Fun and Exciting Things to Do in Denali National Park
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Denali National Park and Preserve, located in south-central Alaska, is a six-million-acre site that attracts tourists for its recreational opportunities, which include facilities for camping, as well as hiking and cycling trails. The only service road that passes through Denali National Park is a 91-mile road that runs through the center of the park. Visitors also have a chance to observe wildlife specimens that include caribou, black bears, and golden eagles.
Denali National Park is about 240 miles north of Anchorage and about 120 miles south of Fairbanks. Denali covers more than 6 million acres and its best-known features are the 20,320 ft. high Mt. McKinley and the vast untouched wilderness surrounding it.
The park was established as a wildlife refuge in 1917 and since then millions of visitors have enjoyed its beauty. There are so many things to do in Denali National Park including a wide variety of activities for you to choose from which guarantees that you will have an unforgettable experience.
Things to Do in Denali National Park
Mt. McKinley, known as Denali by locals, is the highest peak in North America at an elevation of approximately 20,320 feet, according to Lanier Publishing International. This mountain was first sighted by European explorers in 1794 by George Vancouver. It was a major digging site for miners during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 19th century.
Mt. McKinley received its current name in 1897 when it was named after President William McKinley. The mountain has two summits: the North and South. The North summit, which stands at approximately 19,000 feet, was first reached in 1910, while the higher summit, the South, was reached in 1913. Although relatively few climbers aim for the mountain’s summit, many people regularly climb Mt. McKinley and take advantage of its hiking trails.
Wonder Lake is located 85 miles from the Denali National Park Visitor Center. Its only access is a five-hour ride on the park’s shuttle bus. The lake offers opportunities for boating activities and is surrounded by hiking trails and picnic areas. Wonder Lake also is a popular tent-camping spot and provides campers with lavatory facilities. The campgrounds offer scenic views of Mt. McKinley.
Mt. Healy Overlook Trail
The Mt. Healy Overlook Trail is a two-mile path that rises to an elevation of 1,700 feet, providing climbers with views of Denali Park’s entrance and the Nenana River Valley. The trail begins at the Murie Science and Learning Center. Hikers walk through various forest and tundra regions before reaching the top, which offers an opportunity to observe a variety of wildlife. The round-trip hiking excursion usually lasts four to five hours.
Toklat River Valley
The Toklat River Valley is accessed by a three-hour shuttle bus ride from the park’s Visitor Center and offers hiking trails and fishing opportunities in the Toklat River. Tent-camping sites also are available along the riverfront. But since the Toklat River may change its course during the summer months, access to this region of the park can be limited. Mountain climbing opportunities also are available at the nearby Mount Sheldon, which was named after one of the park’s original explorers, Charles Sheldon.
Things to Do in Denali National Park & Activities
Exploring Denali National Park can entail a day trip or an extended wilderness excursion. If you’re interested in wildlife, you can spend time quietly bird watching; more than 160 species of birds make their home at the park. If you’re looking for a more active experience, throw on a pair of snowshoes and a backpack with your camping gear. On and off the beaten path, opportunities for activity abound in Denali.
Parts of the park are off limits for personal vehicles to protect the untouched wilderness of Denali, which is why several tour companies offer bus tours that take you to restricted areas of the Denali for the best wildlife viewing the park has to offer. The highlights of the wildlife viewing include grizzly bears, black bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and eagles. An experienced tour guide helps you to spot the fauna and tells you about the biology and geology of the region.
The best way to see Mt. McKinley, the Grand Ascent, and the Cantwell Glacier is from an airplane flying above the glacier and the snow-covered peaks of Mt. McKinley. Tour companies also offer helicopter tours and some of them combine short hiking expeditions in the Denali National Park with the tour.
Sled Dog Kennel Tours
Sled dog racing and Alaskan Huskies are a tradition in Alaska. During the dog kennel tours, you will meet champion Iditarod race dogs, observe summer training activities and learn about the sport of sled dog racing.
Denali National Park has six established campgrounds, all of which are open in the summer for both tent and recreation vehicle camping; Riley Creek Campground remains open in the winter. For a less conventional experience, consider camping in the backcountry area south of the Alaska Range crest. Camp in any spot at least a half-mile away from the park road. Fires are not permitted in the park during the summer.
Hiking in Denali can be as adventurous as you’d like it to be. You can either stay on an established trail or venture out into the wilderness. Established trails stay close to the park road, and most begin at the visitor center. If you plan on hiking off-trail, park officials recommend that you take a shuttle bus into the park and get off wherever you’d like. Avoiding spruce forests and alder will expedite your travels through the park.
Mount McKinley and Mount Foraker are the most popular peaks in the park. Some climbing destinations require flying into the area, including Ruth Glacier and Eldridge Glacier. You can reach other peaks, including Mount Brooks, via the park road. Climbers attempting Mount McKinley and Mount Foraker must register with the park at least 60 days before their journey. Other climbers must only get a backcountry mountaineering permit.
You can explore all 92 miles of Denali Park Road via bicycle. The road is paved until mile 15, at which point it becomes graded gravel. A designated bike trail goes between the Denali Visitor Center and the Nenana River. If you want to turn your cycling trip into an overnight experience, you can camp in the park as long as your bicycle remains 25 yards away from the road once you establish your campsite.
Denali National Park is blanketed with snow during the winter, providing a canvas for cross-country skiing. You can ski on dog sled trails, along the park road, or create your own trail in the backcountry. Telemark downhill skiing and snowboarding are also permitted, but you should not travel into areas with avalanche hazards unless you have the proper training. Downhill skiers and snowboarders are encouraged to travel with a group.
Whitewater rafting in class I, II, III, and IV rapids on the Nenana River will surely not leave you dry. You paddle through some of the most beautiful portions of the Nenana River and you might even see glimpses of the Denali wildlife on your way down the river. Both family-friendly and daredevil tours are available.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Denali National Park
A handful of hiking trails begin either from or close to the Denali Visitors Center. You can either follow the trails or pick out your own path in the park. Park rangers also lead daily hikes to the park and teach you interesting facts about the park, including its flora and fauna and geology. You can also easily combine camping with your hiking adventure. You need a permit for overnight stays and permits can be acquired at the Backcountry Information Center.