Denali National Park
Denali National Park is a United States National Park that is home to Denali, North America's highest mountain (also known as Mt. McKinley). In addition, the park protects an incredible wilderness area that contains grizzly bears, caribou, moose, wolves, and numerous other creatures. It is in the state of Alaska, 240 miles (386 km) north of Anchorage and 120 miles (193 km) south of Fairbanks.
Denali National Park comprises a massive area of six million acres (over 24,000 km2), slightly more than the entire state of Massachusetts. The park is best known for the 20,320-ft (6,194 m) Denali. The tremendous 18,000-ft (5,486 m) difference from the mountain's lowlands near Wonder Lake up to its peak is a greater vertical relief than that of Mount Everest. The park is bisected from east to west by the Alaska Range and the Park Road is the only vehicle access into the park.
The park was established in 1917 as a wildlife refuge. It was originally named Mount McKinley National Park, but in 1980 the park was renamed and expanded in size by four million acres as part of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). Today the park is managed as three separate units: Denali Wilderness is made up of the original Mount McKinley National Park and is managed to retain the undeveloped wilderness with no hunting allowed. The Denali National Park management area includes some of the 1980 additions and allows subsistence hunting. Denali National Preserve includes two areas of the park within which sport and subsistence hunting are allowed on a permit basis.
Denali, the "High One," is the name Athabascan native people gave the massive peak that crowns the 600-mile-long Alaska Range. Permafrost ground underlies many areas of the park, where only a thin layer of topsoil is available to support life. After the continental glaciers retreated from most of the park 10,000 to 14,000 years ago, hundreds of years were required to begin building new soils and re-vegetation. The dynamic glaciated landscape provides large rivers, countless lakes and ponds, and unique landforms which form the foundation of the ecosystems that thrive in Denali.
Flora and fauna
The terrain of Denali includes "tundra" and "taiga" zones. Taiga zones are made up of the stubby evergreen, spruce and aspen trees that are found in areas around the Arctic Circle. The taiga zone within Denali extends to approximately 2700 feet (823 m) above sea level, above which few trees are found. The treeless areas of the park can generally be classified as tundra. Within a tundra zone the plants are often miniaturized, including tiny flowers, extensive mosses, and various shrubs. Be aware of the willow thickets in the tundra zone as they can be a major impediment while hiking.
Congress created the park to protect its abundance of large mammals. Today it is common to see grizzly bears, caribou, Dall sheep, moose, and foxes throughout the park. Less common but still regularly seen are the park's many wolves. Black bears are also occasionally seen, and the very lucky visitor might glimpse a wolverine.
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Data from NOAA (1981-2010)
Weather in Denali is extremely variable, and changes occur without warning. Many rangers tell visitors to expect sun, wind, rain, and clouds, and expect them all on the same day. Average summer temperatures range from 33-75°F (1-24°C). It has been known to snow in July, so prepare by wearing layers of clothing that can be removed or added as needed, and carry a waterproof raincoat or jacket.
Winters can be extremely cold with temperatures ranging from -40°F (-40°C) and below to high 20s (-2°C) on warm days. Specialized cold weather gear is necessary for mountaineering and winter visits. For more information on winter visits contact park headquarters at +1 907 683-2294.
The mountain is at least partially shrouded in cloud during most of the summer. If the mountain is "out" be sure to take advantage, as it may only be fully visible for a few days each month.
The closest major airports to Denali are Anchorage Ted Stevens International Airport (IATA: ANC ) and Fairbanks International Airport (IATA: FAI ). The really closest one is the small Talkeetna Airport (IATA: TKA) in the eponymous town.
Denali National Park is accessible by car from the George Parks Highway (Alaska Route 3), which runs between Fairbanks and Anchorage. The highway is open all year, although the main road through the park may close at any time due to weather conditions. An amazing alternate route is the Denali Highway, the original route to the park, now connecting the Glen Highway to the Parks highway. Be aware that many rental car companies prohibit driving on any gravel roads and specifically the Denali Highway. The "Alaska Mile Post" is an excellent guide to driving the highways in Alaska.
