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How Big is Denali National Park? (7 Amazing Things and Activities List)

Denali national park is one of the biggest that exist in the world.

The area covered by the Denali national park is around 6 million acres. The perimeter is 600 miles. It has 230 campsites and 35 miles of trails.

The national park has been created to preserve the ecosystem and various plants and animals in the forest. The site is a tourist attraction and many people come from all over the world to see the beautiful ecosystem and ecology that exist in the heart of the Denali national park.

Denali National Park, earlier named as Mount McKinley National Park, is a national park located in Alaska, USA. Centered on the highest peak of North America, Denali. Established in the year 1917, it receives approximately 600,000 visitors every year, with entry fee being $15 per person.

When you visit the park, you are rewarded with memorable sights that you will remember for your entire life, including golden eagles at the Polychrome Pass, Dall’s sheep at the Primrose Ridge, a grizzly bear at the Sable Pass, or a caribou on the ridgetop.

Even though such a huge number of people visit the park every year, most of its wilderness is still untouched by humans. This is probably because the services are scattered at scant places and there is only one road that bisects the park. Other areas of the vast forest are still unvisited.

The landscape of Denali is a mixture of different terrains. It has deciduous taiga forests at low heights, tundra at mid-elevations, and snow, bare rocks and glaciers at the highest points. Kahiltna Glacier is the longest glacier, and cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and dog sledding are some of the most popular winter activities. If you are looking for some real nature and adventure in its true form, then no other place can give you a better experience.

Flora and Fauna

Denali has been divided into two different terrains, taiga and tundra zones. Taiga zone extending around 2700 feet above sea level in Denali primarily consists of spruce, aspen, and stubby evergreen trees found around the Arctic Circle.

There are treeless parts in the park that can be termed as tundra. Within this zone, you can find miniature plants including mosses, shrubs and tiny flowers. You need to be wary of willow thickets while hiking, as they can be a major obstruction in these areas.

There are spruce, willows that are mostly found in the forest. On the other hand, the fauna of this place is even more diverse. Warning, there are grizzly bears that are found in this region. Apart from that, there are also other animals such as ptarmigan, tundra swans, hawks, owls, foxes, moose, Dall sheep, caribou. Occasionally, you can also see black bears and wolves. If you get a glimpse of a wolverine, feel yourself lucky.

Geography of the national park

Denali national park is located in the center of Denali which is the largest mountain of North America. The national park also contains the Alaska region and it contains many glaciers and glacial region valleys. To the north, the park contains the valley of McKinley, total, and Forker river. Along with that, there is George Parks Highway runs along the eastern part of the Denali national park. The entrance of the park is around 11miles to the Healy and the Denali park headquarter is located inside the entrance.

Climatic Conditions

Denali National Park has a variable climate that can change any time without any warning. On the same day, you can witness rain, wind, clouds, as well as sun. In summers, the temperatures may range between 33 and 75°F. If you are traveling in July, be prepared to face some snow and pack your clothes accordingly. Don’t forget to carry a jacket or raincoat for the purpose.

The minimum temperature recorded in the Denali national park is around -38.9 C. There are short growing season and long winters in this national park. Due to this reason, many birds and animals underwent hibernation and migration to different parts of the world. The park is most active in the summers when the birds return from migration and the animals woke up from the hibernation. It is the best time to visit this national park. There exist summer and winter season in this national park. 

In winters, the temperatures may go as low as -40°F. So, you would need special weather clothes for winter visits and mountaineering expeditions. The Denali mountain stays covered with clouds during most part of the summer months. In case you find the clouds apart, take full advantage of the opportunity and get a complete view of the range. In winters, warm days can be pleasant at 20°F.

How to Get There

By Air: Fairbanks International Airport and Anchorage Ted Stevens International Airport are the closest airports to Denali.

By Road: You can reach Denali National Park by road via Alaska Route 3 George Parks Highway running from Anchorage to Fairbanks. The highway remains open throughout the year, however the major road running through the park may shut down due to unfavorable weather. You may also get in touch with tour operators at both the airports, and find out if they operate bus services from the airport to the park.

By Rail: Alaska Railroad offers daily rail service to the park during summers. If you are traveling from Fairbanks, you have to board the train at 8.15am, arrive the park at noon, and come back at 8.15pm. If you are traveling from Anchorage, you have to board the train at the same time at 8.15am, reach the park at 3.45pm, and come back at 8.15pm.

Map data ©2020 Google

What to See?

