Everything is big in Alaska, and even bigger in Denali. It’s view of Mt. McKinley is spectacular (on the days you can see it – tour drivers told us only 1 in 7 visitors see the Mountain because it is so tall it creates it’s own weather and clouds which block the view)
Fortunately, as soon as we got to the first viewpoint on the bus tour (12 hours long round trip), the Mountain revealed itself. It’s then visible the entire day as you draw closer. This all happens from the bus, since private cars are not allowed on the main park road. This keeps traffic to a minimum, and allows you to really focus on the scenery and wildlife. And boy is there a lot of wildlife. You’re virtually guaranteed to see bear, elk, sheep, and a variety of other animals. We even saw a wolverine on one of our hikes. And of course Alaska’s state bird, the mosquito.
We took the bus to virtually the end of the line (Wonder Lake) which is where all the people trying to summit McKinley get off (and on we later discovered, more later on that).
Resist the urge to stay on the roads you can drive, and in the main visitors center area. Yes you can see animals there. Yes there are developed and nice campgrounds. Yes a visit to the sled dogs is fun. But to really experience this place you need to at least get on the bus and get out into the country. Some would say that that’s not even enough, that you need to get a backcountry permit and a bear canister and brave the real wilderness. I’m not experienced enough to go out on my own backcountry (nor do I have the equipment) but that’s another reason I love the parks. You can experience so much, even if you are staying at a lodge and driving. The other opportunities are there, but you’re not totally locked out if you don’t have the time, inclination, equipment, or physical ability to go backpacking.
We did a great hike here at polychrome overlook, and also at wonder lake. But most of the time, we were happy to ride the bus with the windows down and just take things in for a change, without having to worry about driving, or parking, or filling up with gas.
On the way back from wonder lake, we discovered that the scout and venture and outward bound type groups all use the busses too, and a group that just came off the mountain took up most of the bus. They still teemed with the energy of the summit (even though weather didn’t allow them to get to the top), and the enthusiasm was infectious. The one drawback was that this was the smelliest bus ride I’ve ever experienced, owing to the fact that there are no showers up on that mountain….
My favorite things to do here
- Bus tour with nature and wildlife views
- The wonder lake trail
- Sled dog kennel tour
Things I want to come back to do
- Primitive Campgrounds
- Park is over SIX MILLION acres!
National Park Service Website: http://www.nps.gov/dena/
NPS Map: http://home.nps.gov/applications/hafe/hfc/carto-detail.cfm?Alpha=dena