From the gateway of Denali National Park and Preserve and stretching along the George Parks Highway is the seasonal community known as Denali Park, a collection of mostly seasonal businesses providing visitor services.
About Denali Park
Denali National Park and Preserve is one of Alaska’s most visited parks for one big reason – it is home to Denali, the tallest mountain in North America at 20,310 feet. Visitors flock from around the world to see the mountain and experience the park’s 6 million acres of wilderness.
The park is located in Interior Alaska near the small town of Healy. It is accessible via the George Parks Highway, which connects Anchorage and Fairbanks, and on the Alaska Railroad, whose tracks roughly parallel the highway.
Things to do
The opportunities for recreation in the park are near limitless and exist at all levels of fitness and outdoors expertise. Options range from attaining a backcountry permit and hiking overland into the park for days at a time to signing up for one of the popular wildlife-viewing day tours by bus. Other popular activities in and around the park include flightseeing around the peak of the mountain by fixed-wing airplane or helicopter, rafting the Nenana River, hiking any of numerous trails, bird watching, fishing, photography, camping, cycling and more.
Most backcountry activities in the park require a permit, which is available at the main park visitor center. Anyone who ventures into the park’s backcountry should also have certain skills and be informed about bear safety. Bears are among the most popular animals that visitors want to see when they visit the park, and they are found in abundance in Denali, but they must be respected and given space to avoid problems. Flightseeing tours of the mountain and the park can also be arranged from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Healy or Talkeetna.
Several bus tours that follow the Park Road are available to visitors of Denali National Park and Preserve. The commercial tours are geared to viewing wildlife or venture the length of the road to Kantishna, where interpretive programs, gold panning or lunch awaits passengers.
Denali Visitor Center
Opened in 2005, the Denali Visitor Center is 14,000-sq-foot facility to dedicated to a better understand of Denali National Park and Preserve. On the first floor are exhibits devoted to the area's natural and human history and a theater whose movies provide video glimpse of the park's wildlife and scenery. On the second floor is a giant table-top relief map that leaves no doubt in anybody's mind how rugged the national park is.
Eielson Visitor Center
Located at Mile 66 of the Park Road, Eielson Visitor Center is Denali National Park's newest and most impressive interpretive center. The 7400-square-foot facility was opened in 2008 and features exhibits on the natural history of the region, a massive model of Denali and huge viewing windows to see North America's highest peak.
From airstrips in and around the park, charter air companies offer flightseeing tours that usually include flying around Denali and possibly landing on one of its glaciers. Flights are offered in either small bush planes or helicopters.
It possible to rent mountain bikes outside of the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve and use them to ride the gravel Park Road to enjoy the views of Denali or look for wildlife.
Murie Science and Learning Center
Murie Science and Learning Center in Denali National Park features fascinating hands-on exhibits as well as a display on research currently taking place in the park. The staff stages nature-related programs throughout the week during the summer.
The Nenana River is the most popular white water rafting area in Alaska. The river's main whitewater begins near the entrance of Denali National Park and extends 10 miles north to Healy. Here outfitters offer raft trips that include Class III rapids, standing waves, and holes in sheer-sided canyons. More milder raft trips are run in the river south of the park entrance.
Denali National Park is the only national park in the country where rangers conduct winter patrols via dog team. During the summer, the huskies are enjoyed during the park's free daily tours of the sled-dog kennels. Tours end with teams being spirited down a trail pulling a specially-designed wheeled cart.
Built in the 1930s, most of this former mining route lies in to Denali National Park and Preserve. Today the trail is a rugged track used primarily by snowmobilers, mushers and skiers in late winter, when travel is easier. But the wilderness trail does draw a number of summer visitors who want to view the Fairbanks City bus where Chris McCandless, the subject of John Krakauer's 1997 bestseller Into The Wild, lived and died.
Usibelli Coal Company
Connected to the Parks Highway by Healy Spur Road, Usibelli Coal Company (www.usibelli.com) conducts daily one-hour tours throughout the summer. Guests visit its quality-control office, main shop, warehouse, coal hopper and crusher.
Denali National Park is home to 40 species of mammals and 167 varieties of birds. What most visitors want to view are moose, caribou, mountain sheep wolves and bears. It's possible to see them all on the park's shuttle buses that carry wildlife watchers, hikers and backpackers along the 92-mile-long Park Road that winds through the heart of this amazing wilderness.