Denali National Park

Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park
Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park (Photodisc/Getty)

At Denali, when you say highlights, you mean HIGH-lights. The park's star attraction, Mount McKinley, pierces the clouds at over 20,000 feet. For those lucky enough to climb it, the ascent is one of the world's most challenging. The irony is that on most days you can't see Mount McKinley from the ground: Cloud cover is too thick. But on those infrequent days when the skies are clear, the presence of the mountain is strong and constant, a landmark to which eyes can't help but return.

Perhaps wildlife is the real glory of Denali. The park is famous for some of the finest wildlife viewing in Alaska, thanks to Denali's vastness and pristine condition. One of the reasons for staying overnight here is to be around in the early morning or late evening when animals are most active. But at any time of day you can expect to see something amazing: Dall sheep, caribou, moose, grizzly—maybe even a pack of wolves.

Perhaps the best way to see wildlife is to wind your way on the spectacular Denali Park Road. The road travels for 90 scene-stopping miles, beginning at the park entrance and ending near Kantishna, a historic enclave that was once a mining center. An enlightened shuttle bus system is the primary mode of transportation along the road. The ride is an adventure in itself, but you can always get off along the way and hike wherever strikes your fancy. And if you've done your homework and made campsite reservations, you can make a multi-day tour of it. The road also makes a superb bike tour.

As a wilderness park, hiking is the featured activity. Trails are few and far between, so long-distance hikers venture mostly cross-country. And what country! The only maintained trails are short loops near the park entrance.

Even though Denali is in the subarctic, it doesn't close in the winter. Winter sports of the wilderness variety are popular here. Route 3 stays open and skiing, snowshoeing, and even dog sledding are going full force in the park. Sure, the days are shorter, but it's hardly sleepy.


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