication.