This is the first entry into a profile of the National Parks of Alaska. This is a part of my 18 month process to update you all on my experiences putting together the ultimate Alaska expedition. There are 23 units of the National Park System in Alaska, 8 of those are National Parks. I’ll start the series off with the first park in the state, Denali.
Denali National Park & Preserve (the preserve is a separate unit in the NPS), covers over 6 million acres of land, (almost the size of the state of Massachusetts), including the tallest peak in North America, Denali, (more commonly known as Mt. McKinley). The park was initially protected in 1917, 42 years before the territory of Alaska became a state. Over the years, the park boundaries have been expanded, but people have been kept out. Unlike the early parks in the lower 48, Denali only has one partially paved road, the high elevation, and weather make paving the entire length unsustainable. Private vehicles are only allowed on the first 15 miles of this 91 mile road, from then on it’s park run tour buses, or hiking. Travel anywhere else in the park is achieved via hiking, bush plane, helicopter, or dog sled. In fact, all 4 of those activities are popular throughout the year.
Glaciers, tall peaks, tundra, and forests make up the majority of the park, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a truly beautiful place. Geographically, Denali National Park is located 170 miles due north from Anchorage, but naturally, that’s not a straight drive up. Luckily, there is a highway you can take, or the Alaska Railroad, or you can fly into the park on a bush plane. How you get into the park doesn’t matter as much as what you plan on doing when you get there. If you only have a day, then there are guided tours up the 90 mile road, on the way you can see caribou, bears, wolves, and dall sheep, if you’re lucky that is, wildlife is always tough to spot close to the road where humans are.
There are a couple of miles of established trails in the park, they are clustered around the visitor center, but also, unlike the more popular parks of the lower 48, off-trail hiking is allowed throughout Denali National Park. Experienced hikers, or those going on tours are able to see parts of the park that very few of the 400,000 annual visitors ever see. In fact, very few people of the world venture into the remote places of the park. Most tours and outfitters go to a handful of spots that they have scouted out before, that makes things easier. However, if you do choose to venture into the great unknown uncharted land of Denali, please be prepared, plenty of people have died thinking they could make it.
The above photo is a still from Denali Visitor Center webcam. There are a 7 more web cams you can look over, some aren’t operational as of this writing, it’s still pretty snow covered up there in April. I know I’ve only scratched the surface, but I don’t know what else to write. What do you want to know about these parks? There’s too much out there, and I don’t want to just regurgitate wikipedia. Let me know in the comments below and I’ll take it into account for the next park, unfortunately, I haven’t decided which one it will be just yet.