Alaska’s Mount McKinley is North America’s highest peak. With its base at almost sea-level and a summit at over 20,000ft., it dwarfs the surrounding mountains. It is the focal point of the Denali National Park and Preserve. Situated in the heart of Alaska, McKinley is regarded as the coldest mountain in the world. Beautiful and dangerous, it offers climbers brutally extreme weather conditions year round. Its average temperatures ranging from -30F to -75F. The Denali National Park welcomes almost half a million visitors every year. Many travel there just to witness the sheer majesty of “The High One”. But Alaska’s National Park holds quite a few aces of its own.
Denali National Park offers over 12,000 lakes and over 18,000 miles of streams. Here, wolves and grizzly bears roam freely in a wildlife preserve larger than New Hampshire. For sheer spectacle, take the shuttle bus from the park entrance to Wonder Lake. This 11-hour round trip guarantees some dramatic and amazing scenery.
If you are truly lucky, caribou and eagles are often seen as well as dall sheep. Riley Creek, just inside the entrance, is one of the park’s seven campgrounds. A largely wooded area, it opens all year round and is the largest with 147 sites. Its general store offers laundry facilities, food, showers and camping supplies. Wander along its scenic trails and you may see red squirrels, snowshoe hares and pikas or even moose. For reservation details go to www.reservedenali.com or call 1-800-622-7275.
Popular for its day hiking, the Savage River is located near the end of the Park Road. Its two day-use areas can be accessed by car or free shuttle bus. The area offers endless recreation. It features numerous trails with picnic facilities, wildlife viewing and some stunning views of Mount McKinley.
The Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge is an ideal base for exploration. Its location on the banks of the Chulitna River, south of the park, makes it a real wilderness retreat. Each of its guest rooms sits peacefully on a hillside with incredible views of McKinley and guarantees complete relaxation. For the more adventurous, $10 will buy you a round trip ticket on the Lodge’s daily shuttle to Talkeenta.
While you’re there, a two hour float trip down the Talkeenta River is a must. The 6- to 8-mile voyage on this pristine river is a guided tour, so photo opportunities are plentiful. The spectacle of Mount McKinley and the Alaska Range is stunning. Gently gliding through moose and bear territories, the tour stops near active eagles nests and beaver dams. At $79 for adults and $54 for children, the tours are an amazing experience. The Lodge also offers guided trail rides through some of the most breathtaking scenery. Riding out from the stables, you instantly feel one with nature. Surrounded by ferns, mosses and tundra, you’ll be expertly guided along stunning mountain trails and into an enchanted forest of birch, poplar and aspen. With prices ranging from $99, the two hour roundtrip is simply unforgettable.
The town of Talkeenta also plays host to guided winter snowshoe hikes.These are a superb way to discover Alaska’s spectacular snow covered splendours. Search for unique tracks in the snow left by the area’s abundant wildlife, or take home a healing salve made from the native plants. The choices are yours. All the hikes include overshoes, water, hot chocolate, ski poles and snowshoes. Each 3-hour tour is tailored to your needs, as well as the current weather conditions. The $59 per person is great value and the tours run from November to April. For details, call (907)-733-8728.
For Snowshoe Magazine’s review of snowshoeing in Talkeetna, click here.
For a taste of the pioneering lifestyle, how about a horse-drawn covered wagon ride. The wagon picks you up right outside the Wilderness Lodge for a pleasant, leisurely and relaxing journey offering spectacular views of the Alaska Range glaciers and Mount McKinley. You’ll explore the wilderness and the tranquil wonders of the surrounding tundra, and be treated to historic stories about the epic gold rush with the chance to pan for gold yourself. Costing $69 for adults and $34 for children, this superb adventure lasts for two hours. Children under 5 are free. For Wilderness Lodge reservations call 1-800-426-0500.
Hiking in the Denali Wilderness is a must. For an unforgettable experience, a naturalist guide will escort you on an exhilarating 5-hour hike through forested trails and lush undergrowth. Along the way, you’ll learn about the local wildlife and history and be shown breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks and glaciers. Photo opportunities of the sheer majesty of the region are plentiful. And why not enjoy an alfresco lunch while you take in the crystal-clear air and incredible scenery? The hike covers five to seven miles, therefore sturdy shoes, insect repellant, bottled water and appropriate outdoor clothing is strongly recommended. Prices range from $99 for adults, $69 for children, and limited supplies of over-shoes and outdoor wear is available to hire.
In winter, The Denali National Park transforms into a magical wonderland. The crowds are few and chances to explore this iconic park by ski, sled or snowshoe are plentiful. Snowshoe trails meander close to the park entrance and snowshoe hire is free. Visit In February when the park plays host to Winterfest and you’ll witness a spectacular 7-day celebration of all things winter. Snowshoeing, dog sled rides, snow sculpting and ice carving are all free of charge and a free ranger-guided snowshoe hike takes place each weekend.
No journey to the McKinley Wilderness is complete without a bird’s-eye view of the region. The McKinley Discovery Tour will give you just that. You’ll soar over peaks, glaciers and miles of snow and ice as you discover America’s largest state from high above. Flying out from Talkeenta, you’ll glide over Denali National Park’s 6 million acres and ascend over the 23-mile long Tokositna glacier. Later in the flight, you’ll be within 6 miles of Mount McKinley’s summit for some amazing photo opportunities, before a breathtaking descent over Ruth Glacier and the Great Gorge. The price ranges from $249 and this memorable flight lasts for over an hour.
Attracting well over 1,200 climbers a year, Mount McKinley is in rightful contention as one of North America’s seven wonders. The stunning region offers countless lakes, forests and mountains. During the summer, sled dog demonstrations intrigue visitors and Reflection Pond attracts numerous photographers. With snowshoeing, white water rafting and back packing, its fantastic scenery and wildlife ensures a memorable adventure.