During the summer the Alaska Railroad provides daily service to the park. Trains depart from both Anchorage and Fairbanks at 8:15AM, arriving at noon from Fairbanks and at 3:45PM from Anchorage. Trains departing from the park arrive at 8:15PM in both Anchorage and Fairbanks. Fares vary throughout the season, with rates between $43 and $54 for a one-way ticket from Fairbanks to Denali, and between $103 and $129 from Anchorage to Denali. Rail tickets can be booked through Alaska Railroad.
Consult with a travel agent in either Fairbanks or Anchorage about traveling to the park by bus. Several tour operators provide service during the summer.
Individuals entering the park must pay a $10 fee, good for seven days. A vehicle entrance fee is $20, also good for seven days.
There are several passes that allow free entry for groups traveling together in a private vehicle or individuals on foot or on bike. These passes are valid at all national parks including Denali National Park:
- The $80 interagency pass (valid for twelve months from date of issue) provides free entry at national parks and national wildlife refuges. This pass also covers standard amenity fees at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation. Military personnel can obtain a free annual pass in person at a federal recreation site by showing a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID.
- U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over can obtain a senior pass (valid for the life of the holder) in person at a federal recreation site for $10, or through the mail for $20; applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and age. This pass also provides a fifty percent discount on some park amenities.
- U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities can obtain an access pass (valid for the life of the holder) in person at a federal recreation site at no charge, or through the mail for $10; applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and permanent disability. This pass also provides a fifty percent discount on some park amenities.
In 2016 the National Park Service will offer several days on which entry is free for all national parks: January 18 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), April 16-24 (National Park Week), August 25-28 (National Park Service's 100th birthday weekend), September 24 (National Public Lands Day), and November 11 (Veterans Day).
Fees can be confusing for this park. First of all, there is no park entrance station. As you begin to drive the Park Road, you are greeted by a gigantic sign that says "Denali National Park," but you will not be stopped until the staffed gate at mile 15 which is the limit people can drive with their private vehicle. If you drive up to that gate, you will simply be asked to turn around.
Fees within the first 15 miles of the park, while required, are done pretty much on the honor system. If you stop in the visitor center and ask, "Do I need to pay an entrance fee?" The answer is, "Yes." However, if you had kept driving, nobody will check to see if you've paid.
"How then," you may ask, "does the park collect its entrance fees?" Well, if you buy a bus ticket (the only way to get on the park road past mile 15), or if you stay in a campground, you will automatically be charged an entrance fee. And, since more than 90% of the visitors who enter Denali take a bus at one point or another, the situation is all gravy.
The main road through the park is open to automobile traffic only as far as Savage River (mile 14). Travel beyond this point is allowed only on the park shuttle buses, on foot, or on a bicycle.
For people camping at Teklanika campground, one automobile per a campsite is allowed to drive in to it.
For those visiting Denali in mid-September the park service opens the road completely for four days after the shuttle buses stop running. Only 400 vehicles per day are admitted, and each vehicle requires a special permit. To potentially obtain one of these permits contact the park and inquire about the Denali Road Lottery. The park service will ask you to mail your address, preference of dates, and a fee during the month of July. In mid-August you will be contacted if you have been selected. If snow has not yet closed the road, once the four-day lottery is complete the road will be opened to private vehicles for travel as far as Teklanika Campground (mile 29) until weather closes it for the season. It is also important to note that the road may close during the road lottery if inclement weather shows up - much to the chagrin of all those people who won a permit only to have it canceled.
By shuttle bus
Shuttle buses are allowed past Savage River (mile 15) on the park road, as far as Kantishna (the end of the road). Passengers may disembark from the buses at any point west of mile 20, and then re-board any bus on a space-available basis. Anyone disembarking should be aware of the bus schedule, and plan for at least a one hour wait for a bus with seats available to arrive.
A very common question people have about the buses is, "So what's the difference between a shuttle bus and a tour bus." Simply put, most of the people on tour buses are on packaged trips with the local hotels, and they get a dedicated naturalist on their bus that is required to give commentary throughout the tour. Buying tickets for tours can be more difficult because the vast majority of the tickets are reserved when people book their packaged vacations. However, they are not necessarily "better" than a shuttle bus. Two important facts to note are that all the buses drive the same road (duh, there's only one road inside the park!), and that all the buses have similar destinations. By similar destinations I mean that there's a tour bus to Eilson Visitor Center and there is also a shuttle bus to Eilson Visitor Center. So, if you ask, "Which bus is better for seeing wildlife?" The answer is that they are about the same since they are on the same road going to the same place. Your experience on the shuttle bus happens to vary quite a bit depending on the driver you get. Some of the shuttle bus drivers will talk just as much as a tour bus driver, however, they are not required to. Some of the shuttle bus drivers won't say much of anything unless somebody asks them a question. It's important to note that a pretty large majority of the bus drivers will give some form of commentary as they drive, because they want to share their love of the park just as much as all the other employees. Oftentimes, a deciding factor for people on whether to take a shuttle or a tour to Eilson is, "Do I want to pay about $30 for a shuttle bus or about $95 for a tour bus?" You be the judge.
