The wild, untamed landscape of Denali National Park and Preserve is a wonder to behold.
The Koyukon, Alaskan Athabaskans people, called the mountain Deenaalee ‘the high one’. In 1975 Alaska requested the name change to Denali and the request drifted over time. The name change from the former Mount McKinley National Park, according to the National Park Service website happened, “On the eve of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary in 2016, the name of the highest peak in North America changed from “Mount McKinley” to “Denali.” The timing of the change not only helped mark the agency’s centennial, it shines a light on the long human history of the park, and illuminates a naming debate that has lasted more than 100 years.”
No matter what you call it, Denali National Park and Preserve offers visitors a breathtaking panorama of the Alaskan Range.
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Where To Stay
I was a guest of Denali Park Village last year, invited to write a few stories about this gorgeous natural wonderland. With my writing assignments complete, I wanted to share with you a pictorial essay of my time exploring the Denali Mountain area.
The guest rooms at Denali Park Village were lovely. Modern amenities with a rustic, lodge-like decor. The rooms blended seamlessly from front door to balcony to Alaska wilderness.
Denali Bus Tours
The best way to see Denali National Park and Preserve is by a bus tour. You can sit back, relax, and watch for wildlife. And there is plenty to see out in the Alaskan bush.
There are two buses that run the Denali Park Road:
- The narrated bus tour a trained naturalist drives the bus and narrates during the trip. The driver offers a wealth of knowledge on the flora and fauna of Denali National Park. These brown transit buses are for tours only. There are two tours, the Natural History Tour and the Tundra Wilderness Tour.
- The green transit buses are non-narrated and drop and pick up passengers who want to spend time in the park. Essentially they are a hop on hop off park bus for guests who want too day hike or have a picnic in the park.
- There is also a camper bus that will bring overnight backpackers and cyclists out into the park.
Pro Tip: An ongoing Pretty Rocks landslide is impacting bus service. They can travel only to Mile 43 of the 92-mile long Denali Park Road.
The Denali Visitor Center
The Denali Visitor Center is open in summer only (mid-May to mid-September) and is the main visitor center for the Denali National Park entrance. It is definitely worth a stop to explore the interesting exhibits. You can pay your park entrance fee here. It is also a great spot to talk to a park ranger and plan out your Denali experience.
Trailheads At The Denali Visitor Center
Many of the Denali National Park and Preserve trails begin and/or connect to the Visitor Center. The Denali park entrance is a perfect spot to park your car for the day while you are exploring the hiking trails.
Hiking Trails In Denali National Park And Preserve
Hiking trails wind their way throughout the park. From the 38 mile, multi-day Stampede Trail to Sushana River that requires expert hiking skills; to the hard, 9 mile Triple Lakes Trail (we did about 8 miles on this out and back trail); to the 2 mile Savage River Loop Trail; you will find a hike to suit your skills.
All Trails lists 25 trails throughout Denali National Park.
Eielson Visitor Center
The Eielson Visitor Center is temporarily closed due to the Pretty Rocks landslide. It is scheduled to be closed through 2024.
Spotting The Park’s Wildlife
Sometimes simply driving along the road you will find lots of wildlife enjoying their day. With over 4.7 million acres of wilderness, Denali offers its wildlife residents plenty of space to live their best life.
We Saw A Moose On The Loose
Balancing tourists and the needs of wildlife is a constant challenge in all National Parks, including Denali National Park and Preserve. Park Rangers work diligently to maintain a separation of the park’s wildlife and the guests who want to visit North America’s tallest peak and the wonderland that surrounds it.
Caribou Or Reindeer
What is the difference between a caribou and a reindeer? Turns out they are the same creature. According to the FDA’s (Food and Drug Administration) fun facts about Reindeer and Caribou, they are “the same animal (Rangifer tarandus) and are a member of the deer family. In Europe, they are called reindeer. In North America, the animals are called caribou if they are wild and reindeer if they are domesticated.“
We saw plenty of caribou on our Denali Park Road bus trip. We also had a chance to walk in the boreal forest with domesticated reindeer in Fairbanks — another story for another time.
Black Bears And Grizzly Bears
We spotted a black bear from our tour bus, it was easy because there were multiple tour buses parked along the side of the road watching the massive bear fishing in the river. It was a thrilling experience to see a bear in the wild.
Black Bears Vs Grizzly Bears
Encountering a wooden bear — okay, encountering a breathing bear — not so great.
“The grizzly bear has a pronounced shoulder hump, which the black bear lacks. Grizzlies have a concave or “dished” facial profile, smaller ears and much larger claws than the black bear. Black bears have a flatter, “Roman-nose” profile, larger ears, no visible shoulder hump and smaller claws.” According to Bear Smart.
Birds Of Denali National Park
The birds of the Denali area ebb and flow as the seasons change. Migrant birds are plentiful during the summer and a few hearty residents call the park home year round.
A sampling of birds you will find include:
- Peregrine Falcon
- Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle
- American Kestrel
On a clear day, usually in the morning, you can see Mount Denali. Often by mid-day, the mountain, which has its own micro climate, has settled under a cloud. If the weather is going to be clear and sunny, it is worth getting up early in the morning to hunt for a glimpse of North America’s highest peak.
The Alaska Mountains
On Top Of The World
Alaska Cabin Nite Dinner Theatre
Alaska Cabin Nite Dinner Theatre at Miners Plaza is a fun family-style dinner and a show. The production has been telling the tale of Fannie Quigley for over three decades. The campy story, performed in an authentic log cabin, takes guests on a journey to the early 1900s and Alaska’s Gold Rush.
Music, dance, storytelling, and audience participation bring the early years of the gold rush to life.
Getting to Denali National Park And Preserve
We flew into Fairbanks and visited for a few days before renting a car and driving 2.5 hours from Fairbanks to Denali. The George Parks Highway takes you through beautiful Alaska country along the way.
We ended up flying out of Anchorage so we could spend some time there too. Once again the scenery along the fairly deserted George Parks Highway is breathtaking. This ride is a bit longer, about 4.5 hours.
Pro Tip: If you are driving, venture out during the day, you don’t want to miss the stunning scenery and chance wildlife viewing.
A Stay In Beautiful Denali National Park And Preserve
Denali National Park and Preserve has been on our bucket list for several years and I am delighted we finally got to see the Alaska Range Mountains. We were there mid-May and there were still plenty of snowy mountains braced against the bright blue Alaska sky.
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