Visiting Alaska’s Denali National Park

Denali Nat park,

Denali Nat park,

by  Venice Kichura,

Highlights of a Mount McKinley Visit

When you visit Alaska’s Denali National Park be sure bring your binoculars. You’re sure to find natural wildlife and will want a close-up view from your tour bus.
No visit to Alaska is complete without touring Denali National Park, home to Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. Here visitors can observe wild animals, such as bears, caribous, wolves, sheep and moose, in their natural habitat while safely riding a tour bus. The six million acres making up the park (about six hours north of Anchorage and two hours south of Fairbanks) comprise an area larger than the state of New Hampshire.

History of Denali

Denali’s history began thousands of years ago, but it was only a hundred years ago that humans began enjoying this natural wildlife refuge. In 1906 Yale graduate easterner, Charles Sheldon, went to hunt Dall sheep for his trophy collection, as well as obtain museum specimens. Bonding with the park, Sheldon returned the following year, along with packer, Harry Karstens, doing further research.

The highest mountain in North American, Denali (formerly Mount. McKinley) stands at 20,320 feet (in the center of Denali National Park) and spans more than 600 miles of the Alaskan range. Although it’s not advisable to climb Denali, some brave souls still attempt it, with a less than a 50% success rate.

Bus Tours

Although you can tour by car on your own, it’s advisable to take advantage of the different bus tours. Depending on how long you want to stay in the park, tours vary in length, some up to nine hours. Also, you’re limited if you decide to go on your own, as you can only drive the first 14 miles of the 90-miles offered from a bus tour.

Denali’s Wildlife

One of the highlights of visiting Denali is spotting wildlife. You never know when bears, moose, caribou or other park animals will appear. Because most of the wildlife is seen in the distance, be sure to bring your binoculars for a close-up view. What appears as tiny white pebbles to the naked eye could be a clan of dall sheep. Some of the wildlife visible in the spring, summer, and winter include…

  • Bears — Tourists are warned there’s always the possibility of a encountering a bear. However, by taking precautions you can reduce your odds of meeting one. If you stay in groups of five or more (such as a Denali tour), the bears will, most likely, stay away. Make plenty of noise. When you let the bears know you’re coming, they’ll scat (unless they smell food.) Most importantly, never bring food with you and be sure to clean up any garbage, as this is a calling card for bears.
  • Caribou – Caribou travel in groups and it’s quite common to see a pack of twenty or more grazing together.
  • Dall sheep – Sheep also travel as a pack. They can be found resting on the ridges, while chances they’re usually hiding from predators on the high rocks and crags.
  • Moose – Although moose aren’t as terrifying as bears, don’t get too close to a mother moose because she can be overprotective of her babies.

Vegetation at Denali

Denali has a short growing season of no more than 100 days, with acidic soils.

  • The taiga – It’s here in the northern forest, known as the taiga, where plants, fungi, and animals are linked ecologically.
  • The tundra – Denali’s tundra is treeless, displaying rainbow of colors and textures.

Finally, be warned it’s difficult to get a clear view of Mount McKinley because clouds usually hide the summit most of the year. If you get frustrated, realize your odds are only one out of three you’ll be able to see the top.

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