Shuttle bus reservations can be made either by following the instructions at the park concessionaire web site or in person at the reservation desk in the visitor center. Be aware that buses may fill several days in advance, especially during the height of the summer visitor season.
2008 Shuttle Bus Prices (including reservation fee):
- Riley Creek Shuttle. Travels between the Railroad/Visitor complex and Riley Creek mercantile, leaving approximately every 30 minutes. No charge.
- Sled Dog Demonstration Shuttle. Provides transportation from the Railroad/Visitor Complex to the demonstration site. Boarding begins 40 minutes prior to each 10AM, 2PM, and 4PM demonstration, on a space-available basis. There are no late departures for this service. The bus will bring you back about fifteen minutes before the next hour (i.e., 10:45, 2:45, etc.). No charge for either the bus or the demonstration - simply show up at the bus loading area located near the visitor center.
- Savage River Shuttle (Mile 14). 2 hour round-trip, leaving hourly during the summer. No charge. Savage River is a pretty area which delineates the point at which nearly all private vehicle traffic must stop. From a bridge over the river, one can see upstream towards the river's source along a "u-shaped," glacier-carved valley and downstream along a small canyon, cut into the mountains by the river's passage. Because of this, and a number of exposed rock formations, it is one of the most geologically interesting areas to explore. There is also an established trail leading downstream into the canyon, where after half a mile it crosses the Savage via a small foot bridge, and returns to the Park Road. Total distance: 1 mile; gradient: ~ 0%; difficulty: easy (though it can be extremely windy in the canyon).
- Polychrome Pass (Mile 46). 5-hour round-trip, $22.75. Named after the area's multi-colored bluffs, Polychrome Overlook offers spectacular views of the Alaska Range. The Polychrome Shuttle departs only once per day – typically in the early evening (5PM–6PMish) providing opportunities for photography in the great evening light, and a great shorter trip into the park if you have limited time and prefer the latest available departure.
- Toklat (Mile 53). 6-hour round-trip, $22.75. Toklat River is a very pretty, glacially-carved valley, and is home to a temporary ranger station (until Eielson Visitor Center reopens in 2008). You will have had many opportunities to view Mt. McKinley en route, but there is no chance of viewing the mountain from Toklat River, unless you scale some of the smaller mountains around the river.
- Eielson Visitor Center (Mile 66). 8-hour round trip, $29.25. Eielson is most easily reached by shuttle bus and provides one of the most dramatic views of the mountain, if you are lucky enough to visit on a day when it isn't shrouded in clouds. There are several short trails around the visitor center, and displays inside of the visitor center provide info on the natural history of the area.
- Wonder Lake (Mile 86). 11-hour round-trip, $40.00. Wonder Lake and its approaches offer an entirely new environment to passengers - wetlands. This can make hiking a bit of a pain, but offers some unique scenic views, as well as a dramatic increase in the quantity and quality of bird sightings. Wonder Lake itself is very beautiful, and close to it is "Reflection Pond," where most of the widespread images of Denali and its reflection have been photographed. This is also as close as the Park Road gets to Mt. McKinley - within about twenty miles - and on a clear day is a singularly impressive place to be.
- Kantishna (Mile 91). 13-hour round-trip, $43.75. An old mining town, Kantishna predates the park by nearly fifteen years. The original Mt. McKinley National Park, created in 1917, did not even include Kantishna within its boundaries. Since the 1980 expansion (and renaming) of the park, however, Kantishna has been inside the park. There are many private inholdings in the Kantishna area, so day-hikers and backpackers should be on the look-out for private property signs.
