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Take Me Out to the Park

Denali National Park is one of Alaska’s major tourist destinations. Most travelers make Denali a “must stop.”

For good reason – it’s in beautiful country, with abundant opportunities for viewing wildlife. Take a bus into the park to see Alaska and Denali first hand.

(Photo, Bud Krause)


Lots of New Changes At Denali Make It Easier

The 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 encounter.

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.

The 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.

If 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.

Even 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.

Half a million people enter the park each year.


Don't Rush

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!


Denali 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.

• Toklat River (Mile 53) Dall sheep, cliffs, rivers, visitor center, ranger guided hikes, book store.

• Fish Creek Turnaround (Mile 64)

• Eielson (Mile 66) Visitor Center at Mile 66 of the park road.

• Wonder Lake (Mile 85) McKinley view, campground, visitor center.

• Kantishna (Mile 90) Private lodges.

Our 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 traffic.

The 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 and wildlife.


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.


Denali Park's Dog Kennels

There are a number of Alaskan dog mushers who live near Denali National Park. Some give tours of their kennels.

At 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.


Photographing 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.


Along 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.

In 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.

When 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.

Your 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.

(Photo, Robert Gaucher)


Wild Things: Denali Creature Feature

For 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.

Black Bears
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 avoid humans.

Caribou
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.

Moose
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 on-line.

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 reservations: 1-800-622-7275.

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 in Alaska.

Shuttles run from Anchorage to Fairbanks. They’ll stop and let you off or pick you up all along the Parks Highway.

Shuttle 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 Park

Adjacent 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.

A 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.


Mighty Denali

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

denali backcountry visitor center

Denali Outoor Center - Rafting, Kayaking, Mountain Biking

Raft Denali

DENALI BUSINESSES

ACTIVITIES
Atkins Guiding

Denali Air

Denali ATV Tours
Denali Outdoor Center
Denali Raft Adventures
Fish Denali

Fly Denali

Nenana Raft Adventures

THINGS TO GET
McKinley RV & Miners Market
Mountain View Liquor & Grocery

UNIQUE ALASKAN GIFTS
Northern Heart Originals

Old Sourdough Studio
The Spirit Of Alaska

WHERE TO STAY
Carlo Creek Lodge
Cabins At Denali

Denali Crow's Nest
Perch Resort
Denali Rainbow RV
McKinley RV Campground

Totem Inn
White Moose Lodge

WHERE TO EAT
Denali Salmon Bake
49th State Brewing Company
Panorama Pizza
Perch Resort
Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse
Subway® at Denali
Totem Inn


DENALI NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA MAPS AND FEATURES
+ Denali Summer Times: #1 Internet Travel Guide
To Denali National Park - Current Maps & Bus Schedules And Camping Information


+ Map: Entrance to Denali National Park
+ Map: Denali National Parks Overview
+ Map: Distance to Nearby Communities
+ Alaska Wildlife

RELATED MAPS AND FEATURES
+ Map of Parks Highway Campgrounds
+ Map of Denali Highway

In Denali National Park, Don't Miss...
• 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
• Flightseeing

What will I find in DENALI NATIONAL PARK?

Population: 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.

CAMPING 101

1. Don’t camp where somebody else has already camped.

2. Don’t leave any signs that you’ve been there – such as piling rocks up.

3. Don’t 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 pit.

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 in 1960.

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 tundra.

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.

Take A Longer Hike

If 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

The 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.

deanli summer times cover

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