What to do in Denali State Park

*This information is provided by Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation*

The park's 325,240 acres, almost one-half the size of Rhode Island, provide the visitor with a great variety of recreational opportunities, ranging from roadside camping to wilderness exploration.

Mt. McKinley from Viewpoint South The park is about 100 air miles north of Anchorage and is divided roughly in half by the George Parks Highway, the major road link between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Situated between the Talkeetna Mountains to the east and the Alaska Range to the west, the landscape varies from meandering lowland streams to alpine tundra. Dominating this diverse terrain are Curry and Kesugi Ridges, a 35 mile-long north/south alpine ridge, the backbone of the eastern half of the park.

"Kesugi" is a Tanaina Indian dialect word meaning "The Ancient One" and is a fitting complement of the Tanana Indian word "Denali" which means "The High One". Denali is the original name for Mt. McKinley. At 20,320 feet, Mt. McKinley is North America's highest peak. It literally and figuratively towers over Southcentral Alaska from its base in Denali National Park.

Denali State Park was established in 1970 and expanded to its present size in 1976. Its western boundary is shared with its much larger neighbor, Denali National Park and Preserve, formerly Mt. McKinley National Park.

The great mountain and its companion peaks are accented by spectacular valley glaciers and steep ice-carved gorges and a year-around mantle of snow and ice above 8,000 feet. These glaciers, such as the Ruth, Buskin, and Eldridge, are from 14 to 38 miles long and up to four miles wide. They flow from the high peaks and melt into the broad U-shaped Chulitna Valley, giving the Chulitna River the milky waters and braided channels that are typical of a glacial stream. Though only 35 miles from the summit of Mt. McKinley, the flood plain of the Chulitna is but 550 feet in elevation.

Alaska Range and Ruth Glacier Denali State Park has superb vantage points for viewing the breathtaking heart of the Alaska Range. Perhaps the best roadside view anywhere of the Alaska Range is at mile 135.2 Parks Highway. An interpretive bulletin board at this site names the mountains and other terrain features. Other excellent views of Mt. McKinley along the highway are at mile 147.1, 158.1, and 162.3. Day hikers on Kesugi Ridge or backpackers in the Peters Hills in the western end of the park have an unencumbered view of the Denali massif that is almost overwhelming in grandeur.

The beauty of Mount McKinley and the Alaska Range from the Peters Hills was captured on large canvas oil paintings by preeminent Alaskan artist Sydney Laurence in the early part of this century. When the railroad trip from Seward and Anchorage to Fairbanks took two days, travelers in the early 1900's sometimes stayed an extra day at Curry to ascend the east side of Curry Ridge and gaze upon Mt. McKinley and its wonders from Curry Lookout. This small hexagonal-shaped building still weathers storms on the ridge.

Proper equipment, good physical condition, and appropriate knowledge are necessary for safe back country travel. Hiking routes may not be clearly marked, so the ability to use topographic maps is essential, especially in poor weather.

Tokositna Area The park is large, and emergency aid may be many hours away. Back country users should be prepared to handle their own emergencies. Hikers should always carry warm clothing and good quality rain gear, as inclement weather can set in quickly and last for days.

Awareness of your actual location on a map can be critical in whiteout conditions, which can occur in any season. The use of USGS topographic maps will enhance your appreciation of the park's terrain and help you keep track of your whereabouts. USGS maps for Denali are Talkeetna C-1, C-2, and D-1, and Talkeetna Mountains C-6 and D-6. They are available at the Visitor Contact Station at the Alaska Veterans Memorial, Mile 147.1, Parks Highway.

Glacial and snow-melt streams can rise radically between morning and midday, so planning and caution are needed when crossing rivers. Safe travel near glacial or avalanche terrain requires experience and special equipment. Back country travelers should never travel alone, especially in winter. They should inform a friend of planned travel and routes and return time. In addition, a trip information slip should be filled out at the trail register boxes located at the trailheads.

From the alpine tundra of Curry Ridge to the river bottoms of the meandering Tokositna River, the park's varied landscape is home to a diverse array of wildlife. Moose, as well as grizzly and black bears, are found throughout the park. Though seldom seen, the wolf frequents much of the park, and caribou occasionally reach the park's northern end. Smaller, elusive residents include lynx, coyote, red fox, snowshoe hare, land otter, and flying and red squirrel. The weasel family is well represented by ermine, marten, mink and wolverine. Wet areas are habitat for muskrat and beaver, while pika and marmot may be found in rocky areas above timberline. Porcupine will be glad to browse through your food box for salt. Several species of vole and shrew make their minute paths throughout the park.

Wolf Wildlife, particularly bears, can be dangerous. Never approach wild animals closely, especially those with young. To avoid surprises, warn animals of your presence by making noise, singing, or carrying bells when in the brush.

The tapestry of habitats in the park yield an especially rich bird community. More than 130 species use the park for breeding or during migration. Year-round residents include the ubiquitous common raven, his cousin the gray jay, willow ptarmigan (the state bird), and acrobatic flocks of black-capped and boreal chickadees. However, most birds migrate long distances to frequent the park. The champion marathoner of the bird world, the arctic tern, flies some 12,000 miles to breed in Denali, repeating the journey to winter in the Antarctic. A shorebird, the lesser golden plover, nests on the alpine tundra after wintering in faraway Polynesia. Water birds such as the rare, majestic trumpeter swan, the common loon with its haunting call, and the fish-eating osprey are attracted to the park's myriad lakes and streams. Early on a June morning, the woods and ridges are alive with the ringing of bird song as a host of small birds, like the golden-crowned sparrow, Wilson's warbler, and ruby-crowned kinglet, proclaim their territories.

Fishing Denali's clear streams is a great delight to many park visitors. However, the large rivers are clouded with pulverized rock known as glacial flour and provide poor sport fishing. All five species of Pacific salmon spawn within the waters of the park and share the streams with rainbow trout, arctic grayling, and Dolly Varden. Small numbers of lake trout inhabit Byers, Spink, and Lucy Lakes. Burbot and whitefish can also be found in Byers Lake.

Recreation
Except for roadside facilities, the park is essentially a wilderness.

Location
The park is about 100 air miles north of Anchorage and is divided roughly in half by the George Parks Highway, the major road link between Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Climate
The weather in the park is tempered from continental extremes by the relatively warm ocean waters 100 miles to the south. The Alaska Range to the north protects the park from the dramatic temperature extremes common to Interior Alaska.

Mt. McKinley In summer, temperatures are usually in the 60's with highs, rarely, to 85 degrees F. In mid-summer, almost 21 hours of possible daylight give ample opportunities for recreational activities. Average winter highs range from zero to 30 degrees F, while on extremely cold days the low may reach minus 40 degrees F.

Annual precipitation reaches 30 inches, including an average annual 180 inches of snowfall. Snow begins to accumulate in October and frequently reaches depths of six feet or more. Ice depths on Byers Lake can be quite variable and should be checked before assumed safe. Snow usually melts in May, although patches at higher elevations may persist into July.

Address
PO Box 1247
Soldotna, AK 99669

Phone: 907-262-5581

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  • Denali State Park Travel Q&A

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