- Camper Buses (Mile 86). $29.25. Camper buses will only take passengers with reservations to any campground or with a permit to camp in the backcountry. If you stay in a campground you can use the Camper Bus as much as you want, but you will have a seat reserved only for the first trip to the campground. Because their function is to transport campers into the park, they take shorter breaks at the rest rooms and spend significantly less time pausing for wildlife or scenic viewing. This is the cheapest to travel by bus into the park and the drivers are generally very friendly.
Youth prices (half the regular price) are for individuals age 15 to 17. There is no charge on any of the shuttle buses for children age 14 and under.
- Important Tips
- For shuttle bus trips into the park, be sure to bring all the food, water, and extra clothing you might need. These are very long trips, and there are no services inside the park other than simple restrooms that have no running water. Temperatures can also vary a lot, so extra layers are always a good idea.
- Smoking and alcoholic beverages are prohibited on the buses.
- As of 22 February 2010, a federal law allows people who can legally possess firearms under applicable federal and Alaska state law, to legally possess firearms within Denali National Park and Preserve. Under federal law, the use or discharge of a firearm is still prohibited by applicable provisions of 36 CFR Section 2.4 and 36 CFR Section 13.30. Federal law also prohibits firearms in certain facilities in this park; those places are marked with signs at all public entrances. Visitor Transportation Shuttles, Front Country Shuttle System policy states: A passenger may carry a gun on board a VTS (shuttle) bus so long as the gun is locked in a passenger-provided closed container and is not loaded. Ammunition must be stored separately. It is the responsibility of visitors to understand and comply with all applicable Alaska state and federal firearms laws before entering this park. If you bring bear spray with you, you must tell the bus driver so that it can be stored in a compartment under the bus in case of an accidental discharge. There have been incidents of accidental discharge and it pretty much results in an entire bus-full of people getting tear gassed. You won't make many friends if you do this.
- There are some sections of the park road with very steep drop offs, no guard rails, and only enough room on the road for one bus to pass at a time. If you are afraid of heights, this is your warning. Some visitors nervously ask, "Heh, how many buses have gone over the edge?" Unfortunately, the answer is that one bus did go over the edge back in the 70's soon after the bus system was started, and there were a large number of fatalities in this accident. The incident happened on a steep drop just past Eilson Visitor Center (Mile 66). This happened at a time when the bus drivers received a very minimal amount of training. The bus drivers today are put through extensive training before being allowed to drive the park road. Still, one accident in about 35 years of operation isn't too bad.
There are few trails within the park, but visitors are allowed (and often encouraged) to choose their own paths across the tundra. The less-adventurous may choose to simply amble along the park road after Savage River; keep an eye out for buses and wildlife when traveling on the road. Be aware that Denali hosts a large, robust population of brown bears and that they can be anywhere and sow bears are extremely fierce when they feel their cubs are threatened in any way. Always travel in groups and don't go into the backcountry without someone, preferably the park itself, knowing your plans. No one will come looking for you if they don't know you are lost, and Denali is not a place you want to be lost and alone.
A mountain bike is a great option for traveling on the park road. Sometimes bikers arrange backcountry permits at the Backcountry Information Center that allow them to spend a few days traveling out to Wonder Lake and back. This can, however, be logistically tricky - you will need to either spend the night in an established campground or be near enough to one that you can stash your bike (and food if you are not carrying a Bear Resistant Food Canister) overnight. The only areas where this is possible are: Wonder Lake; Toklat River (you can't sleep there, but you can use the food lockers at the temporary ranger contact station); Igloo Campground (again, you can't stay there, but you can utilize the food lockers if need be); Teklanika Campground; and Savage Campground.
If planning a trip by bike along the park road be prepared for travel on a dirt road with several major mountain passes and few guard rails.
One fun option is to take a bike out to Wonder Lake on a camper bus. You need to tell the person who you buy the ticket from that you plan to take a bike since only two bikes are allowed per bus. Once you get to Wonder Lake, you bike back out of the park. This trip can be done in approximately 10 hours if you keep a good pace. It is especially enjoyable if you plan this bike trip around the same time as summer solstice. You can take the last bus going out to Wonder Lake so that you can bike the entire trip back with no buses on the road, all while getting to experience an awe-inspiring bike ride in the land of the midnight sun.
