Read Caption
While Mount Everest rises only 12,000 feet above its surrounding plateau, Mount McKinley boasts a vertical relief of 18,000 feet. (Photograph by Niebrugge Images, Alamy)
TravelInsider's Guide

A Park Ranger's Guide to Denali

Wildlife biologist Patricia Owen has worked at Denali National Park for more than 25 years. Her specialty? Grizzlies and other charismatic megafauna. While overseeing the park’s wildlife management program to minimize human-wildlife conflicts through education, Pat gets up close and personal with all aspects of this majestic wilderness in the Alaskan interior.

Spending time in the 9,492-square-mile park (that’s about the size of New Hampshire!) with North America’s tallest mountain as the backdrop can be life-changing. “Even a day hike, off trail, can give you a chance to experience solitude that is otherwise hard to find,” she says.

Here’s a look at mighty Denali through Patricia’s insider lens.

Denali Is My Park

Summer is the best time to visit my park because the park’s sole 91-mile road is open for business.

My park’s biggest attraction is Denali (a native Athabaskan name), but a visit isn’t complete without seeing wildlife of all sorts—bears, golden eagles, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, gray wolves, and maybe even a hoary marmot.

If I could offer one practical tip for optimizing your visit, it would be to get off the bus and take a hike. Only the first 15 miles of the park road are open to visitors; access the remaining stretch by shuttle bus (a hop-on, hop-off experience) or tour bus (which includes food and is operated by a driver-naturalist who provides narration).

My favorite “park secret” is not really a secret, but there are few established trails in this vast park. That means you can take your adventure just about anywhere. Some visitors even succeed at summiting Denali itself!

Watch out for bears and be sure to bring insect repellent and bear deterrent spray if you plan to hike when you come to the park.

Head to Polychrome Pass if you want to see wildlife. If you’re really lucky, you’ll spot a pika.

For the best view, head to Stony Hill.

The whole Denali Park Road is the most scenic drive, owing to the fact that it’s the only scenic drive!

If you’re up for a physical challenge, try biking the park road.

Wonder Lake campground is the best place to stay while you’re visiting.

If you only have one day to spend in the park, make sure to hit the Savage Alpine trail, a sled dog demonstration, the Murie Science and Learning Center, and Denali Visitors Center.

If you’re interested in a guided tour, I recommend making a reservation on a narrated tour bus.

The most peaceful place in the park has to be anywhere out of sight and sound of the road.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the Junior Ranger program and Discovery packs.

Just outside park boundaries, you can visit the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

If my park had a mascot it would be a Dall sheep, for which the park was founded.

Before you visit (or when you arrive), make sure to check out these great resources:  

> Related: