Wanderlust America

A comprehensive analysis of Denali National Park

Denali National Park is situated in the beautiful state of Alaska and encompasses six million acres of untouched wilderness. At 20,310 feet, it has the tallest peak in all of North America. To have a real appreciation for the park’s grandeur, you must visit it in person. Whether you drive, hike, or even fly through the park, you will be able to surf the endless waves of land that move past you in formations of mountains and valleys. Take a deeper look today at what activities to do at the park and how to get there.

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About Denali National Park

It sits at the intersection of the ancestral lands of the Ahtna, Dena’ina, Koyukon, Upper Kuskokwim, and Tanana people all of which are a part of a larger group of people known as the Dene or Athabascan. Human artifacts have been found at Denali National Park almost dating back to 12,000 years.  

If you are looking to visit the park, remember that even though there are many park amenities available, most of them are situated within a mile of the park’s entrance. This leaves much of the rest of the park up to wilderness.   

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Getting there

Only one major highway leads directly to Denali National Park. The park highway connects Denali to Fairbanks, which is about 2 and a half hours to the north, and Anchorage about 4 hours to the south. Both of these cities have well-connected airports that have multiple car rental options available. If you are not keen on driving yourself, there are motorcoach services that get you to Denali National Park during the summertime. You can try Alaska/Yukon Trails or The Park Connection. 

The most deluxe option to reach Denali is the Alaska Railroad, which is just like the Park’s highway, and runs from Anchorage to Fairbanks or vice versa. Once you are in Denali National Park, you do not need a car to explore the park. However, if you do have a car, it makes it easier to discover and drive your car as deep into the park as you want.

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Time to Visit

The peak season of the park is between mid-May through mid-September. Most of the tours, lodging, and restaurant amenities will shut down as soon as the peak season comes to an end. It is still possible to visit the park during winter conditions if you are ready to do it all by yourself. If you decide to visit during early May or late September, you will find fewer crowds and some of the amenities still closed but it could be a better experience for some people. September can be a beautiful time to explore the park if the weather cooperates.  

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Things to do

  • Travel the park road – Taking a bus ride on the lone road running to the park is probably the best excursion possible. There used to be narrated bus tours and hop-on transits buses that used to run down the 92-mile par road are now partially closed due to an ongoing land slump which has forced it down to a 43-mile road. There is a bridge being built officially which is to be opened by 2025 that will run across the land slumped area. You can catch the courtesy shuttle for a quick and free discovery of the park. It runs between Denali Visitor Center and Savage River which is 15 miles from the park road. You are also able to rent a bicycle from Bike Denali, about a mile outside the park entrance. This will allow you to explore as far on Park Road as you’d like.
  • Tales Peak – You will be curious, and expectations will be high when you want to catch a glimpse of North America’s tallest peak Denali. To do this, you will have to go at least 9 miles of the park road so that the elevation is high enough to show the 20,310 feet Denali. If you like a bit of adventure, you can hike to the top of Mountain Vista trail which is about 12 miles for a better view. This view is, however, sometimes obscured due to clouds being around but don’t despair as you can catch a glance of it from the Alaska Railroad Trains or while you are driving along the Park’s Highway.
  • Hikes – There are plenty of great hikes available at Denali including the Savage River and Alpine Trails. There is also the much-loved Triple Lakes Trail where you can see beavers and hike off trail from the park road. Make sure you have bear spray with you wherever you decide to take a hike. This can be bought from the Alaska Geographic Store in the park, right next to the Denali Visitor Center. You can also ask any park ranger regarding where to hike next and they can coach you on how to handle any wildlife you encounter.
  • Sled Dogs – This is the National Park Service’s only working kennel of sled dogs. The ranger will demonstrate to you how they work with sled dogs 2-3 times per day during summer.
  • Tours – There is a wide range of tours that are advertised for Denali National Park including whitewater rafting, horseback riding, ATV tours, and jeep tours. Most of these tours take place along the boundary of the park and not inside it. Denali Horseback Tours will take you off into the hills for a beautiful view of the mountains that is away from any jeep or ATV noises. Whereas the Denali ATV Adventures will give you the thrill of a motor-driven vehicle. Another excellent way of exploring Denali is through the water. Denali Raft Adventures will take you down the Nenana River. There are also rafting excursions which can be pulsating and thrilling as well. If you are willing to splash a lot of cash, then take the Alaska Alpine Adventures. They are a brilliant guide service that has custom hiking and backpacking, and it demands a high level of physical fitness from you.
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Many of the park’s lodges and hotels are located just outside the park’s entrance. To have a true experience of the wild try booking the Denali Backcountry Lodge, which is the only lodge that is posh enough to offer any kind of spa service. There is also the expensive Kantishna Roadhouse which has a wide variety of gourmet foods and programs. 

If you are a person who likes sleeping under the stars, there are plenty of camping options available for you. All of the six park’s campgrounds are open through peak visitor season. There is also the option of backcountry camping as long as you have a permit, a bear-resistant food container, and all the requisite wildlife safety training. 

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There is a wide range of dining options packed just outside of the park’s entrance. There is the 49th State Brewing Company for casual pub-style food. For a more upscale experience try the Alpenglow restaurant in the Grande Denali Lodge. The Black Bear is a great place to grab some food. You can have a full breakfast here before leaving for your adventure in Denali. Finally, there is Moose Aka’s restaurant which provides Eastern European-style food in a very authentic setting

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