The glaciated heart of the Park is best accessed by one of the air taxi services located in Talkeetna, south of the Park. Landing by ski plane on a glacier is a truly memorable experience. Most air taxis offer glacier landing flights which allow visitors to walk around for a short while on the snow alongside the safe zones of the established airstrips. K2 Aviation, a pioneering air taxi, also has a lake landing option. Visitors wanting to venture away from the safety of the airstrips should be well versed in the technical aspects of glacier travel and crevasse rescue or should hire a guide. Camping on the glacier with huge, glaciated peaks towering above gives a great taste of the immensity of the Alaska Range. The National Park allows only a few outfitters to operate within its boundaries.
The park is enormous, and the vast majority of it is accessible only on foot or (in winter) by dog sled. The first fifteen miles of the park road are open to vehicle travel, and park buses are available to take visitors farther. At a minimum, visitors should try to catch a bus to at least Eilson Visitor Center for the incredible views of the mountain (when it's out). Slightly more adventurous visitors should plan to spend a few nights camping at the Wonder Lake campground. For the serious outdoorsmen, several days backpacking in the backcountry is far and away the best way to enjoy the Denali experience.
- Denali Visitor Center, Mile 1.5. A visitor center located near the railroad depot, opened in May 2005. The visitor center provides a movie and is the starting point for many interpretative, ranger-led trail walks. For shuttle bus tickets and campground reservations, visit the Wilderness Access Center (Mile 0.6).
- Savage River, Mile 14. Nearly everyone who drives to Denali will stop at Savage River because traffic beyond this point is not permitted for private vehicles. There are several trails on both sides of the river that leave from the parking lot, and the more adventurous can attempt to seek out Dall sheep on the top of Mount Margaret, which rises across the river, across from the parking lot.
- Polychrome Pass, Mile 46. Named after the area's multi-colored bluffs, Polychrome Overlook offers spectacular views of the Alaska Range. The Polychrome Shuttle departs only once per day– typically in the early evening (5– 6PM) providing opportunities for photography in the great evening light, and a great shorter trip into the park if you have limited time and prefer the latest available departure.
- Eielson Visitor Center, Mile 66. Eielson is most easily reached by shuttle bus and provides one of the most dramatic views of the mountain, if you are lucky enough to visit on a day when it isn't shrouded in clouds. There are several short trails around the visitor center, and displays inside of the visitor center provide info on the natural history of the area.
- Wonder Lake, Mile 86. Forever immortalized by the photos of Ansel Adams, Wonder Lake is a beautiful lake at the base of the mountain. Reflection Pond, along the park road on the east side of the lake, is a favorite of photographers when the mountain is out. An established trail to the heavily braided McKinley River is also worthwhile for a glimpse of the McKinley River.
- Sled Dog Demonstrations. The park service keeps sled dogs for use in the winter, and during the summer offers daily demonstrations for visitors. Demonstrations are at 10AM, 2PM, and 4PM and last for 30 minutes. There is no parking at the demonstration site; you must take a shuttle from the Denali Visitor Center. Arrive at the visitor center 40 minutes prior to demonstration start time. Shuttle and program are all free, assuming you have already purchased some kind of entrance pass.
The park is an outdoor paradise, and offers activities for visitors of all ages and experience levels.
- Bus tour. Since the park road is closed to private vehicle traffic, bus tours are the easiest way to see the park interior. Note that the National Park Service does not run any of the buses into the park. Instead, look for shuttle buses and tours such as the "Tundra Wilderness Tour" and "Denali Natural History Tour" operated by Doyon/Aramark Joint Ventures and "Denali Backcountry Adventure" operated by Denali Lodges and Alaska Denali Tours. Tours are more expensive are better for groups interested in learning as much about the culture and history of the area as possible. Shuttles are a better option for budget travelers, people wishing to day-hike or backpack, and groups interested in seeing as much of the park as possible (as shuttles all travel as far, or in many cases farther, than the tours). See the Shuttle bus section for more information.
- Hiking. There are a handful of trails within the park, but the majority of visitors will eventually find themselves picking out their own path. When hiking off trail it is best if groups spread out and avoid hiking single-file in order to minimize damage to the vegetation from being repeatedly trod upon.
