Denali National Park – This Vast Land Takes Your Breath Away

Denali National Park – The Easy Road There

Going to Denali National Park was a lifetime dream as I have mentioned in previous posts.  When friends ask me about that trip the top question is “how do you get there”? Getting lost traveling from Anchorage to Denali National Park is hard to do.  You can take the Alaska train like we did, which is an awesome ride, and the easy way to go in my mind.  There is only one highway and from Anchorage and it is about a three-hour drive.   There is also a small private airstrip if you have your own plane.  I vote for the train.

Denali Park, Alaska is a small town (zip code 99755).   Most places along the way, whether by rail or road, refer to mile markers rather than physical addresses.  Vast distances make this much easier to locate where you are and how far you have to go.  Arriving at the train station really feels like the middle of nowhere.  The Denali National Park visitor center is a short walk from the train station.

Denali National Park train depot

There are many lodges and hotels in Denali Park.  Some people combine a cruise with an Alaska train ride and stay in Denali.  We were staying at the Crow’s Nest and our van was waiting to pick us up.

The Crow’s Nest

The road up the hill was steep enough that I knew this place was aptly named.   After checking in, we took a cart ride up and up the hill with switch backs until as best as I could tell, we could go no higher.  From the deck on our room, I could see I was right. 

Denali National Park View from Crow's Nest

Our friendly driver helped us with our bags and our room was small but cozy with incredible views of the beginnings of Denali National Park.  I quickly found out how high we were as Lisa decided we needed some ice.  The ice machine was many flights of wooden stairs down to the lobby.  This was just the first set of stairs.

Denali National Park Crows Nest Stairs

Notice the stairs are wet as it was raining just to keep it exciting.  I made the trek and several more as Lisa needed water, a pizza, snacks, and so on throughout the rest of the evening—which was long as the sun in Denali National Park sets very late in August.  A good night’s sleep and we were at the visitor center early the next day.

Great Information About Denali National Park 

The website for Denali National Park provided by the National Park Service is excellent.  Open a new tab and copy this link into it–  I want to tell you about our bus trip into the park but I will also provide some links to the site in this article.  Before you visit, spend some time on the site.   Denali National Park is 100 years old in 2017 as well so there are many special birthday events going on this year. 

The Bus Tour Overdelivered Abundant Wildlife and Gorgeous Scenery

We got to the visitor’s center and decided which bus tour we wanted.  The people at the center ranged from serious hikers and climbers to sight seer visitors.  I cannot count the number of conversations in different languages going on.  We found our bus and quickly got a seat.

Denali National Park Bus

The same mix of people were on our bus.  I like following a map and luckily a good Denali National Park road map comes with the tickets.  We took a narrated tour to Eielson Visitor Center at mile marker 66.

Denali National Park Road Map

There is one road and private vehicles can only go as far as mile 15.  Again, hard to get lost.  The bus was full of people seemingly from everywhere.  Just like the visitors’ center, there were numerous conversations in many languages going on.  The tour guide is the conductor on these buses.  You quickly understand that when the guide points out any animal on either side of the bus, there is an immediate jumping to that side of the bus by nearly everyone.  Almost as we started, there were moose sighted.  Throughout the ride, people with phones in hand sprung from side to side doing what I now call the Denali National Park shuffle. 

Denali National Park Moose

A little farther down the road there was a large bear right outside the bus.  We waited patiently while he ate berries and then crossed the road in front of us.

I don’t often spring around to catch a view as I have seen a lot of moose and bears over the years.  I had almost as much fun seeing the excited people as I am sure the animals did.   I did get enticed to move when the caribou showed up as I had never seen caribou in the wild.   Denali National Park is untouched wilderness.  The Park Service does no animal management in the Park.  No species are introduced.  The bus narrator had us stay as quiet as possible on the bus around the animals so they don’t become accustomed to human voices and noises.    The only time we got off the bus near animals was when a small fox was running straight down the road and around the bus.

Denali National Park caribou

We were on this long down grade into a valley that seemed endless.  Denali National Park is six million acres and even in the mist, it seems like you can see for a hundred miles.  Three guys in hiking gear got up and went to the front of the bus.  They wanted to get out and walk.  I thought there is no way the driver is going to let these guys out—we weren’t that far from the bear.  Then, he started describing a draw off the left side of the bus and how it would end up several miles near a river. 

The driver later told a story about a bear that killed a caribou at the river and laid on top of it all winter to keep other predators away.  The hikers started off the road in about thigh high grass.  No—I did not think for a second about walking a while.  For whatever reason, I thought about which of them looked the slowest.  After all, you don’t have to out run the bear – just the slowest person in your group!

The animal experiences are nice, but I really wasn’t on the ride for that part of Denali National Park.  I have seen many beautiful animals in the wild in many parts of North America.  I was engrossed viewing the fascinating scenery that had taken millions of years to form.

The Wonder Of It All

The openness and vastness of the land is difficult to describe.  There are huge mountains with equally deep ravines that run cold, gray water.  Glaciers have been digging these ravines for thousands of years.  Much of Denali National Park is at or above the tree-line.  Denali may be the world’s coldest mountain with its high elevation and subarctic location.  Mt. Everest in contrast is at about the same latitude as where I live in Florida.

The National Park Service’s article “The Alaska Range and Denali:  Geology and Orogeny” is an excellent description of this land of eternal winter.  These are just a few of the photos I took that show the beauty of this immense land.

Denali National Park ravine

Denali National Park river

Denali National Park mountain

Denali National Park delta

Denali National Park in Winter

We obviously were not in Denali in the winter.  I grew up in winter climates and lived many years in the mountains.  I really want to go back to Alaska and see the Northern Lights and seen Denali again,  Years ago, I use to snowmobile into Yellowstone and winter time is really beautiful in the wilderness.  The winter season just closed in Denali National Park and this article on the NPS website has some great pictures.  I have got to go dog sledding at some point and I think this is the spot.

Denali National Park dog mushing

NPS Photo dog mushing

I will make this trip—dog sled Denali, go to the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks and see the Aurora Borealis. 

Denali National Park Fairbanks Ice Art

The Mysterious Pearl

Get Going To A Special Place

Of course, we always invite you to join us in travel, fishing and adventure.  We are just regular people like you going to some of the greatest places on earth.  Active travel improves your mental and physical well-being and is great for your outlook and soul.  Please keep reading our articles and if you have an adventure to share, we would love to hear about it.  Here’s looking forward to a fun-filled summer in Alaska or wherever you go.

Denali National Park Lisa and Bill

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