Sure, you've seen all the beautiful brochures on Denali National Park and perused the amazing photos and videos shot there. But is the park really all that? Should we dare to suggest that you actually skip visiting Denali?
Few Denali visitors who take a park road tour leave unhappy, especially if they have wildlife encounters or if Denali (Mt. McKinley) isn't hidden behind clouds. But life isn't always like brochures, and the marketing behind Denali creates expectations that aren't always met.
So What's The Reality?
- On a park road tour, 33% of visitors see the mountain for most of the day, and 40% get a partial view
- Over a 4-day stay in Kantishna, 85% see the mountain
- 80 - 90% of visitors see bears, sheep, and caribou, though often from a distance
- Only 20% of visitors see wolves
- 35% see moose (but your chances double in the late season)
As one park ranger put it, "If you expect it to be the Serengeti of the North, you'll leave disappointed. If you understand this is the sub-arctic with a short summer season and vegetation which can’t support massive herds of wildlife, you’ll go home happy."
- The development and commercialization at the park entrance (sometimes called "Glitter Gulch") means hotels, restaurants, stores, and lots of people. (It’s much different if you stay inside the park in Kantishna.) However, it's precisely because the development is focused outside the park entrance that the interior of the park remains pristine.
- The rooms and service at some park entrance hotels don’t live up to what you’d expect from the price.
- Park road tours are no luxury affair; they’re in school buses, and the road can be bumpy and dusty.
If you'd rather have an inspiring Alaska wilderness experience with fewer people, Alaska offers plenty of options. Stay at a remote wilderness lodge such as Kenai Backcountry Lodge. Drive our highways. Visit a less famous park, like Wrangell St. Elias. Take a boat into Prince William Sound for the day or flightsee Prince William Sound.
True, you may end up paying more to access unspoiled wilderness, and you won't be able to say you saw America's tallest peak and most famous park, but you will have an equally worthy Alaska wilderness experience.
We're reminded of something Ansel Adams once wrote, "No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied. It speaks in silence to the very core of your being." He wasn't talking only about Denali, but about all mountains.
The decision to visit or not must be yours. But know that Alaska has plenty of mountains and parks that will speak to your core just as well as Denali.