- Backpacking. It is not only possible but likely that a backpacker can travel for days without seeing another human. Permits are required for all overnight stays and can be acquired at the Backcountry Information Center, adjacent to the Wilderness Access Center (mile 0.6). Strict limits are placed on how many people may camp in any park unit at a given time, so permits for popular areas, and units cannot be reserved in advance, so it is good to keep in mind several possible areas to explore.
- Photography. Just about every famous nature photographer will at some point make a visit to Denali for its tremendous landscapes and abundance of wildlife. Amateurs will appreciate the opportunity as well.
- Mountaineering. Denali itself is one of the most challenging climbs in the world, but climbers from all over are drawn to it, as well as to the other peaks of the Alaska Range. Fortunately, Denali has one route, the West Buttress, which is accessible by fit, moderately experienced climbers. A select few guide services are permitted to lead expeditions up Denali and Foraker. Climbers on Denali and Mt. Foraker must register with the park service and pay a $200 fee. Registration for private climbers must be done at least sixty days prior to climbing. Contact the Talkeetna Ranger Station by email or at +1 907 733-2231 for additional information.
- Whitewater rafting. Whitewater rafting is available on the near-freezing waters of the Nenana River, which parallels the Parks Highway. Two different two hour trips are available for $70 each, or they can be combined into a four hour trip for $95. Contact Nenana Raft Adventures, Denali Raft Adventures or the Denali Outdoor Center for information.
- Denali Wilderness Safaris, Box 181 Cantwell Alaska 99729, ☎ +1 907 768-2550. Heated, enclosed, USCG-inspected twin engine Jet boats.
Meals, gas, camping supplies, and a ridiculous variety of souvenirs can be purchased just outside of the park entrance on the Parks Highway, in an area called "the Canyon," located about one mile north of the park entrance. Within the park, the Riley Creek Mercantile (mile 0.3) sells basic supplies, including such things as white gas for cook stoves, bug repellent, and other necessities. Please be a courteous visitor and do not take park signage, including the "bear danger" signs you may see around. Removing them could endanger another traveler's life. Replica signs may be purchased in the park gift shop for just a few dollars.
There are several bars and restaurants clustered outside of the park entrance in the Canyon, 1 mile north of the park entrance. Within the park the Riley Creek Mercantile (mile 0.3) offers small food items and supplies. The Morino Grill, located 1.5 miles from the park entrance, is open during the summer and offers prepared meals.
- Black Bear Coffee House & Cyber Cafe, Mile 238.5 Parks Hwy, ☎ +1 907 683-1656, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Located just north of the park entrance, this cyber cafe serves coffee, snacks, small meals (sandwiches, etc.) and also has beer and wine available for purchase. 6AM-10:30PM daily.
- Denali Salmon Bake, Mile 238.5 Parks Hwy, ☎ +1 907 683-2733. Restaurant by day, locals bar with live music by night. Hands down one of the most "hopping" bars in Denali. Given Alaskas' "best small business of 2007" by Alaska chamber of commerce, this destination is sure not to disappoint. They also offer lodging. Open 6AM to 4AM and providing an always free shuttle to and from the restaurant.
Numerous hotels cluster just outside of the park entrance, and a handful of wilderness lodges can be found at the end of the park road in Kantishna or scattered in remote areas just outside of the park's borders. The list below is by no means exhaustive. Refer to the Denali Borough Chamber of Commerce for more contact information on various lodgings, services and activities in the area.
Inside the Park
- Denali Backcountry Lodge (95 mi/153 km into park at end of road), toll-free: +1 800-841-0692. First-rate accommodations and a wide variety of outdoor activities from the lodge. $480 for a single traveler or $365 per person for double occupancy. Generous shoulder season discounts. Costs include all meals, activities, and travel by motor coach from Anchorage and bus from the park entrance.
- Kantishna Roadhouse (At the end of the park road, deep within DNP), toll-free: +1 800-942-7240. Log cabin lodging with private bath, meals, guided hiking, and other activities. Seems expensive, but one of the only options other than camping that allows visitors to spend time in the interior of the park. $360 per person per night, based on double occupancy.
- Camp Denali and North Face Lodge (Only in park lodges with views of Mt. McKinley and the Alaska Range, near Wonder Lake), ☎ +1 907 683-2290. $545 per adult per night. Rates include all meals, guided activities, and transportation from park entrance. The two lodges accommodate 35-40 guests each and provide an excellent way to see the interior of the park. The minimum stay at either location is three or four days. Guided hikes, canoeing, cycling, fishing, and evening interpretive programs emphasize interior Alaska's natural and cultural history.
