Denali Park
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Denali National Park & Preserve

DenaliFairbanks is only about 120 miles from Denali National Park & Preserve, on the scenic and seldom crowded George Parks Highway (Alaska Route 3)

Denali is also on the route of the Alaska Railroad

It is a nice trip but very s-l-o-w-w-w-w, so you may want to take it only one way (it takes 12 hours to get to Anchorage - a distance you can drive in 6). 

Some cars have a viewing bubble in the top and the view is excellent. Click here for a photos of train on bridges just north and south of the park.

If you drive down, be sure to watch for scenic turnouts for good views of Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America (20,320 ft.above sea level). It often seems as if the closer you get, the more the view is obscured by clouds, so you may see more wild animals in the park than views of the mountain.

The mountain is massive, the centerpiece of the glacier-strewn Alaska Range. Beneath the mountain are 37 mammal species and 160 species of birds. Mammals include barren-ground caribou, grizzly bears, wolves, moose, and Dall sheep. Wandering, natural glacier rivers laden with silt give birth to natural dams. They periodically change course across wide, flat valleys. Much of the park's scarce tree growth is found in these river valleys. Most of the park, at higher elevations, is covered with rock and ice, or sub-Alpine tundra with scattered ponds, clusters of dense shrubs like dwarf birch, willow, or blueberry, and millions of miniature wildflowers.

Mount McKinley (Denali)
Mount McKinley, as mentioned above, is the centerpiece of the 6-million-acre park.Mt. McKinleyIt was in 1896 that a group of prospectors led by William A. Dickey saw the yet-unnamed mountain. They later named the mountain after presidential candidate William McKinley.

The park itself was established as Mt. McKinley National Park in 1917 as a wildlife refuge for the protection of large mammals including Dall sheep, caribou, moose, grizzly bears and wolves. Athabascan natives called Mt. McKinley Denali, "the High One," and in 1980, the national park's name was changed to Denali, the same year that the park was expanded from 1.9 million acres to 6 million acres.

Getting to the Park
The park is accessible from Fairbanks by highway (the well-paved George Parks Highway), railroad, and scheduled air service. The park entrance is about 120 miles south of Fairbanks, 240 miles north of Anchorage. The Alaska Railroad runs daily between Anchorage and Fairbanks, making it a scenic alternative to driving. To protect wildlife, private vehicle use is restricted on the park road, and private vehicles can only go as far as mile 14.8 on the park road.

Driving Within the Park
Entrance Fee: are not charged an entrance fee unless you go past Mile 15 of the park road. If you take a shuttle bus into the park, entrance fees of $10/person or $20/family are automatically incorporated into the total cost of your ticket. Those entering the park on a bike or on foot will be asked to pay an entrance fee at the Savage River Checkstation.

Permits: Permits are required for backcountry travel but are free. If you plan to climb Denali, you are required to register, and pay for a permit. To learn more about this process, or how to obtain a backcountry permit, check out the their website.

The park road is open to Wonder Lake from June 10 to mid-September, when it is usually closed by the first heavy snowfall. Only a very limited number of vehicles (cars & trucks) are allowed in the park. You have to take a shuttle bus in.

The park's popularity can make it hard to get a seat on National Park Service shuttle buses to prime wildlife-viewing areas. The bus service operates along the 85-mile wilderness road from the park entrance to Wonder Lake. It will drop you off or pick you up at points along the park road. They depart from the Visitor Access Center near the park entrance at frequent, scheduled intervals, with stops at all the campgrounds and wildlife viewing opportunities along the way.

Reservations:
Check locally for up-to-date information on travel within the park. If you plan ahead, reservations are taken for 50% of the campsites and shuttle bus seats, but you need to call EARLY. Starting mid-January you can reserve up to 8 shuttle bus seats in advance by phone.

If they are sold out, they take reservations at the park for the other 50%, but for no more than 2 days in advance, or by phone one day before. Phone numbers for reservations are 1-800-622-7275 or, (907) 272-7275. You can also make reservations by fax at (907) 264-4684. We were also told you can call Denali National Park at (907) 683-2294 in the winter or (907) 683-1266 in the summer for information on camping, shuttle-bus reservations and entrance fees. Here is their web page for more information.

Shuttle Bus Prices (2005)
 

2005

Toklat
Fish Creek
Wonder Lake
 
Mileage
Mile 53
Mile 63
Mile 86
Trip Time
6 hrs
8 hrs
11 hrs
Adult 18 & over
$18.50
$23.75
$32.50
Young Adult (15-17)
$9.25
$11.75
$16.25
3 trips for 2 pass (fares are for one person)
$37.00
$47.50
$65.00
Youth
All shuttle tickets and passes are free for children age 14 & under.

As late as 1999, for Alaskan residents, or those planning longer stays, there was a six-ride discount package. Nontransferable tickets were $25 for rides to Toklat, Eielson or interior campgrounds, or $40 to Wonder Lake. The tickets had to be used a minimum of seven days apart, and reservations were still required for each trip. Check with the park to be sure these are still available.

If you want the 86-mile shuttle bus tour and don't have a reservation, allow  several days' wait for an opening on a shuttle bus. While waiting, you hike the trails near the park entrance, or go flightseeing or rafting down the Nenana River. Reservations are recommended for one of the many different types of lodgings near the park entrance (& elsewhere near the park).

There are also at least two formal bus tours with interpretive programs and box lunches. Reservations necessary with GO Shuttle & Tours, at (907) 474-3847  or you can call ahead earlier to 800-276-7234. One tour is Wild Life and one is Natural History. Some bus tours only go 30 miles into the park, so check ahead if you are wanting to go the nearly 90 miles that the park's shuttle buses go. Tours may be booked through the local hotels, with advance reservations strongly advised.

Spending the Night
As for spending the night in the park, it ranges from $9 to $40 a night, depending on where you camp and whether you walk in or drive.  A limited number are allowed to backcountry camp but permits have to be gotten from the Visitor Center and you have to carry food in bear-proof containers (issued at the Center). Try this link for more information.

Mountain bikers are allowed on the main road (there really is only one road, narrow enough in places to be one way!) They do not need a permit, but have to stop at the Visitor Center to pick up "Rules of the Road", register for camping spots, and pay the admission fee. Bikes are not allowed on any trails, but can be moved in shuttle busses if room is available.

Note: If you drive to the park, look for the Northern Lights Theatre 1.5 miles north of the park entrance (mile 238.9 on Parks Highway). There is a 45 minute multi-media presentation with Surround Sound for those who missed seeing one while in Fairbanks.

If you go to their web page (link above), you can mention that you saw the page on the web and get a 10% discount on theatre admission. Regular prices are $6.50 adults and $5 children and showings are 9 a.m., and 1, 5, 6, 7, and 8 p.m. No reservations are required. Information (907) 683-4000.

The number for more information on Denali is (907) 683-2294 for the park, or (907) 683-1266 for the visitor center. The National Park Service has a website at http://www.nps.gov/dena/home/index.htm where prospective visitors can find more information.

Other Parks

Alaska has more public lands than any other state in the union. Some offer relatively easy access; others are extremely remote. National and State Public Lands include the following:
bullet11 National Parks & Preserves
bullet2 National Forests
bullet4 National Monuments
bullet50 designated Wilderness Areas
bulletSeveral Wild & Scenic River Systems
bulletOver 3 million acres of State Park lands.

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