Denali National Park Points of Interest

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Points of Interest

Soar­ing high at 20,310 feet is Denali (for­mer­ly named Mt. McKin­ley after an Ohio Sen­a­tor who nev­er vis­it­ed Alas­ka). The moun­tain was renamed Denali in 2015. Equal­ly impres­sive are its near­by cousins: Mt. Forak­er (17,400), and Mt. Hunter (14,573). These three dom­i­nate the sky­line for hun­dreds of miles. You can get up close and per­son­al with the Roof of North Amer­i­ca” on a flight­see­ing tour. Up here, you are sur­round­ed by ridges and peaks,…  ...more

36 miles west of Denali (Mt. McKin­ley), Mt. Rus­sell is one of the major peaks of the Alas­ka Range — and one of the most dra­mat­ic. To give a sense for its size and steep­ness, it ris­es over a ver­ti­cal mile above the Che­do­t­loth­na Glac­i­er to the north­west in less than two miles. It ris­es two miles above the Yent­na Glac­i­er to the south in only 8 miles. Over­shad­owed by its mas­sive neigh­bors, only six ascents of the peak had been record­ed by 2001.…  ...more

It’s 92 miles and about 5 hours from the park entrance to Kan­tish­na, the end of the Park Road. Pri­vate vehi­cles aren’t per­mit­ted after Mile 15, so you’ll need to take either the hop-on, hop-off park shut­tle bus or one of the tour bus­es. This road is only open in the sum­mer months between May and ear­ly Sep­tem­ber. Dates vary depend­ing on annu­al snowfall.

Peo­ple vis­it Denali Nation­al Park for two main rea­sons: to see Denali (Mt. McKin­ley) and to view wildlife. While nei­ther expe­ri­ence is guar­an­teed, your odds of see­ing wildlife are good if you know where to look. Here are the top spots to see bears, wolves, birds, and more.

How and where to find Alaska’s glac­i­ers — some of the state’s most beau­ti­ful nat­ur­al attractions

Denal­i’s glac­i­ers are high in the moun­tains of The Alas­ka Range. Here are the most impres­sive, and the flight tours to see them!

Veg­e­ta­tion cov­er in Denali is always chang­ing. Find out why the forests around the Tok­lat Riv­er are chang­ing, and how the Park Ser­vice uses his­toric pho­tos to doc­u­ment these changes. Audio tour by Camp Denali Wilder­ness Lodge.

Spindly spruce trees lean this way and that, look­ing as if they’re drunk. The actu­al cause of this odd align­ment has to do with their shal­low root sys­tems, which get read­just­ed by the near­ly con­tin­u­ous expan­sion and con­trac­tion of per­mafrost under the tun­dra sur­face. Per­mafrost is a lay­er of frozen ground, some­times more than 6 feet thick, that nev­er thaws. With­out it, much of the tun­dra would be com­plete­ly impassable. 

Not far from the Tok­lat Riv­er Bridge you’ll find your­self at the top of High­way Pass, the high­est point on the park road at 3,980 feet. The vis­tas are expan­sive and wildlife view­ing can be great. 

It isn’t until you actu­al­ly dri­ve past the head­quar­ters area that you will begin to enter the wilder­ness for which you have real­ly come. Dur­ing the win­ter months, the road is closed at this point. Only non-motor­ized trav­el­ers, such as mush­ers and skiers can go fur­ther. This is taiga for­est, filled with white spruce and black spruce, inter­spersed here and there with quak­ing aspen, paper birch, bal­sam poplar and tama­rack. This is moose habitat…  ...more

Won­der Lake is a some­what unlike­ly lake. Learn how the lake was formed, and what makes it so unique.

Last view of Denali dur­ing first few miles of Denali Park Road

Denali Nation­al Park is full of rivers, with many of them orig­i­nat­ing from glac­i­ers. What makes these rivers spe­cial? Why are they braid­ed and what keeps them from just straight­en­ing out?

Although most view­points along the Park Road can only be accessed by pri­vate tour bus­es or park shut­tle bus­es, you can dri­ve to this view­point (the first 15 miles are open to pri­vate vehi­cles). The dense spruce for­est opens up here, giv­ing you the first view of Denali, as it is called in the native Athabaskan lan­guage (for­mer­ly Mt. McKin­ley). The moun­tain is rough­ly 72 miles away and you’re only see­ing the top 8,000 feet or so. Still, it’s a  ...more

You’ll tra­verse the spine of the north side of the Alas­ka Range for about 15 min­utes, then fly through a moun­tain pass known as the Tralieka Col, back to the south side of the range. You’ll pass by the fore­bod­ing East Face of Denali (its only major unclimbed face) and descend down the West Fork of the Ruth Glac­i­er. Look for pyra­mid-shaped Mt. Hunt­ing­ton off the right win­dow, thought by many to be the most pic­turesque peak in North America.…  ...more

Fly­ing down the medi­al moraine of the Ruth Glac­i­er is mes­mer­iz­ing. This 25 – 50 foot high ridge of rock debris looks like an exca­va­tion pit that extends for miles down the cen­ter of the glac­i­er. Keep on the look­out for deep blue pools of ice melt. Look for lat­er­al moraines on the sides of the glac­i­er and the ter­mi­nal moraine at the toe of the glac­i­er… You’ll know the ter­mi­nus of the Ruth when you see it: the con­tor­tions of earth and ice resemble…  ...more

If you choose an Around the Moun­tain Tour” (cir­cum­nav­i­gates the moun­tain), you’ll ascend over the top of the Kahilt­na Glac­i­er and on to the north side of the Alas­ka Range. Look to the right, and you’ll see the 14-mile-wide Wick­er­sham Wall. From the peak it’s 17,000 feet down, one of the great­est unob­struct­ed ver­ti­cal drops in the world. Con­sid­ered a death route, the Wick­er­sham has been climbed only a few times. A Roman­ian ski instruc­tor skied…  ...more

At the Wilder­ness Access Cen­ter, you can pur­chase bus tick­ets and all park shut­tle bus­es depart from this build­ing. This is also the place to reserve a spot in the var­i­ous park camp­grounds. Addi­tion­al­ly, inside you will also find a gift shop, cof­fee stand, and an infor­ma­tion desk. 