- Skyline Lodge, ☎ +1 907 683-1223. One of, if not the, cheapest Kantishna Lodge, Skyline is the base of operations for Kantishna Air. There is no minimum stay, and the lodge helps you work out your travel to Kantishna (usually involving a flight one way and a bus trip the other). Skyline also allows you to bring and cook your own food, saving you the cost of expensive, prepared meals.
Outside the Park
- Denali Cabins, Mile 229 Parks Hwy, ☎ +1 907 376-1992, toll-free: +1 877-233-6254, fax: +1 907 376-1999, e-mail: email@example.com. 45 cedar cabins located near the park entrance along the George Parks Highway. Facilities include private baths, cable television, outdoor hot tubs, and full tour services. $147 - $227 per night. Generous shoulder season discounts.
- Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, Mile 238.5 Parks Hwy. A high-end lodge located just outside of the park entrance along the George Parks Highway. Facilities include restaurants, private baths, cable television, outdoor hot tubs, meeting facilities, and full tour services. $99 - $249 per night (prices vary by season).
- Grande Denali Lodge, Mile 238.2 Parks Hwy, ☎ +1 907 683-8500, fax: +1 907 683-8599, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 150 rooms with queen beds, as well as a selection of cabins. Shuttle service into the park is provided. $180-$330 per night (prices vary by season).
- Denali Mountain Morning Hostel & Lodge, Mile 224.1 Parks Hwy, ☎ +1 907 683-7503, e-mail: email@example.com. Located thirteen miles south of the park entrance, this hostel provides a free shuttle into the park, high speed internet access, a full kitchen, and more. Open from May through September. Beds are $32 per person, rooms and cabins for two people are $80-$95, and larger bunk-cabins are available from $128-$175 (maximum six people).
For those not quite ready for the backcountry experience, the park offers several campgrounds. Be aware that reservations are highly recommended during the summer months as campgrounds fill quickly (see the park concessionaire website to make online reservations or call the toll free number +1-800-622-7275 to make phone reservations).
- Riley Creek Campground. (Year round). Near the park entrance, this campground offers 150 sites suitable for camping and RVs. Facilities include water and flush toilets. This campground is not particularly scenic, but it is very accessible, and is a good choice for individuals interested in outside-the-park activities (like flight-seeing or white-water rafting) because it is located so close to the main highway. $28/night for sites that can accommodate RVs from 30-40 feet in length, $22/night for tents and RVs smaller than 30 feet, and $14/night for walk-in tent sites (as of 2010). Fees are waived in the off-season, which typically starts in mid-September and lasts until mid-May.
- Savage River Campground, 13 mi (21 km) from the park entrance near Savage River. (Summer only). This campground offers 33 sites suitable for camping and RVs. Facilities include water and pit toilets. This campground offers views of Mt. McKinley on clear days, and there is a courtesy shuttle which runs between the campground and the park entrance area. In 2006, Savage River saw a great deal of wildlife activity - a nesting great horned owl (with accompanying owlets); a pair of sub-adult grizzly bears which did not hurt anyone, but did damage a few tents; and (relatively) frequent sightings of lynx. $28/night for sites that can accommodate RVs from 30-40 feet in length, $22/night for tents and RVs smaller than 30 feet, and $40/night for the two group sites that accommodate 9-20 people (as of 2010).
- Sanctuary River Campground, 23 mi (37 km) from the park entrance. (Summer only). This campground offers 7 tent-only sites. There is no water available, and toilets are chemical. No advance online or phone reservations can be made for Sanctuary River, though individuals or groups may make reservations 2 days or less in advance by physically visiting the Wilderness Access Center. $9/night + $5 one-time reservation fee (as of 2010).
- Teklanika River Campground, mile 29 on the Park Road. (Summer only). Teklanika (Tek) River Campground is a 53 site campground. Tents and RVs up to 40 feet in length can be accommodated. This campground is the farthest point to which an RV may be driven on the park road. Facilities include water and pit toilets. There is a three nights minimum staying if you don't access to the campground by camper bus (the idea of the three nights minimum staying is to minimize the air pollution). Once you park your vehicle in the parkground you can't drive it out of the camp spot unless you are headed out of the park. If you travel east of the campground, either in a bus or in your vehicle, you will have to pay again to get back out to Teklanika Campground - so plan accordingly, and take care of all your entrance area business before or after your stay at Tek. (This includes such vehicles as vans; as long as you can sleep in it, store all your food in it, and it has all hard sides, it will be permitted). All sites are $16 per night, plus a one-time reservation fee of $5 (as of 2010).
