Travel Tuesday: Denali National Park
Travel Tuesday: Denali National Park
Denali National Park.
The pictures speak for themselves. I have visited the park five – yes, five – times now. I adore it more every visit. The mountains, the wildlife, the scenery, the hiking, the beautiful Mt. McKinley herself looming in the distance if you’re lucky enough to catch sight of her.
It’s breathtaking each visit in a different way. I’ve seen it newly snow-covered in late September, muddied and fresh in early Spring, at the height of green beauty in the depths of summer, and in these photos – an array of colors for fall. My husband and I plan to visit the park this winter when the snow is deep and maybe explore a bit on snowshoes or skis. I’m sure beautiful sights, sounds, and views will memorize me in the middle of winter just as they have in every other season.
Denali National Park was actually the first place I visited when I came to Alaska two years ago this month. I flew in the evening before and the next morning we set off for the park. To a Midwestern girl, there is nothing like it. To anyone on the planet, there is no mountain like Mt. McKinley. She is stunning beyond words and I’ve yet to capture a picture that does her justice. Sorry if this sounds like a love affair. It kind of is.
But if you get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go, here’s the lowdown:
When To Go
Early summer or early fall is by far the best time. Mid June – Mid August is chaos. That time frame is still gorgeous and the weather will be better, so your chance of seeing Mt. McKinley might be a little higher during prime tourist season – but I primarily go for the hiking and it’s loads better when you have the trails to yourselves in the end of May or early September.
How To Go
When you enter the park, go to the visitor’s center and get a park pass. If you’re military – it’s FREE! Make the drive to Savage River. It’s worth the views, the wildlife sightings, and there’s some alright trails at the Savage River turn around (they won’t let you drive any further). There are buses that will take you past the check point. I’ve heard they’re worth it, but the ride is LONG. I mean hours and hours going 30 mph to get to stops along the Park Road. I would like to try a bus next summer, and hopefully update this info. Apparently at the end of Park Road is Wonder Lake, complete with cabins and a lodge visitors can stay. The view of Mt. McKinley from this area are stunning from photos I’ve seen.
What To Do
Hike. Explore. Get out of your vehicle and into nature. Almost the entire park is fair game for back country hikers or campers, so don’t feel confined to just the managed trails. The one hike I’d suggest for anyone visiting Denali is the Mount Healy Overlook Trail, and if you’re feeling ambitious, keep going to the Mount Healy Summit. The trail past the overlook was originally used by animals, but overtime has been used by more experienced hikers or people who work in the park. The summit is absolutely breathtaking. It’s completely worth it if you have the stamina, and if hiking on narrow, winding, rocky ridge lines doesn’t give you vertigo. I intend to do a whole blog post on this favorite hike of mine soon.
What To Eat
My favorites are 49th State Brewing Company and Prospector’s Pizza & Alehouse. I’ve been told the Salmon Bake is delicious, and there’s a couple other restaurants in the “Denali Alley” area. Note that almost all of the shops and restaurants are seasonal and they usually close around September 20th, and don’t open back up again until Mid May. We drove through Denali over Thanksgiving last year on our way to Anchorage and it was literally a ghost town. The 49th State Brewing Company is located in Healy, AK (just a short drive from Denali) and is open all year round.
Where To Stay
I personally would avoid all the tourist hotels that line the Denali Alley area, and opt for a bed and breakfast (if you like your comfort), or cabin (if you’re open to a little less amenities), or even camping (if you’re really into the outdoors). Cabins and B&B’s can be found in the Cantwell and Healy areas on either side of the park entrance. I would recommend The Denali Lakeview Inn, especially if you’re visiting the park with a significant other. It’s very romantic! Or the Earth Song Lodge if you’re with a group. The Earth Song Lodge is composed of a bunch of cabins and worked perfectly for five of us visiting for 2 days and 2 nights. I’m not big into camping, so my suggestions are limited in that area. This being Denali National Park, I’m sure the camping opportunities are endless!
Add this amazing national park to your bucket list, stat!
“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
― John Muir