Denali State Park
Some of the best views of Denali, great hiking trails, and camping can be found at this state park.
Located adjacent to the southern border of Denali National Park and Preserve, the 324,240-acre Denali State Park is the fourth largest state park in Alaska and almost half the size of Rhode Island. Denali State Park straddles the Parks Highway 147 miles north of Anchorage and is situated between the Talkeetna Mountains to the east and the Alaska Range to the west.
While this state park lacks the amount of infrastructure and attractions of its national park cousin, it does feature several campgrounds, awesome hiking, plentiful wildlife viewing, and some of the best views of Denali – even better than those found in most parts of Denali National Park and Preserve.
THINGS TO DO
Denali State Park has superb vantage points to view both Denali's north and south summits, which ascends to an elevation of 20,310 feet. Camping, hiking, fishing, and boating are favorite summer activities at Denali State Park. Developed campgrounds, many with public use cabins, are easily accessible from the George Parks Highway at K’esugi Ken, Denali View South, Byers Lake, and Denali View North campgrounds.
K'esugi - a Dena'ina Athabascan word meaning 'the Ancient One’ - is a ridge four to six miles wide that parallels the Parks Highway. Kesugi and neighboring Curry Ridge reach heights of only 4,500 feet and lack the jagged spires, rock walls, and knife-edged ridgelines that are the trademarks of Denali and the Alaska Range to the west. Instead, visitors will find gently rolling tundra at the top of the ridges, making them much more accessible for hiking and backpacking.
The K’esugi Ridge Trail system travels 37 miles across the alpine ridgeline, with access points at the Little Coal Creek Trailhead, Ermine Hill Trailhead, Byers Lake Trailhead, and Upper Troublesome Creek Trailhead. Trekkers who climb Kesugi Ridge will be stunned by the view of the Denali massif on a clear day. Byers Lake Loop Trail around Byers Lake offers an easy, flat hiking trail for visitors looking for a less strenuous route. The Curry Ridge Trail leads from the K’esugi Ken Campground to an alpine area with more spectacular views of Denali.
Trails are not maintained in the park during winter months, but cross-country skiing is outstanding in March, April, and occasionally even in May for skiers who travel up Curry or Kesugi ridges. Snowmobiles and other off-road vehicles are permitted in the park only when the snow is deep enough to protect vegetation, usually above 16 inches.
Denali State Park is home to both brown and black bears, moose, and marmots. In the lower areas, visitors will encounter muskrats, beavers, red foxes, and porcupines, among other resident wildlife. On the east side of the park the Susitna and Chulitna rivers are home to Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling, rainbow trout, and all five species of Pacific salmon. Small numbers of lake trout occur in Byers, Spink, and Lucy lakes, and rainbow trout, grayling, and Dolly Varden are found in Byers Lake and Troublesome and Little Coal Creeks.
The park’s diverse habitats draw an especially rich bird community. More than 130 species use the park for breeding or during migration. Year-round residents include gray jays, willow ptarmigan (the state bird), and black-capped and boreal chickadees. However, most birds found in the park migrate long distances. Migratory species include the arctic tern, the lesser golden plover, golden-crowned sparrow, Wilson's warbler, and ruby-crowned kinglet. Water birds such as the rare trumpeter swan, the loon, and osprey fly in for the park's lakes and streams.
The park is the beginning of the transition zone from low, coastal environment to the spine of the Alaska Range. Its terrain ranges from heavily forested streams and river valleys to the alpine tundra of the Curry and K'esugi Ridges, making up the 30-mile-long backbone of the park.
Travelers in the early 1900's traveling from Seward and Anchorage to Fairbanks on the Alaska Railroad sometimes stayed an extra day at Curry to ascend the east side of Curry Ridge and gaze upon Denali and its wonders from Curry Lookout.
The mountain’s Athabascan given name is Denali, which translates from Koyukon as “The High One.” However, the peak was designated from 1917-2015 as Mount McKinley, in honor of William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States. In 2015 President Barack Obama officially renamed Mount McKinley to Denali.
FACILITIES AND CAMPING
The beautiful Kesugi Ken Campground, located at MP 135.4 of the Parks Highway, includes a ranger station, 32 RV campsites, 10 walk-in campsites, a group campsite for up to 50 people, an interpretive center/pavilion that can be reserved for groups up to 20 people, three public-use cabins, the Curry Ridge Trail to alpine areas, plus a network of trails for a range of abilities.
Byers Lake Campground at Mile 147 of the Parks Highway has 73 campsites, picnic areas, fishing, and boating. There are also six walk-in campsites known as Byers Lake Lakeshore Campground and three public-use cabins. During the summer, canoe and kayak rentals are available at Byers Lake Campground.
Denali View North Campground at Mile 162.7 of the Parks Highway offers 20 campsites, drinking water, a picnic area, and spectacular views of Denali and the Alaska Range. There are also nine campsites at Denali Viewpoint South at Mile 135.2 of the Parks Highway.
A staffed visitor contact station is located at the Alaska Veterans Memorial, at Mile 147.1 of the Parks Highway just north of the Byers Lake Campground. Along with displays and videos, the center sells topographical maps and books. Bulletin boards displaying detailed information on the park's history, natural resources, and hiking routes are found at trailheads and camping areas.
Denali State Park is accessible from the George Parks Highway, 147 miles north of Anchorage and 216 miles south of Fairbanks. The seldom-used east side of the park also offers excellent wilderness recreation opportunities and is accessible via the Alaska Railroad out of Talkeetna, on the Hurricane Loop flag-stop train. The best place to disembark the train for access to Denali State Park is just after the railroad crosses the Susitna River.
For more information, visit the Denali State Park website.
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