- Igloo Creek Campground, mile 35 on the Park Road. 7-site campground open only to tent campers. Reservations for Igloo can only be made on a walk-in basis at the Wilderness Access Center, no more than two (2) days before your desired nights at this campground. All sites are $9 per night plus a one-time reservation fee of $5 (as of 2010).
- Wonder Lake Campground, 85 mi (137 km) from the park entrance. (Summer only). This campground offers 28 tent-only sites. Facilities include water and flush toilets. When the weather is clear and the mountain comes out from the clouds this is one of the most scenic places in the world. Its only universally agreed downside is the near-constant presence of mosquitoes and other biting insects. $16/night plus a one-time reservation fee of $5 (as of 2010).
For backcountry camping in Denali, a permit – as well as experience in backcountry camping – is required. If you get into trouble there will not be anyone within miles to go to for help, and rangers will not come looking for you unless you are reported missing by a contact. For this reason, you are strongly encouraged to arrange a "will call when out" plan with a friend or family member, so that if they do not hear from you they can contact the park.
To arrange a backcountry trip, first visit the Backcountry Information Center (mile 0.6 - adjacent to the Wilderness Access Center). Here, you will be required to provide some information about yourself, your gear and your backpacking experience and watch a safety video. After doing this, you'll have an opportunity to work out the details of your trip with one of the backcountry rangers. Rangers are here to give advice, but they are not tour directors - you should provide them with some ideas of what kind of sights or trip you are interested in, what kind of terrain you'll feel most comfortable in, how long you want to stay out, etc. Then they can help you pick a unit or units to suit your desires. After that, they'll check a Bear Resistant Food Canister (BRFC) out to you, and help send you on your way.
You will encounter large animals and vicious swarms of bugs, you will probably have to deal with weather that can change from sun to freezing rain in short periods of time, and you will most likely have to ford freezing streams and navigate dense willow thickets. With that warning, Denali is a magnificent place for experienced campers to go backpacking, and the nature experience is truly awe-inspiring.
Be prepared for massive hordes of blood-thirsty, man-eating, baby-snatching insects that will do their best to drive you from the park. Depending on winds and the time of year you may be lucky enough to avoid the bugs, but when they are out, the mosquitoes and black flies will do their utmost to test your sanity. Bug repellent is not sufficient; even if they don't land and bite, they will still buzz into your ears and eyes. Buy a mosquito-netting headcovering, and wear clothing that is capable of covering every millimeter of exposed skin.
The most advertised danger within the park are the bears. Grizzly bears are large, unpredictable, and can be dangerous, especially if they are with young. However, the same can be said of moose, caribou, wolves, and several other park animals. Keep a safe distance from all animals, make some noise while hiking to allow animals to identify you and avoid surprise encounters, and properly store all food, toiletries, and garbage to avoid attracting wildlife.
There are few trails within the park, so be aware of where you are when hiking. The tundra is fairly open, so in general it is not easy to get lost. If you have to ford a stream be very careful, as the water will be very cold and the currents are almost always stronger than they look. If you are pulled under there is a great danger of spraining or breaking bones, and hypothermia can set in if you can't quickly get out of wet clothes and into dry ones. Be aware also that streams and rivers are frequented by thirsty wildlife and if there are rapids the chance of surprising them is heightened. You don't want to surprise a bear, a pack of wolves, or a moose so make noise as you approach any noisy streams or rivers.
Should problems be encountered, there is a small medical center located in the "Canyon," about 1 mile north of the Park Entrance. Another small center is 13 miles (21 km) north of the park entrance in Healy. Fairbanks, located 120 miles (193 km) north of the park entrance, is the nearest large hospital facility. Rangers can respond to emergency situations and can be contacted using the 911 emergency service.
|Routes through Denali National Park|
|END ← Fairbanks ←||N S||→ Wasilla → Anchorage (via )|