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Alaska - Denali National Park

Denali -- more than just the mountain

Alaska Hotels

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

 

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Denali Lodging

Camp Denali, P.O. Box 67, Denali Park AK 99755, (907) 688-2290 (summer), (603) 675-2248 (winter)
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
Denali Park 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 numbers.

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 (Alaska)
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. ($$$)

Camping

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 toilets.

Savage River Campground, at mile 12, requires car permits. The sites have flush toilets and water.

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 pit toilets.

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.

 

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