Denali -- more than just the mountain
Denali National Park and Preserve is the most
popular tourist attraction in Alaska. Its central feature
is the tallest mountain peak in the United States: Mt.
McKinley. For centuries, Alaska's Natives have called
this mountain Denali (The Great One). The mountain rises
20,320 feet (6187 meters) above the low lying sub-alpine
tundra of the park.
The geology of Denali is fascinating. Eight long
glacial troughs radiate from the Cathedral Spires, many
of them with head walls more than a mile deep. The Denali
Fault, a longsystem stretching for 1300 miles (2092 km)
across Alaska, runs through the park. Granite domes look
down on wide plains.
The ecosystem supports a wide range of wildlife,
including moose, caribou, wolves, grizzly bears, Dall
sheep, wolverines and more than 150 species of birds,
many of them waterfowl. The negative effects of too much
traffic on the Park Road leading to the major camping and
resort area has caused the National Park Service to limit
traffic through the park. Shuttle buses provide the
preferred form of transport through the park areas and
visitors are required to park their vehicles in one spot
and leave them there.
Mountain climbers have challenged Mt. McKinley since
1903. The mountain is shrouded by clouds and mist two
days out of three during the summer months. The best
times of the day to see the summit from the lowlands are
in the early morning or late evening. Late September and
October provide the best times for consistent views.
At the lower levels, the tundra holds many ponds and
low shrubs including willow, blueberry and dwarf birch.
The wildflowers of the park provide a spectacular carpet
of many colors.
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Riley Creek Information Center, just inside the
park on Park Road, is the place to obtain information on
the park and campground reservations. There are seven
campgrounds within the park, located along Park Road, an
87-mile (140-km) drive ending at Wonder Lake. The first
14 miles of the road are paved. The park headquarters
area contains a resort hotel and lodge, and there are
private hotels and campgrounds located outside the park
along George Parks Highway. Three lodges are located 100
miles (161 km) inside the park at the end of Park Road.
People planning to visit the park are urged to reserve
their hotel accommodations well in advance to avoid
disappointment. The park campgrounds are filled on a
first-come basis and lineups for sites start to form
before 9 a.m.
For information on the park, write Denali National
Park and Preserve, P.O. Box 9, Denali Park, Alaska 99755
or call (907) 683-2294. Bus passes and campsites may be
reserved by contacting Denali's reservation service in
Anchorage, at (800) 622-7275.
There are accommodations just outside the main park
gate and along the George Parks Highway for several miles
on either side of Park Road (see Places to Stay at the
end of this chapter).
The Visitor Infocenter is 3 miles (4.8 km) past the
park entrance, on Denali Park Road. Enter from the George
Parks Highway. All visitors stop here for an orientation.
Where to Stay
Camp Denali, P.O. Box 67, Denali
Park AK 99755, (907) 688-2290 (summer), (603) 675-2248
This outpost resort, located at the end of
the national park road in the heart of Denali Park, is
considered by many the finest place to really get to know
the mountain and the park. This is a compound of log
buildings, with a spacious dining room, and a laundry and
bath facility with hot showers (the rustic cabins do not
have electricity or running water). Wallace and Jerri
Cole own and operate the resort, and also operate the
nearby Northface Lodge, which does have baths in its
rooms. The resort and lodge share the nature
interpretation programs. Hiking, canoeing, rafting,
fishing, and mountain biking are available. All meals are
supplied. ($$ to $$$)
Denali Crow's Nest Cabins, P.O. Box
70, Denali Park AK 99755, (907) 683-2723
This aerie on Sugarloaf Mountain has a fine
overlook of the Nenana River and Horseshoe Lake. Located
one mile north of the park entrance, at Mile 238.5 of
George Parks Highway, the log cabins all have private
baths. Facilities include hot tubs, and a bar and grill.
The Overlook Restaurant is well known for its salmon and
halibut dishes, with a goodly selection of beers and
wines. The operation provides free shuttle service to the
park and other locations in the area. ($$ to $$$)
Denali National Lodge, McKinley Chalet
Resort, and McKinley Village
Resorts, P.O. Box 78, Denali Park AK 99755, (907)
276-7234 or 800-276-7234. In the off-season, contact
Denali Park Resorts at their Anchorage office: (907)
276-7234. Denali Park Lodge is the "official,"
inside-the-park hotel operation, located 1.5 miles beyond
the entrance to the park. McKinley Chalet Resort,
operated by the park concessionaire, is outside the gate.
All of the resort hotels offer full facilities, including
restaurants. Reservations are absolutely essential during
the busy summer period. ($$ to $$$+)
The resort operation also offers a courtesy
shuttle system through the Denali Park area, taking
customers to and from the train station from the hotels.
Also offered are the Tundra Wildlife Tour and The Alaska
Cabin Nine Dinner Theater. They have their own rafting
adventures. All can be booked through the above telephone
Denali Princess Lodge, Denali Park
AK 99755, (907) 683-2283 or 800-426-0500
This could be called the Love Lodge. It's
operated by Princess Cruises, which runs a joint program
with Alaska Airlines. This modern hotel overlooks the
Nenana River, off George Parks Highway, near the park
entrance. The rooms are large and the resort has full
facilities including restaurants, lounge, a cafe, outdoor
whirlpools, and a gift shop. They provide a free shuttle
service to the park and train depot. ($$ to $$$+)
Denali RV Park and Motel, P.O. Box
155, Denali Park AK 99755, (907) 683-1511 or 800-478-1501
Located 8 miles north of the park road, the
motel has more than a dozen budget rooms. ($ to $$) The
RV park has full and partial hookups, pull-through sites,
showers, and dump station.
Denali Wilderness Lodge, P.O. Box
50, Denali Park AK 99755, 800-541-9779
This is a superb rustic inn, 15-minutes'
flying time from the park airstrip. The complex is made
up of more than 25 buildings, including guest cabins, a
sauna, a barn, and the main lodge. There are free dining
flights from the airport, and overnight packages offer
nature and photographic walks, and horseback rides. The
grub is great, and birders will have a fine time
identifying northern residents. ($$$)
McKinley KOA Kampground, P.O. Box
340, Healy AK 99743, (907) 683-2379
This full-service RV park and campground is
found north of the park at Mile 248.4 of the Parks
Highway. Facilities include full hookups, tenting sites,
showers, ice, propane, a grocery store, laundry, tables,
and fire pits.
Denali Park Campgrounds, c/o Denali
National Park, Denali Park AK 99755, 800-622-7275
Seven campground are located in the park,
with sites available for RV, trailer, and tent camping.
Three are accessed via shuttle and are for tenters only.
All campgrounds are found along Park Road.
Riley Creek (one-quarter mile down
the road) has flush toilets & piped water.
Morino Creek, at mile 2.4, is a
hike-in site with water a short walk away, and pit
Savage River Campground, at mile 12,
requires car permits. The sites have flush toilets and
Sanctuary River, at mile 22, is
accessible by shuttle or with a vehicle permit.
Facilities include river water and pit toilets.
Teklanika River, at mile 29, is
accessed via shuttle bus or by car with a permit. The
sites have piped water and pit toilets.
Igloo Creek, at mile 34, reached by
shuttle bus or by car with permit, has river water and
Wonder Lake, at mile 85, is the
preferred destination for park campers, because of the
flush toilets, piped water, and great views of the
mountain. Shuttle Bus access, no vehicles allowed, and
tent camping only.