Denali National Park is enormous and most of its parts are accessible by foot only. Vehicles go till the first 15 miles only, after which you have to travel in park buses. Eielson Visitor Center gives incredible views of the Denali peak, provided that it is not covered with mountains. If you want a little more adventure, you may plan to stay at the Wonder Lake campground for a couple of nights. Serious adventure lovers can go backpacking into the backcountry to have some once-in-a-lifetime experience. Here are a few sights that you must not miss visiting in the park:

Denali Visitor Center: Established in May 2005 near the railroad depot, this is a new visitor center where you can watch a movie. Most of the trail walks led by a ranger start from this point. You can buy the shuttle bus tickets and reserve a campground at the Wilderness Access Center nearby.

Polychrome Pass: Named after the multi-colored bluffs of the area, you can have some spectacular views of the Alaska mountain range from Polychrome Overlook. Shuttle for the place leaves only once in a day between 5-6pm. This gives you an opportunity to click some great photographs in the place’s evening lights. You can also go for a short trip inside the park, and come back quickly for departure.

Wonder Lake: It is a gorgeous lake that you must have noticed in many Ansel Adams’ photographs. Situated at the mountain’s base, there is a Reflection Pond on the east along the park road. Photographers love to click it along with the mountain when it is out of clouds. Take the trail to the McKinley River and get a worthwhile glimpse.

Kantishna Gold Mining Town: Kantishna is an old, unincorporated town in Denali Borough situated 3 miles north-west of the Wonder Lake. Lying in the Kantishna Hills near the Eureka and Moose Creek junction, it is constructed near the source of gold. Established in 1905 as a camp for gold mining, it was formerly named as Eureka, but the Board on Geographic Names renamed it as Kantishna in 1944. At an elevation of 1696 feet, it also has a post office at the site.

Eielson Visitor Center: You can easily reach the center by shuttle bus and get some theatrical views of the peaks, provided that they are not covered by clouds. Many short trails are there around the center that you can walk through. Read the displays inside the center to get some important information about the area’s history.

Savage River: If you are traveling in your private vehicle, you will not be allowed to go beyond this point. So, it is a place where most vehicles stop and visitors get a chance to admire its beauty. Leave your vehicle at the parking lot and head towards the trails that are available on both river sides. Reach the Mount Margaret highest point and look for some Dall sheep.

What fun stuff to Do?

Denali National park is like a paradise for outdoor lovers of all ages. Here are a few things you can do there:

Taking a Bus Tour: Since private vehicles are not allowed to browse through the park after a few miles, you can take a bus tour managed by the tour operators instead of tiring yourself up on foot. Remember, no buses are operated by the National Park Service to go through the Park Road. You have to look for tour buses and shuttle buses operated by tour operators.

During these bus tours, you will get an opportunity to learn about the history and culture of the area, in addition to admiring the area’s natural beauty and splendor. However, if you are on a budget and if you are looking for a backpack tour or a day hike, you can take a shuttle service that allows you to see maximum of the park by reaching out to the interiors that are not accessible by buses.

Backpacking: While you go for a backpacking trip in the Denali National Park, stay ready to not see any other human for days. If you are planning to spend a night in the park, you will need to take a permit from the Backcountry Information Center situated near the Wilderness Access Center. There are strict limitations to the number of people who can camp inside the park at any time. So, you will need permits and there are no advance reservations.

Hiking: The park itself has multiple trails for hiking, but adventure seekers would prefer going on their own paths. If you are off trail hiking, prefer not to hike the same place in a large group. This will cause damage to the natural vegetation due to repeated treading.

Mountaineering: Climbing the Denali mountain itself is quite challenging, but there are several other peaks in the Alaska Range that you can decide to explore. West Buttress, the mountaineering route of Denali, can be climbed by fit and experienced mountaineers only. You may also hire guide services to go for an expedition up Foraker and Denali.

Watching the Aurora Borealis: Denali is an excellent place in the US to watch Aurora Borealis. However, there will be a great deal of luck and planning to witness this natural phenomenon. While these Northern Lights occur all through the year, you can view them only in the early spring, winter and fall when the sky is dark enough to let them become visible. The chances get even better after the area receives a powerful solar storm. Apart from that, even if this hardly predictable phenomenon is not a possibility, star gazing would be an incredible experience from the Denali National Park.

Whitewater Rafting: Nenana River parallel to the Parks Highway is one of the most popular spots for whitewater rafting. There are adventure service providers who offer 2 or 4 hour trips. You may also opt for twin engine, enclosed, heated, jet boats. Visit the Denali Outdoor Center for more information and bookings.

