Scenic USA - Alaska
Denali National Park
|Photos by Jim Cook
Jim Cook Photography
Moose & Caribou by Tom Blandford
In a state thatís nearly one fifth the size of the contiguous United States, Denali National Park's six million acres seem relatively small. But in comparison, Denali and Preserve are bigger than three of the nation's smallest states combined. Here in this untamed wilderness the park's 400,000 seasonal visitors witness only a very small section of this wonderland. Starting out from the George Parks Highway, park visitors enter a land covered in taiga forest, a land dominated by insects and birds, with a lot less plants and trees than other biomes. From the visitor center and to the west, the park access road slowly climbs into alpine mountains and alongside snow capped peaks. Here on the mountainsides, Dall sheep, caribou, the arctic ground squirrels, fox, wolves and grizzly bears leave behind their busy footprints and entertain bus loads of excited park-goers. Traveling 92 miles on Park Road, park buses are the only means of access beyond the 15 mile mark.
Shuttle buses and tour buses provide alternative ways to enjoy the park. While the shuttle bus is very flexible, with boarding and unboarding at various locations and aiding a park experience on your own terms, tour buses provide a narrator with detailed information on your Denali journey. Varied in length, three tour bus options make routine stops and also pause for wildlife and the incredible Alaskan scenery. About 10 miles into the park, depending on local weather, Denali visitors are treated to the most magnificent view. Off to the southwest The Great One rises dramatically behind already high mountain peaks. The majestic Mount McKinley, now returned to its original name Denali from the indigenous Athabascan language, is North America's highest peak at 20,310 feet.
Visitors are welcome to explore in and around the Denali Visitor Center. Here, a handful of trails allow visitors to experience park details and numerous scenic vistas. Personal vehicles are also permitted to venture into the park as far as the Savage River area. The Savage River Canyon Trail follows the river for about a mile before returning to Park Road. An uphill hike in this area may provide more dramatic views of Mount McKinley.
Backpacking in Denali is totally different experience. This true wilderness adventure begins with a permit process the day before. A ranger face-to-face will be required to assess your backcountry plan. Denali is a huge wilderness park with few trails and many large, wild animals. Here in the wilds extra life-saving precautions are necessary.
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