The center of the National Park is also the highest peak in North America!
Denali National Park is six million acres of wild land divided by only one single road. The park has a lot of diversity. There is a mix of forest at the lowest elevations, including deciduous taiga. It is also home to tundra at middle elevations, and glaciers, rock and snow at the highest elevations. Not only is there a high diversity in landscape but also in activities you can participate in here. Some of them are: dog-sleding, cross-country skiing, snowmachining and hiking. The “Big Five” that people manly come here for are: Moose, Caribou, Dall Sheep, Wolves and Grizzly Bears.
Denali is simpler than any other National Park in the US. There is only one Entrance and only one road in the park. And all that to protect nature from us.
This one road is called Denali Park Road. It is 92 miles long and runs from east to west. It is manly made up of dirt and gravel. It starts from a low, forested area, but rises and falls through mountain passes.
The park is only assessable from Alaska Highway 3 at Mile 237 on the eastern side of the park.
The first 15 miles of the park road to Savage River are open for private vehicle while you need to book a tour bus for the remaining miles. There are companies that offer tours for non-narrated tours and narrated tours. The park itself does not offer any tours itself. The non-narrated tours are way cheaper than the narrated ones. The only difference is that during the non-narrated tours you can yell “stop” and they will stop and let you out to hike or take pictures and that the one tour is narrated and the other is not, obviously. Every hour a bus will drive by. If you put your thumb up as if you would be hitch hiking they will pick you up and either drive you further into the park or outside of the park.
On both tours you can also yell “stop” when you see an animal somewhere. The bus will stop and let you take pictures and wait for the animal to cross the road if possible. We were told that it is especially important to be very quit when a wild animal is near while we are sitting in the bus to not let them get used to the human voice. So whenever we meet a wild animal while hiking by accident we can scream and hopefully they will not know what that sound is, get scared, run away and hopefully not kill us.
Obviously there are also official bathroom stops on every tour. The bus will stop approximately every hour for 15 minutes so, if necessary, anybody can use the bathroom.
All bus trips are available only in summer (roughly mid-May through mid-September). Depending on what time of the year you visit the entire road might not be opened. When we visited the park in the end of May it was opened until Mile 53. Because of this reason we took the Toklat River tour that drives to Mile 53 and back. It was $31.25 and children of 15 years or under can ride every non-narrated tour for free though they still need a physical ticket.
I sincerely love this National Park! It is so simple but once you are in it is so impressive. The park has no fences, which makes the animals living here literally wild. Everything is well explained and I really have the feeling that they are trying everything to preserve this area with all the glaciers, animals and so much more!
Toklat River Tour
The Toklat River Tour was great! Our tour guide was called Tracy R. and she was simply awesome! The description of the tour says that the tour stops in an area of merging glacial rivers and towering cliffs. Dall sheep are often seen on the steep rocky hillsides and grizzlies sometimes graze the riverbed’s soapberries or grassy hillsides. It will take you through taiga and tundra, crossing rivers and offers the best way to explore most of the parks road in a shorter time. The tour takes approximately 7 hours.
On our tour we saw 3 grizzly bears directly next to the bus that were crossing the road. They were pretty much taking their time and we had to wait 20 minutes for them which was totally fine with me. I mean when do you actually see wild grizzly bears. Now that I think about it…I hope never but when you are in a car or like really far away. After that we saw plenty of caribou, moose and dall sheep in the distance. Towards the end of our tour we made a once in a lifetime experience according to Tracy. We stopped because we saw a grown grizzly bear with her two cubs and a grown moose on a mountain. One cub was getting chased by the moose. When the bear noticed their cub was getting separated from here she was going after the moose. After she was reunited with both of her cubs they started going into a bush eating something. The moose ran down the mountain side towards the bus. It stopped directly next to our bus and watched the bears eat something for another 5 minutes or so. We found out that earlier on the bears were chasing the moose and its baby. They killed the baby and the grown moose was sticking around trying to safe the baby until it was too late.
We were not only impressed by all the animal sightings but also the nature we saw. We even got to see the peak of Denali (former Mt. McKinley) which is most of the time hidden by clouds.