Denali Ranger Kris Fis­ter, a 30-year vet­er­an of the Nation­al Park Ser­vice, and a Camp Denali Lodge nat­u­ral­ist share some fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries and things to look for along the Denali Park Road. 

Cross the Tokosit­na Riv­er which marks the south­east cor­ner of Denali Nation­al Park. Look for tents or rafts next to the riv­er. While dif­fi­cult to access — even by bush plane — this area is a prime place for camp­ing, explor­ing, and to begin a raft trip down the Tokosit­na Riv­er to Tal­keet­na. Out the left win­dow, you can look south to the Peters & Dutch Hills, an active gold-min­ing area since the ear­ly 1900s. A win­ter wag­on road from Talkeetna…  ...more

An iron bridge cross­es Moose Creek here. If you take a moment to observe the creek you’ll notice that the rush­ing waters are clear and full of grayling, quite the oppo­site of glacial fed water­ways that appear milky due to the high sed­i­ment content.

The Sav­age Riv­er was carved out by glac­i­ers, and as a con­se­quence it is a per­fect exam­ple of a braid­ed riv­er. The flat grav­el bars of the riv­er offer a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for an easy hike, and min­i­mize the chance of sur­pris­ing a bear or oth­er wildlife.

Here is the junc­tion of the Parks and the Denali High­way. The Denali High­way is approx­i­mate­ly 135 miles long stretch­ing from Pax­son to Cantwell, con­nect­ing the Richard­son and Parks high­ways. Before the Parks High­way was com­plet­ed in the ear­ly 1970s, the Denali High­way was the only road access to Denali Nation­al Park. 

The fall moose rut is an unfor­get­table part of the inte­ri­or Alas­ka fall. In Denali, the Eiel­son vis­i­tor cen­ter gives vis­i­tors a year round win­dow into this dra­mat­ic event through the dis­play of two sets of inter­locked moose antlers. How did these antlers become locked, and what like­ly hap­pened to the two unlucky bull moose? Audio tour by Camp Denali Wilder­ness Lodge.   ...more

You enter the Shel­don Amphithe­atre, named after a bush pilot who built a view­ing hut here on the glac­i­er before it became a nation­al park. You can stay here for $100 a night. It has a wood stove and bunks 6. If you opt for a glac­i­er land­ing, this is where you’ll like­ly land. You’ll step out of the plane and onto an ice sheet near­ly a mile thick. The scale of the Amphithe­atre is hard to fath­om. You’ll feel like you can reach and out touch the…  ...more

The Denali Nation­al Park Vis­i­tors Cen­ter is actu­al­ly more of a cam­pus. The cen­ter itself is the main Nation­al Park Ser­vice wel­come and infor­ma­tion cen­ter and it is sur­round­ed by oth­er facil­i­ties that include a restau­rant, bookstore/​giftshop, bag check, bus stop and the Alas­ka Rail­road depot. 

This sec­tioned bridge sits at an ele­va­tion of 2,655 feet. Park at the rest stop a few hun­dred meters before the east edge of the bridge for great views of the struc­ture and the sur­round­ing area.

Har­ry Karstens was the first ranger of Denali Nation­al Park. He arrived in ear­ly sum­mer 1921, and estab­lished his head­quar­ters on the north­west bank of Riley Creek, an ide­al spot for mon­i­tor­ing vis­i­tors using the trail lead­ing into the park. In 1925, the head­quar­ters moved to it’s cur­rent loca­tion at mile 3.4 of the Denali Park Road. 

Once you leave the Won­der Lake camp­ground, you’ll pass the apt­ly named Reflec­tion Pond as the road begins its descent towards the north. From here you can get fan­tas­tic pho­tos of both Denali (Mt. McKin­ley) and Forak­er reflect­ing off the sur­face of the pond, espe­cial­ly ear­ly and late in the day when the water is the smoothest. 

On a clear day, this stretch of the park road offers unpar­al­leled views of Denali and the oth­er high granitic peaks of the cen­tral Alas­ka Range. What role do glac­i­ers play in carv­ing out the ever grow­ing shape of this moun­tain range? Audio tour by Camp Denali Wilder­ness Lodge.

The Alas­ka Rail­road was respon­si­ble for open­ing this nation­al park to the pub­lic since it pro­vid­ed the only access to the park for many years. The Rail­road owned and oper­at­ed the McKin­ley Park Hotel from its ear­ly begin­nings and even­tu­al­ly turned over to the Nation­al Park Ser­vice for oper­a­tions. After a fire destroyed the hotel, rail sleep­er cars pro­vid­ed a nov­el lodg­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty for visitors.

Beavers can often be seen here, usu­al­ly ear­ly in the morn­ing or lat­er at night. The Park Ser­vice pro­vides pic­nic tables and toi­lets on the south side of the road just after you cross the bridge. Stay as long as you like dur­ing the day, but no camp­ing is allowed in the imme­di­ate area. 

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