Denali National Park and Preserve is one of the country’s sparkling gems. It is one of the largest national parks in the United States, at about 6 million acres. In winter, Denali National Park receives far fewer visitors, allowing for open, tranquil exploring on snowshoes.
The park also contains North America’s tallest peak, Mt. McKinley/ Denali at 20,320 feet (6194 m). The mountain peak is so prevalent that it can be seen 265 miles (426 km) 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 (193 km) in the distance.
As you’re viewing McKinley and the unending scenery in the park, keep on the lookout for plentiful wildlife, such as bears, moose, Dall sheep, caribou, and wolves.
Denali National Park During Winter
During the winter months from about October through March, Denali becomes magical.
The park offers a front-row seat for viewing the Northern Lights, with the best viewing times from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. What better way for you to see the northern lights than on snowshoes! Just remember to be cautious when snowshoeing at night.
To explore the park during the day on snowshoes, sign up for a guided trek offered by the park. 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.
Denali National Park Winter Visitor Center
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 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, the center offers exhibits, bookstore items, restrooms, and comfortable seating by a fireplace. Also, make sure to catch a screening 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.
Snowshoe Trails in Denali National Park
The Mt. Healey Trail, which is recommended for snowshoeing only, is a moderate-difficult trail, and usually on packed snow. At higher elevations, however, expect deep snowdrifts, exposed loose rock, ice accumulation, and high winds.
The Roadside Trail near the park entrance is an easy trail and popular destination for those mushing, hiking, cross-country skiing, and skijoring. Skijoring is cross-country skiing with the assistance of dogs who are pulling the skier.
The Triple Lakes Trail has two starting points, both near the Riley Creek trail. One starting point is for a backcountry trail that is not maintained and is moderate-strenuous. The other starting point is for an easy, established trail. Both Triple Lakes trails travel north across two (easy) or three (backcountry) lakes. Please note the easy Triple Lake Trail ends just before Triple Lake, and you’ll need to access the backcountry trail for additional views. The backcountry trail continues past Triple Lake to the park highway. However, each trail provides great scenic views in the process.
Many other snowshoeing possibilities are available. The trails can range from easy to difficult, and as noted above, both established and backcountry trails are open. Check with the park rangers for suggestions or view the winter trail map at the Denali National Park site.
Winterfest is a highly anticipated annual winter event held in Denali National Park. It’s a celebration of all things winter!
The event typically occurs on February 21-23. In 2020, Winterfest will celebrate the 20th year of this community-wide event! Winterfest features an array of activities, including snowshoeing, and offers something for all ages, interests, and abilities.
The National Park Service hosts a wide variety of activities throughout the day at or near the Murie Science and Learning Center, located at Mile 1.3 on the Denali Park Road.
Offerings have included 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.
Meals, lodging, and other services are available year-round in the nearby communities of Healy and Cantwell. In addition, Riley Creek Campground, located in Denali National Park, is open for camping. A vault toilet is provided for winter campers, and the Murie Science and Learning Center can provide water.
The Winterfest schedule for 2020 is coming soon! Mark your calendars.
If You Visit
Denali National Park is located 240 miles (386 km) north of Anchorage, 120 miles (193 km) south of Fairbanks, and 12 miles (19 km) south of Healy. 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 or visit http://www.explorefairbanks.com/.
Have you visited Denali National Park in the winter? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments below.