Denali National Park and Preserve is one of the country’s sparkling gems, and one of the largest national parks in the U.S. at about 6 million acres. That’s a lot of terrain to snowshoe! Noted for having North America’s largest peak – Mt. McKinley/Denali at 20,320 feet – the park’s unending scenery and plentiful wildlife includes bears, moose, Dall sheep, caribou, and wolves. The mountain is so prevalent that it can be seen 265 miles away at the Anchorage International Airport Terminal! The University of Fairbanks has a scenic overlook that also affords a fabulous view of Denali, 120 miles in the distance.
During winter months from about October through March, Denali offers a front row seat for viewing the Northern Lights, with the best viewing times from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. According to Amber Schmidt, an interpretive ranger at the park, ranger-guided snowshoe hikes are often scheduled on weekends after the New Year. “Snowshoes are available for visitors to borrow at the Winter Visitor Center,” she says.
Located at the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve, the Murie Science and Learning Center combines science, education, and partnerships to protect areas of national significance. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, the center offers exhibits, bookstore items, restrooms, comfortable seating by a fireplace, and screenings of the award-winning park film, Heartbeat of Denali. Rangers can provide information about current conditions, trip planning, and interpretive activities. Detailed trail maps are also available at the learning center.
Mount Healey Trail, which is recommended for snowshoeing only, is a moderate trail, usually on packed snow. At higher elevations, however, expect deep snow drifts, exposed loose rock, ice accumulation, and high winds. The Park Road is a popular destination for those mushing, hiking, cross-country skiing, and skijoring. The latter activity is cross-country skiing with the assistance of dogs also pulling the skier. Triple Lakes Trail is a moderate to strenuous trail that travels north across three lakes while providing great scenic views in the process. Many other snowshoeing possibilities are available, just check with the park rangers for suggestions.
An annual event that’s highly anticipated by many is Winterfest 2014, a celebration of all things winter. As in the past, the event will again take place at Denali National Park and Preserve, Feb. 21-23. This long-running community-wide event features an array of activities, including snowshoeing, and offers something for all ages, interests, and abilities.
Festivities kick off on Friday, February 21 with an evening presentation at the McKinley Village Community Center. The National Park Service hosts a wide variety of activities on Saturday, February 22 from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at or near the Murie Science and Learning Center, located at Mile 1.3 on the Denali Park Road. The day’s offerings include ranger-guided snowshoe walks and cross-country ski tours, sled dog rides, snow sculpting, children’s activities, films, and the opportunity to meet some of the park’s sled dogs. Events continue in the community surrounding the park throughout the weekend, Feb. 22-23. Meals, lodging, and other services are available year-round in the nearby communities of Healy and Cantwell. The park’s Riley Creek Campground is open for free camping. A vault toilet is provided for winter campers, while water can be obtained at the Murie Science and Learning Center.
If planning a visit to Denali from either Fairbanks or Anchorage, here are a few resources for getting started. To discover more about Alaska and specifically Anchorage, visit www.anchorage.net. In Fairbanks, a good starting point is the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center (http://www.morristhompsoncenter.org/) or visit http://www.explorefairbanks.com/.