Denali National Park is one of Alaska’s top attractions. The entire region is dominated by the 6,194 m high Denali. The Athabascan Indians called it – “The High One” – and as the highest mountain in North America it really is. Denali is part of the almost 1,000 km long Alaska Range, which includes many other spectacular mountains and large glaciers. With an area of around 24,000 km², the National Park is also the largest protected ecosystem in the world, where there are 750 different species of plants, 39 species of mammals and 165 species of birds. Some of the animals most commonly seen here include grizzly bears, caribou, moose, Dall sheep, as well as foxes, wolves, marmots and many species of birds including the ptarmigan grouse, one of Alaska’s state symbols.
According to timedictionary, Denali National Park is easily accessible by car from both Anchorage and Fairbanks via the George Parks Highway or the Alaska Railroad. There are flight-seeing tours by bush plane or helicopter both from the park entrance and from the southern town of Talkeetna. A 90-mile (146-kilometer) gravel driveway leads into the park to Wonder Lake and the historic Kantishna Mining District. This road is closed to private traffic after kilometer 24. Instead, shuttle buses commute back and forth regularly throughout the day. These stop on request, so that you can get on and off as you like along the way. There are also guided ‘wildlife’ bus tours that last between six and twelve hours.
The drives through the National Park reward with breathtaking views of the landscapes in all their diversity, Savage River, Polychrome Pass, the Outer Range, Sanctuary River, Muldrow Glacier and Wonder Lake. Most of the accommodation is outside the park. In the park itself there are a few wilderness lodges at the end of the gravel road in the Wonder Lake and Kantishna area, which then have their own transfer through the park. All accommodation should be booked as far in advance as possible.
Denali National Park information
Location and Size
Denali National Park was established in 1917 and today covers an area of 24,000 km². At 6,194 meters, Denali is the tallest mountain in North America. Until a few years ago, the Denali was known as Mount McKinley, when it was renamed to the original name after a vote. Bears, caribou, moose, mountain goats, wolves, foxes, otters and many different bird species live in the national park. Most of the animals and plants living in the park are protected.
A single road leads into Denali National Park. The park entrance is off Alaska Highway 3 (aka George Parks Highway) approximately 380 km north of Anchorage, 190 km miles south of Fairbanks and 20 km south of Healy – the nearest year-round community.
The actual entrance to Denali National Park is on Denali Park Road, which exits the Parks Highway at Mile 237 (signposted). The road is freely passable for every vehicle for the first 24 km. It is closed to normal traffic from the Savage River onwards and can only be accessed by one of the tour or park shuttle buses.
The bus service usually starts on May 20th, but the entire road is usually not open until the second week of June. The shuttle buses usually run until September 13th. Most visitor services are available between late May and early September.
The entrance fee to the park is USD 10 per person (children 15 and under are free) and is valid for 7 days. The fee is included for bus tours or campsite reservations.
America the Beautiful Annual Pass
The annual pass costs $80 and entitles you to visit over 2,000 US federal recreation areas and national parks for one year from the date of purchase. The entrance fee applies to the driver and all passengers of a private, non-commercial vehicle (or up to a maximum of 4 adults in total if per-person entrance fees are charged). Children under 16 are free. If you visit more than 4 national parks, it is usually worth buying the America the Beautiful Annual Pass.
The pass can be purchased at many stores across the US and is also available in advance from various tour operators.
Centers The Denali National Park Visitor Center is located at the beginning of Denali Park Road (about 1.5 miles from Parks Highway / open May 15 through September 22, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm). Here you can get detailed information about the national park and about park ranger programs. The Denali Wilderness Access Center (about 1 mile off Parks Highway / open May 15 through September 21, 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) provides information on the park’s green shuttle buses and weather forecasts.
The climate in Denali National Park is influenced by two of Alaska’s major climate zones – the maritime zone south of the Alaska Range and the interior continental zone north of the mountain range. The Alaska Range exerts a major influence on the inland climate by blocking precipitation moving in from the Gulf of Alaska. As a result, the north side of the park is characterized by less rainfall and greater temperature fluctuations (hotter in summer and colder in winter) than the south side. Temperatures of minus 50°C and lower are not uncommon on the north side in winter. Although summer temperatures can climb to 32°C, it is also possible for them to drop below freezing.
|Average temperatures in Denali National Park in °C|
The general rule for optimal clothing in Alaska is “onion principle”. That means you wear a first layer directly on your body (avoid cotton if possible), a second warming layer (e.g. a fleece jacket or similar) and a jacket as a third layer that protects against wind and rain. When the temperature changes, you can easily put on or take off a layer.
Denali (park entrance area)
sightseeing and excursion suggestions
Various zodiac tours are offered on the Nenana River – from 2 hours to full day tours, either in white water or in slow flowing water (floating trip). Special suits and life jackets are provided. (Several companies offer rafting tours, including Denali Raft Adventures, mile 238.6 Parks Highway, departing daily at 7:30 a.m.
Flights Denali Air offers 60-70 minute scenic flights by bush plane (Parks Highway mile 229.2). ERA Helicopters offers various helicopter tours (e.g. 50-minute flight), (Parks Highway mile 238)
Park Ranger Programs
The Denali Visitor Center offers ranger programs including dog sledding demonstrations, guided walks and evening slide shows. You can get more information at the Visitor Center (at the beginning of Parkstraße). The Visitor Center is open daily from mid-May to mid-September from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Black Diamond Golf Course & Mini
Golf Course The scenery surrounding the golf course is fantastic, you play on the tundra with a great panorama in the background. (9-hole golf course). Non-golfers can enjoy the landscape with good food or a refreshing drink in the restaurant. (Directions: Take Parks Highway north to Healy, the gold course is on the left on Otto Lake Road.) For more information or reservations call (907) 683-4653.
Alaska Cabin Nite
The dinner theater gives a taste of life in Alaska in the past. The heroine Fannie Quigley and other characters lead through a gold rush story set in Alaska in the 1900’s. The performance is a mixture of theatre, comedy and musical. There is also an all-you-can-eat dinner that includes typical Alaskan delicacies. The Alaska Cabin Nite Dinner Theater takes place at the McKinley Chalet Resort hotel. Shows from May 14th to September 19th daily at 5:30pm & 8:30pm;
Denali Jeep® Backcountry Safari Explore the backcountry
by jeep: The first kilometers of the Stampede Road are still paved, but soon you can try your driving skills on bumps and potholes. There are enough driver changes so that everyone can put their skills to the test on this wilderness road. The 3.5-hour tour runs several times a day from May 15th to September 19th.
Restaurant Tip Located
at Mile 229 Parks Highway (about 8 miles south of Park Road in the Denali Park Entrance) is 229 Parks Restaurant and Tavern, a newer restaurant with the best menu and finest food in the Denali Park Entrance. As this restaurant is very popular, you should reserve a table in advance.