Having Aerial Views of the Park: A number of flights operate from McKinley National Park Airport, which is a public-use airport situated north-east of Denali National Park in Alaska. Owned and operated by the US National Park Service, it is situated within the park and offers a number of aerial services during summers. You can board a flight and get a chance to have aerial views of the big peak, or helicopter flightseeing over the valleys and glaciers.

Watching the Sled Dog Demonstrations: Sled dogs are used in the park for transportation during winters, but in summers, they offer sled dog demonstrations for the public every day. These are 30 minute demonstrations conducted at 10am, 2pm and 4pm. There is no parking lot at the site of demonstration and you will have to board a shuttle from Denali Visitor Center. Since you have already bought tickets for park entry, there are no tickets for the shuttle and the demonstration.

Fishing: Lake trout can be caught in the Wonder Lake, which is easily accessible by bus. You may also find some grayling inhibits in some clear stream waters running through the park. Some of the streams flow towards the Savage River, which you can access by your private vehicle. However, there is a limit to how many fishes you can catch in a day. One person can catch maximum 10 fish in a day, not exceeding 10 lbs of weight. However, if it is lake trout, you cannot catch more than 2 fish, whether released or hooked.

Safety Tips Inside the Park

  • Be Prepared for the Insects: Depending on what time of the year you are visiting the park, you may meet huge hordes of blood thirsty insects that may drive you crazy. They are not out all through the year, but when they are, you may feel yourself on the brink of losing sanity. Even if the black flies and mosquitoes don’t bite you, they can buzz into your eyes and ears and make your trip uncomfortable.

Bug repellents may not be sufficient for bugs in such huge numbers. The best tip is to have a mosquito net head covering, and wear clothes that can cover each and every part of your skin.

  • Beware of Wild Animals: Bears are one of the most serious dangers in the Denali National Park. Grizzly bears are huge and dangerous, they may look cute but can be unpredictable especially if they have their young ones with them. Apart from the bears, you have similar kind of threat from caribou, moose, and wolves as well. Do not run away from a bear as it will instinctively chase you.

Stay at a safe distance from the animals and hike through the park while making some noise. This will alert the animals and they will not be surprised by your presence.

  • Know Your Route: There are several hiking trails in the park and it is important to know your route. Tundra is an open area where it is difficult to get lost. However, if you need to cross a stream, be extremely careful, as the water is extremely cold and currents are very strong. If you get pulled under, you can be in serious danger due to breaking bones or spraining. In case you get wet, change to dry clothes quickly to avoid being hit by hypothermia.

Accommodation

While heading to the Denali National Park, you need to be sure of where you are going to stay there. There is a multitude of cabins, vacation rentals, hostels, hotels, motels, wilderness resorts and lodges in and around the park. You can book your accommodation in advance and rest assured that you have a safe and sound place to stay at the park. There are several restaurants and bars as well clustered around the park entrance, and there are supply stores within the park as well.

History and Establishment

In 1917, Denali National Park was established as Mount McKinley National Park as a refuge for wildlife. In 1980, it got its new name and its size was expanded by 4 million acres under the ANILCA (Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act). At present, the park has been divided into three units, with varying hunting allowances.

  1. Denali Wilderness: The original park area, undeveloped wilderness, no hunting allowed

  2. Denali National Park: Management area, some additions made in 1980, subsistence hunting allowed

  3. Denali National Preserve: Two park areas, sports allowed, subsistence hunting allowed on permit

The ancient study has concluded that people lived in the Denali region 11000 years before the present time. The site outside the park has traces of human settlement 8000 years old. Despite such an ancient historical site, the archaeological department hasn’t found anything extra in this region. Historians have claimed that the people living in the region 11000 years back, used to move out of this region in the month of winter owing to the harsh winter condition. 

In the year 1906, Charles Alexandro Sheldon came up with the idea of converting the Denali region as the national park of the Denali. Alexandro Sheldon presented this idea to Boone and Crockett Club. By his proposal, the Denali national park was set up in the region of Denali.

Conclusion

Since there is so much to do and see in the Denali National Park, why not head towards it and have some of the best times of your life. However, the key is to be safe and comfortable.

Should you encounter any problem, there is a medical center about 1 mile to the north of the park’s entrance in the ‘Canyon’. Another medical center is nearly 13 miles to the north of the park’s entrance in Healy. There is a large hospital at Fairbanks, around 120 miles to the north of the park’s entrance. If you are not able to find any of these centers, you can contact the parks rangers via 911 emergency number and they will respond immediately.

 

 

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