Denali National Park, Alaska
Located some 200 kilometres south of the city of Fairbanks, Denali National Park is one of Alaska’s great natural treasures. Spread across more than 6 million acres, 16 per cent of the park is covered by glaciers, including the Kahiltna Glacier. The park is also home to Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America and one of the world’s Seven Summits.
A prime destination for lovers of adventure and wildlife, Denali National Park draws around 400,000 people every year, most during the short summer season. The park is home to a diverse array of native animals including moose, grizzly bears, caribou, lynx, foxes and wolves.
The park is open all year round and a range of bus tours and a shuttle service are available throughout the summer. The park offers picturesque walking trails and day hikes as well as camping. Built in 2005, the Visitor Centre at the entrance offers information, maps and advice.
Located in Alaska’s interior, the closest town to Denali National Park is Nenana Canyon, just north of the park’s entrance and home to shops, hotels and restaurants. The closest seaport is Anchorage, 380 kilometres away. Several cruise lines offer cruise tours, an easy way to visit the park as part of your cruise.
Denali National Park Facilities
The summer period of early June to mid-September is the ideal time to visit. During this period the weather is mild, wildflowers are in bloom, native animals are at their most active and days are long (June can offer 20 hours of sunlight). Outside this period the weather is likely to be inclement (temperatures drop well below freezing) and services such as shuttle buses will not be operating.
The park has 6 camping grounds and hikers may roam freely throughout the 6 million acres of parkland. There is no serviced accommodation and no shops beyond the entrance, so pack your own food and drink.
How to Get Around
Alaska Railroad operates trains from Anchorage to Fairbanks, which pass the park entrance. The park can be reached by road via Highway 3, also known as the George Parks Highway. Once inside, the Denali Park Road runs for 24 kilometres to the Savage River Bridge. Private cars are not permitted beyond this point, however hikers and cyclists may continue.
Green shuttle buses operate on designated routes around the park and allow passengers to disembark at any of the stops. This system gives visitors the opportunity to take day hikes and explore on their own. Ticket-holders are able to board any of the shuttles by flagging them down at stops.
Tan-coloured tour buses are operated by trained guides and offer informative commentary. Tours begin and end near the park entrance; they do not stop to pick up or set down passengers along the route. There are 3 tour routes available.
Currency: The currency in Denali is the US Dollar. Coins come in 1 cent (penny), 5 cent (nickel), 10 cent (dime), 25 cent (quarter), 50 cent (half-dollar) and $1 denominations. Notes come in $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 denominations.
Time Zone: Denali uses Alaska Standard Time (AKST). AKST is 9 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Alaska Daylight Time (AKDT), used in the summer, is 8 hours behind UTC.
Weather: Average temperatures in Denali range from -10° Celsius in the period from November to February, to 18° Celsius in June and July.
Mount McKinley - The tallest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley is almost 6,194 metres high. Locals know it simply as the ‘Great One’. Only professional climbers are permitted to climb the mountain.
Trail Walks - There are several well-maintained walking trails near the park entrance. The 2.5-kilometre Horseshoe Lake, Roadside and McKinley Station trails, and the 3.7-kilometre Rock Creek trail are recommended for day walkers.
Triple Lakes Trail - Opened in 2011, the 13.8-kilometre Triple Lakes trail is touted as the park’s best day hike. The highlight is a ridge that offers magnificent views over the Alaska Ranges and the Hines Creek and Nenana River valleys.
Mount Healy Overlook Trail - This strenuous 7.2 kilometre hike affords impressive views over the Nenana River valley and Healy Ridge. From the overlook near the 1-kilometre mark, hikers can climb an optional 1.6 kilometres to the highest point of Healy Ridge or 3.2 kilometres to the summit of Mt Healy. Along the way keep an eye out for hoary marmots (a cousin of the groundhog), and pikas (a relative of the rabbit).