Photo above: A grizzly bear at Denali. Right: Mount Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley. See name controversy below. Photos courtesy National Park Service.
Denali National Park
Considered the jewel of the Alaskan national parks and most years, it's highest attended, Denali is a nature lover's dream. It can get expensive, in summer, if you want to take shuttles or tours, but the vistas you will see and the experiences you will have from Visitor Centers to overlooks of Mount Denali, aka McKinley, are breaktaking. You can camp here in designated spots or in the backcountry. You can check grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, mountain sheep, and more off your wildlife list. All in all, a visit to Denali is an outdoor paradise, although, to be honest, we're getting a little tired of the fees and prohibitions to protect nature from respectable visitors, which most to our national parks are. And yes, there's plenty to do, including free ranger walks, that don't burden the wallet, it's just that we think there should be more.
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Since 1917, Denali has been a national park attraction, much of it celebrating the vista now known as Mount Denali, all 20,310 feet of it. Yes, there's the wildlife and other vistas to celebrate, too. You get the gist.
Photo above: View from the patio of the Eielson Visitor Center. Courtesy National Park Service.
Snow and peaks rising over twenty thousand feet, so it's been here awhile. Even humans inhabited the region for the past eleven thousand years. There are eight-four documented archaeological sites within the park, with the Teklanika River site the oldest, try 7130 B.C. The Athabaskan people, including the Koyukon, date back over a thousand years. The idea of a park to preserve the region began in 1906 with conservationist Charles Sheldon. On February 26, 1917, it finally came to fruition when signed into existence by President Woodrow Wilson as Mount McKinley National Park.
Yes, there's been that name change. In 1980, combined with a separate Denali National Monument, it became what it is known as today, the Denali National Park and Preserve. Within its border, sixteen percent of it is glaciers. There's tundra above the treeline, set at 2,500 feet, and wildlife roams. Home to black and grizzly bears, caribou, wolves, dall sheep, beavers, lynxes and more, the plethora of animals and birds you witness here both below and above the tundra can add to an amazing adventure into the wilderness, whether on foot, bike, shuttle, or car.
Visitor Centers near the entrance and down the Denali Park Road get you oriented, plus provide films, exhibits, and ranger activities mostly in the summer. Take in a ranger guided hike or talk, a campground program, or even a dog sled demonstration. These are available from the Denali or Eielson Visitor Centers.
Photo above: Denali Headquarters Historic District, circa 1932. Courtesy National Park Service.
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Denali National Park
Things You Should Not Miss
1. Stop by the Denali Visitor Center. Great place to orient yourself to the park, plus tons of exhibits about the nature out the visitor center door. Great film plus park ranger walks and talks. Ask what's available from the rangers the day you visit. There's a good variety during the summer season.
2. Take a drive to Savage River in the summer. This is as far as you can go in the summer in your private vehicle, which we disagree with, but that's the process. From there, you can hike or bike down the dirt road amongst those on the shuttle or bus tour.
3. Yes, a bus tour or shuttle ride is great, it's just getting a bit pricey. You'll get to witness Denali in all its splendor, so if the cost in not prohibitive, take advantage of it. The shuttle price is not bad with a young family since under 16 aged children are free. Go young might be the watchword. Don't wait till they're in college.
4. Camp under the stars. Six defined locations plus backcountry camping, too. There's nightly campground programs by the rangers at Riley Creek, Savage River, Teklanika, and Wonder Lake.
Photo above: Mountaineers sliding across the snowy Denali landscape. Courtesy National Park Service.