If there’s a National Park that all visitors to Alaska want to visit, it must be the much revered Denali National Park (formerly known as Mount McKinley National Park). The centre-piece of the park is the 6,190m high Denali. Denali means “the High One” to the Athabascan Indians who have called this area along the Alaskan Range home for 13,000 years. Named Mount McKinley by the 1896 gold prospector William Dickey in honor of presidential nominee William McKinley, it wasn’t until 1980 that the park name was changed and as recently as 2015 that the mountain was renamed Denali.
There is just one road that runs 92 miles into the park, which was first built between 1923 and 1938. During winter all maintenance is done using sled dogs – no motorised vehicles are allowed in park areas that are designated ‘wilderness’ – which is most of this park!
Access beyond the first 16 miles is by park bus only. There is a range of different length bus trips available that must be booked in advance. The buses are the very recognizable ‘school buses’ seen all over the United States.
We opted for the 8 and a half hour bus trip – the highlights included the stunning vistas from the windy road, 10 grizzly bears, many caribou, Dall Sheep and a moose – yep a moose!
We also had a look at the Sled Dogs going through their paces and did a hike along the Savage River.
The hazy skyline which has dogged us for the last couple of weeks was ever-present but couldn’t detract from the grandeur of this magnificent range of mountains and surrounds. Denali itself was hiding in the clouds during this visit which meant we were part of the 74% of visitors to the park who don’t actually get to see the mountain!
We did decide to travel back to Denali a week later after visiting Fairbanks and were lucky enough to see some great views (albeit still hazy) of the mountain from outside the park. The other advantage of the re-visit was seeing the change in colours in the landscape. Autumn or ‘Fall’ happens quickly here in the north and it was amazing the difference we could see in such a short amount of time.
Highlights are best shared in photos rather than words.