The snowcapped summit of Denali can be seen from more than 100 miles away, dwarfing the other mountains of the Alaska Range with its enormity. Fortunately, there are a number of great spots to catch a glimpse of the mountain named The Great One by the Dena’ina Athabascan people.
One of the most popular places to go to experience Denali is Denali National Park. Established in 1917 and expanded in 1980, the park contains more than 6 million acres of wildlands and wilderness. Only one road heads deep into the park itself, a 90-mile ribbon threading its way across braided streams and over polychrome passes. Denali is home to Alaska’s Big Five – bears, moose, Dall sheep, wolves, and caribou – and, of course Denali itself. At 23,310 feet, Denali towers above the other mountains of the Alaska Range, high enough that it makes its own weather, and you may notice veils of cloud vapor flowing like a river down the summit face. While the park road isn’t open to private vehicles past the Savage River Checkpoint at Mile 13, visitors on one of the park’s narrated Natural History, Tundra Wilderness, or Kantishna Experience tours may even see the entire mountain on a clear day, towering above river valleys below.
But another, but lesser known gem, awaits.
Denali State Park lies immediately south of the national park boundary, bisected by the George Parks Highway. Half the size of Rhode Island and bounded by the Talkeetna and Alaska ranges, the state park is home to K’esugi ridge - The Ancient One to Dena’ina Athabascans. Here, you can roam multiple trails that offer spectacular views of Denali and her sister mountains, watching for golden eagles and other birds as the landscape moves from spruce forest to alpine tundra. Hikers can soak in the 360-degree views and camp high on K’esugi Ridge, stay in public use cabins on the shore of Byers Lake, or listen to a program at the K’esugi Ken Interpretive Center. In winter, the park offers endless opportunities for snowmobiling (or snowmachining, as Alaskans call it) and cross-country skiing. No matter the time of year, you’ll see travelers stopped at the Denali View South waypoint at mile 135.2 of the Parks Highway, looking at the crown of the Alaska Range – Denali.