About 3 miles inside the park, you can find the dog kennel which are open year-round from 9am to 4:30. During this time you have the opportunity to tour the park kennels and visit Denali’s Alaskan huskies. In winter the rangers and dogs are frequently in the park rather than the kennels while in summer they are more often at the kennels besides from their daily walks. In summer, from May 15 to mid September , you can attend a free dog sled demonstration. The 30 minute long demonstrations are given three times a day in peak season (June 1st to September 1st) at 10am, 2pm and 4pm. The rangers and dogs work together to demonstrate a traditional Alaskan mode of travel.
Free buses leave the Visitor Center for the kennels approximately 40 minutes before each demonstration for free. No parking is available at the kennels. Another way to get there is the 1.5mi hike from the Visitor Center to the kennels.
Rock Creek Trail
The Rock Creek Trail connects the visitor center with the dog kennels. Highlights of the trail include ridge-line views of nearby Mount Healy. The trail itself is not a loop, though a loop can be made by hiking it and the Roadside Trail. If you want to visit the dog kennels you can hike one way and take the free bus the other way. The 2.4 mile long trail takes about two hours one-way. The elevation gain is about 400 feet when traveling east to west.
To be honest – we were a little hiking lazy so this is unfortunately the only hike we did. But on our way we saw plenty of moose and the hike itself offers some beautiful views!!
Midnight Sun RV and Campground
We arrived at Denali National Park on Memorial Day weekend without any reservation for any campground. Arrived at the Visitor Center they told us that they don’t have any free spots anymore and gave us a list of 15 other campgrounds with the distance, how far they are away and if it is south or north, their phone number and how many sites they have. I really loved that they were so supportive and well prepared for such a busy weekend! Thumbs up for that!! After many, many phone calls we got the okay to camp at Midnight Sun RV and Campground. I absolutely loved the campground and the people working there!
They are located only about 10 minutes north of the park entrance and have 50 sites with everything you could ask for. They have full hookups for RV drivers as well as wooded campsites. They are perfectly equipped with everything you need for a camping trip and even more!
They have showers for $3 for 7 minutes, flush toilets and sinks with running water, laundry, free Wifi and a shuttle service that drives you to the National Park, all the area activities and popular restaurants and back to the campground. They are located right next to a convenience store and gas station, where you can also find the front desk of the campground. Hot North Pole brand drip coffee, which is available 24/7, a hot deli menu and as I said already, everything else you could possibly need. We decided to get a tent campsite, which they have 12 of, that is equipped with a picnic table and a fire ring. But definitely the best part about it: it is only $19.99 per night.
My favourite aspect about the campground is definitely its location. Located in the rustic town of Healy it is very easy to meet locals here. As mentioned, Healy is VERY rural. As they say on their website, “believe it or not there are still places that people live without running water and we line in one of those wonderful places”. That is why also locals do their laundry here and take showers. If you meet one of them you should definitely get in contact. They have the best advice for things to do and things to see in the area! Also they can explain best to you what it is like to live in Alaska!
248.5 Parks Hwy, Healy, AK 99743, US
907 683 2379
Into The Wild Movie Bus
If you know the story of Christopher McCandless, who traveled Denali in 1992 and lived in an abandoned bus in the wilderness, you will probably know that there is a bus that he lived in. The bus can still be found in its original location how McCandless has found it. Though the way on how to get to the original is fairly dangerous. There is a trail leading through tundra, crossing the Teklanika River, which got him trapped in wilderness and finally led to his death. The trail leading to the bus is called Stampede Trail. This trail is definitely not something for beginners. It is not in the best condition with swarms of mosquitoes and a very flooded, muddy trail. The trail is fairly long with 40 miles round trip which means that it will most likely take you several days to get there. Since I have not hiked the trail myself I cannot really tell you anything really useful about it but I found a great website that can definitely help you prepare if you are planning on hiking to the Magic us.
For those of us on the other hand who are not that adventurous, you can visit the original bus from the movie in 49th State Brewing which is conveniently enough located right next to the campsite I recommended above.
Admission is completely free but it would not be the worst to actually drink a beer here. You can walk inside the bus and try to retake the pictures found on Christopher McCandless camera.