Visit Denali – North America’s Highest Mountain Peak
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
It’s impossible to visit Alaska without the desire to see Denali, ‘The Great One,’ in all its glory. The opportunity to witness this massive 20,310 feet peak beaming bright in all its majesty, is truly a privilege. In so many ways, the awe-enchanting natural beauty is so completely transcending. While there is no denying that Alaska’s many regions have so many amazing attributes to offer, North America’s highest mountain peak is undeniably Alaska’s top attraction.
Recreational enthusiasts rejoice inside the this 6-million acre outdoor mecca inside Alaska’s interior wilderness. Hiking, mountain climbing, wildlife viewing, bus rides into the park, northern lights, history, glaciers, dog sledding, and oh-so much more!
1: If a wild, rugged, perfectly untouched environment is what you’re looking for when you come to Alaska… Denali is where you’ll find it. There is only one road in, and one road out. This 92-mile long road began construction in 1923 and was completed by 1938. Visitors can hope on a bus and venture deep into the park where they have ample access to hop off and hike, bike, or spend the day snapping world-class photos. Private vehicles are only allowed up to mile marker 15. However, if you’ve got access to Alaska in the fall, we highly encourage you to apply for the Denali Road Lottery. This is the most awe-inspiring way to see more of the park at your own pace.
2: 20,310 feet is pretty darn high! Adrenaline junkies will relish in this mountain paradise. If you’re a mountaineer with an obsession to seek new summits, it doesn’t get much better than Denali. This is truly a mountaineering mecca. 1913 was the first summit on record. There are also tons of incredible peaks and ice walls within the Alaska Range where mountaineers can come and improve their skills before attempting to conquer North America’s tallest peak.
3: The Big Five! Did you know that most visitors to Denali National Park & Preserve are seeking spectacular sights of the “big 5” wildlife? These include the five largest mammals found inside the park; moose, caribou, wolves, grizzly bears, and Dall sheep. The park is also home to 39 total species of mammals, 169 bird species, and over 1,500 plant species. As with anywhere you go searching for WILD-life, it’s extremely important to exercise caution, educate yourself with the backcountry, and respect the space of the surrounding wildlife. After all, it is their home… you are just a visitor in their house.
4: With the official state sport of Alaska being Dog Mushing, it’s no surprise that sled dogs play an integral role in patrolling the park home to North America’s highest mountain peak. That’s right, some of Denali’s park rangers are four legged fur-babies. Denali sled dogs are the ONLY sled dogs found in the national park system within the United States. In fact, they have been patrolling since the park first opened in the 1920’s. When the snow melts, these “essential employees” get to take time off from their winter responsibilities and hang out with the visitors. So if and when you visit next, be sure to add a sled dog demonstration to your Denali bucket list! This is a fun activity that is perfect for all ages, shapes, and sizes. It’s almost impossible not to fall in love with these adorable canines.
5: Rich history and incredible culture is what you’ll find inside the beloved Denali National Park. The name Denali derives from native Athabaskan languages and means “the tall one” or “mountain-big.” Alaska Natives have lived on the land surrounding Denali for thousands of years. Remarkably so, they have used the rare resources of this land for things such as clothing, shelter, food, transportation, and trade. Visitors can learn more about the history and culture of Denali by visiting the Visitor Center directly inside the park or by attending a Ranger Talk with the National Park Service.
6: Explore a blast from the past and see what Denali was like millions of years ago. Can you possibly imagine how much the landscapes of the world have changed since the ice age? Fascinating to fathom! Denali’s 70-million year-old Cantwell Formation is overflowing with dinosaur fossils. The National Park Service reported that back in 2005, a three-toed carnivore called a theropod which was the first fossil ever found in interior Alaska. Since then, reports of thousands more fossils have been discovered. The Murie Science and Learning Center at Denali National Park & Preserve offers an incredibly educational place for visitors to see many of these fascinating fossils.
7: There is no greater bucket list MUST than watching a mind-blowing Northern Lights show inside or around Denali National Park. Plus, this is one of the very best places in the entire United States to observe the Aurora Borealis. Late-fall and winter are the best seasons to spot the lights, and into early spring as well. Auroras actually occur year-round, although Alaska’s long summer days make them almost impossible to see. Plan for a clear, cold, dark night and even if you don’t see the lights, chances are high that the stargazing will still be quite phenomenal.
8: Gorgeous, glistening, glaciers – oh my! Can you believe that glaciers cover one million acres of Denali? That is a staggering one-sixth of the entire park! These incredible landmasses flow from as high as 19,000 feet above sea level. Inside Denali, the Kahiltna Glacier is the longest in the park and inside the Alaska Range. It spans a remarkable 44 miles down the southwestern side of Denali.
9: If you don’t really like amphibians and prefer the big, fury, mammals of the “big 5” – Denali is just the place for you. There are zero reptiles found in the northern region, although the wood frog is the singular lone amphibian in Denali National Park. Surprisingly, they can survive harsh sub-zero winter temperatures for months on end by freezing solid throughout this season. Their hearts don’t beat and they don’t breathe, but chemicals that they contain protect the wood frogs’ cells so that they can hibernate. In the springtime, they thaw out and return to ponds where they will begin breeding. They are so rare and remarkable! Spotting one is a true treat, not to be taken for granted.
10: Can you believe that Denali, ‘The Great One,’ is visible from over 200 miles away? The Alaska Range creates its own weather system and on a clear day it can be seen from Alaska’s two largest cities – Anchorage and Fairbanks. Although, if you haven’t heard about the 30% club, we’re here to break it to you softly. It’s reported that only 30% of visitors to Alaska actually have the opportunity to see Denali shine in all its glory (mostly due to cloud cover and precipitation obstructing the view of the mountain).
Looking for another great read? Check out these 7 Road Trips That’ll Fuel Your Wanderlust To Travel Alaska This Summer. Or, Alaska’s Underground Permafrost Tunnel That’s Hiding In Plain Sight. Or, these 10 Ridiculously Rare Alaska Attractions That You’ll Be Blown Away By. You might also enjoy, Alaska’s Unreal Upside-Down Forest at Glacier Gardens in Juneau, Alaska.