Big Trip: Denali

On the road to Denali National Park.

A trip to Denali National Park will give you the opportunity to explore a true wilderness. The best way to really experience this place is to immerse yourself in the backcountry for at least a few days—or better yet—a week or two. You can wander across glacier-ravaged moonscapes, bounce over large swaths of tundra and creep through dense spruce forests all in one day. You’ll share blueberry patches with bears (hopefully at a distance), find caribou bones strewn about and cross raging rivers flowing straight from the flanks of the highest peak on the continent.

Denali’s draws—peaceful solitude, remarkable wildlife, raw landscapes—come with equally awesome challenges, so if you decide to venture away from the road (and you should!) make sure you’re prepared.

Hike In

The seclusion found in Denali is partly because the park is so well managed; 6 million acres of vast wildlands are divided into 87 units and almost half of these have a limit on the number of individuals (from 2 to 12) that can camp in each unit per night. Before you go, design the perfect trip (and a couple back-up options) for your group at nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm. There are no trails so you will be traveling cross-country over harsh terrain. As a result, plan on covering a lot less ground than you usually do on a hike at home. You’ll need to acquire a permit and the mandatory Bear Resistant Food Canister in person at the backcountry office.

No one can drive the road beyond Savage River (mile 15), so catch a shuttle bus to begin your journey into the wild. Keep a look out for animals along the way and breathe deep because once the bus pulls away, you will be free to enjoy the peace and simple life as you meander through your own piece of the last frontier.

Go Luxe

If backpacking isn’t your thing, there are various other ways to discover Denali. Sign up for a guided bus tour or DIY by grabbing a shuttle; you can either travel the entire length of the road to Wonder Lake or hop off midway, go for a hike and board another bus later in the day. To savor Denali’s quietude, use the campground at Wonder Lake (or any of the park’s 6 campgrounds) as a base for your explorations.

Perhaps, roughing it isn’t your idea of a vacation at all. It is also possible to infuse your Denali adventure with luxury by staying at the native-owned Kantishna Roadhouse (kantishnaroadhouse.com) or Camp Denali (campdenali.com) nestled deep inside the park at the end of the 94-mile road. Staying here will give you a chance to explore the park, catch glimpses of the mountain, watch wildlife wander past your cabin while still enjoying incredible meals, guided activities and the comforts of home.

 

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