Denali National Park is in Alaska and we were there in 2017. The Park originally opened in 1917 as a wilderness area and also to protect Dall Sheep. It is the only National Park with a working dog sled kennel. Because of the dogs, the Park Rangers can patrol in the winter checking for poachers and each year they average about 3,000 miles throughout the Parks’ interior.
Near the entrance to the Park are the dog sled kennels which you can visit, also a campground and some hiking trails. We went to visit the sled dogs and learn about their history, it was quite interesting and informative. We also did the Horseshoe Lake Trail which was only about 2 miles and took about two hours I think. It was a really nice trail and they have other trails that are just outside the park.
Below are two photos from our hike around Horseshoe Lake Trail, a really nice walk and lovely scenery.
Well first let me say, I really liked this Park and I wish we had more time there to be able to do tent camping in the wilderness. So to start, Denali is about a 4 hour drive north of Anchorage, it is more in the southern portion of Alaska. The Park spans about 6 million acres of land, I can’t even imagine that much land. Mount Denali is the highest peak in North American at 6,190 metres or 20,310 feet. People may remember it as being called Mount McKinley but the name was changed in 2015 after years of people lobbying for the name change.
There is only one road through the park and one entrance to that road. The road is 92 miles running east/west. The first 15 miles is paved but the rest of the road is not a highway, it is dirt and gravel, narrow and winding. You have to purchase tickets to take a bus through the park. You are allowed to drive your own vehicle for the first 15 miles to a spot called Savage River. There is parking there and you can hike around that area. But after Savage River, NO private vehicles are allowed.
The only exception to drive past Savage River is if you are camping at Teklanika Campground, at marker 29, then you may drive your vehicle. However, having said that, once you get to your campsite you are not allowed to drive anywhere. Your vehicle sits there until you are physically leaving the park. They are strict about that.
For tent camping, you can camp off trail wherever you want but again, you must take the bus and they will drop you off wherever you want. When you are ready to leave, you stand on the roadside and wait for a bus to go pass and they will pick you up. Strangely the bus we were on stopped to pick up a couple of people who had been interior camping and we got to talking to them. One of the guys grew up in the city we live, so odd!
We were staying in the area for a couple of days so one day we drove our own vehicle to Savage River and spent some time. Then on our way back out of the Park we stopped at the Wilderness Access Centre (WAC) which is where you purchase bus tickets if you want to travel further into the interior of Denali. The tickets were $35 each and the day of our tour, we left at 630 in the morning! In addition to this there is also a fee per person to enter the park. I believe it was $15 each. We had a National Parks pass so didn’t have to pay this fee.
I highly recommend purchasing a National Parks pass, they are well worth it if you plan on visiting lots of National Parks as we did that year. I believe they are about $80 but definitely worth it. Now for the bus tours through Denali, there are narrated and non-narrated trips. We chose the non-narrated trip and it was an EIGHT hour trip, return. Also, they do not supply, nor stop, for food or drink. There is no place to spot, no stores or restaurants. Clint and I made sure to make sandwiches/snacks and also take water in our backpacks. You can however, refill your water bottles at Eielson Visitor Centre. Even though our tour was not narrated, our driver was terrific. You could ask any questions and he would point out things. When we got to where we could see the mountain, I thought he was going to cry. He said he had worked here for about 3 months and had yet to see Denali. The reason not many people see Denali is because it is always covered with clouds/bad weather and only about 30% of the people who go to Denali actually see the mountain. The day we went the sky was so clear, the mountain was spectacular. We were pretty happy about that, it’s a beautiful mountain and we were part of the 30% who get to see it.
You eventually end up at the Eielson Visitor Centre at mile 66 where you can get out and check out the centre and/or do a hike in that area. There are three trails near this Visitor Centre, only about 1 mile each in length. If you bought another type of ticket you can take the bus to mile 85 to Wonder Lake (costs more money and takes about 12 hours). Now they do have a small campground, tents only, at Wonder Lake and you still have to take the bus to and from there. We only went to the Eielson Visitor Centre and that was a long day. Below you can see a bus, in the distance, on the road heading to Mount Denali.
You don’t have to take your same bus back. Once you buy your ticket you can hop on/off any bus that comes by. You just have to wait until one comes by and hope there is a seat for you.
I wanted to see wildlife and we did see some. There is a lot of wildlife, Grizzly bears for starters, this is where I saw my first one one out in the wild. There are also caribou, moose, wolves, fox, Dall sheep, pikas, squirrels, rabbits, and more in the Park. We were fortunate enough to see a grizzly family, a mom and 2 cubs. Now these were off in the distance and we were on the bus but still… it was exciting for me. We only saw wildlife while on the bus which was disappointing, as the photos turned out so-so, but still nice to see them.
The day we went, in addition to the Grizzly family, we also saw a moose with calves, a Bull moose, caribou, rabbits and some white dots that were Dall Sheep.
In reference to Dall Sheep, one funny story that happened; we were on the bus and our driver told us if you see something and want to stop, just yell out and I’ll stop. He also said you might see Dall sheep up high up on the mountains.
A few minutes later, a man on the bus yelled out “I see white dots on the mountain!” He was very excited. Some people moved to the right side of the bus. Then he yelled out “Those white dots are MOVING!” and then EVERYONE moved to the right side of the bus and took out their cell phones.
I honestly thought the bus was going to tip over! Clint and I stayed on the left side of the bus, our cameras with big lenses, in our lap. I didn’t need any photos of white dots lol.
But he did stop whenever we asked and sometimes he stopped when we didn’t ask! There were a few spots he pulled the bus off the road and we could wander around a bit and stretch our legs which was nice. He also stopped for washroom breaks which was welcome as it was a long day.
Just a final note, this place is crazy busy. We had our trailer as we were camping from Ontario, (where we live), on our way to Alaska and the Yukon. We tried to get a spot to camp in Denali but it was booked solid. We ended up about 5 minutes away, just outside the park at Rainbow RV Park. Now this was basically a huge parking lot behind the main street. Our trailer was backed right up to an Outdoors Store and we would chat with the staff. They had an open window and would watch us cook at our BBQ and say how good it looked lol.
It’s a cute little town and they do have restaurants and a bar. You can also take a flight tour over the park which would have been awesome, if you had about $300 dollars US a person. We did not do that but still…would have been pretty great.
Anyways that is our experience with Denali. I would love to go back.