Most people who visit the six-million-acre Denali National Park only see roughly the first dozen—or maybe 50—miles of the legendary park Road. But this tour takes you all the way to the depths of Kantishna—the heart of the Park where you have the chance to experience postcard-perfect views of Mt. McKinley. This tour makes for a full day—from about 6 in the morning until 7 or 8 in the evening—but it’s an adventure of a lifetime.
Into the Heart of Denali
The tour is operated by the same folks who operate the Denali Backcountry Lodge in Kantishna, and so the lodge provides a natural destination. The tour picks you up at one of a few hotels near the Park entrance, and you’ll get to Kantishna around noon. On the way, you’ll get an in-depth ride down the Park Road, in a nicely outfitted bus furnished with plenty of snacks.
Your Driver Guide will offer an interpretive program along the way, pointing out landmarks—such as the Alaska Range, glaciers, braided glacial rivers, and the expansive tundra—and tips on how to spot the Big Five of Denali wildlife (moose, bears, caribou, wolves and sheep). After all, if you’ve never seen a caribou or Dall Sheep, how would you know what you’re looking for—or that that those large white things on the hillside aren’t rocks at all?
On the way, you’ll get to stop to take pictures of wildlife, and take a few breaks to get out and stretch the legs at the campgrounds and rest areas—such as the Toklat River, the Teklanika, or the heralded Eielson Visitor Center.
Once you’re at the Denali Backcountry Lodge—comprised of a main lodge building and 42 cedar cabins along Moose Creek—you have a few hours to soak up the placid wilderness setting. This little area is rich with history: Kantishna began as a mining village around the turn of the 20th century, and the Park Road was built to take the gold from Kantishna back to civilization. Today, it still feels like an idyllic frontier.
First, you can tuck into the fabulous lunch buffet at the Lodge—soups, salads, and a build-your-own sandwich bar, along with baked goods and a full bar. Then you can take your pick of going on a guided nature hike, a botany walk, or gold panning along the banks of Moose Creek. If you’d rather just relax, you can also book a chair massage from the Lodge’s onsite spa, The Nest Spa and Wellness.
Wonders Never Cease
Since you've come this far, you’ve increased your chances, exponentially, of seeing Mt McKinley on the way. And out near Kantishna, the views ramp up accordingly. Before you head back toward the Park entrance, you can explore Wonder Lake, where on a good day you’ll get a jaw-dropping reflection of The Big One reflected in the water—the kind of picture those folks who stayed near the entrance will never get.