Denali National Park Info

Why visit Denali? 

That is a hard question to answer actually. There is so much and sometimes even the smallest things mean everything to someone and others aren't impressed by the most obvious. But of the 400,000 plus people who visit each year, very few go home disappointed.

Denali National Park and Preserve encompasses 6 million acres of wilderness in the heart of Alaska's predominant mountain range, the Alaska Range. North America's tallest mountain, Denali, also known as 'The Great One,' stands at 20,237 feet and is staggeringly beautiful from the Park road on days when the mountain decides to show its many facades from behind its customary scarf of cloud.

Denali National Park provides one of the best opportunities in the state of Alaska for viewing birds and wildlife such as grizzly or brown bears, Dall sheep, moose, wolves, caribou, black bears, marmot, fox, and more. Denali National Park also provides one of the best opportunities for extended backpacking trips, mountaineering and hiking in the state. Denali is truly an amazing place.

While Denali is a huge place, there is just one 91-mile road running through it. The views from this road are dramatic and beautiful.

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How big is the Park? and the Mountain?

Denali National Park has increased in size at least 4 times. Currently it is 6,075,027.2 acres or 9,492.23 square miles. Still hard to imagine? Well, it is about the size of New Hampshire or about half the size of Switzerland.

Denali (the mountain) has recently decreased in size. It 'was' 20,320 feet. But now it 'is' 20,237 feet. No, it isn't shrinking, the change is a result of more accurate measurements. The mountain is actually still growing!

A few other interesting facts are these:

The lowest place in the park is just 240 feet.

There are 12,206 lakes inside the park. Sorry Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes (although there are actually 11,842 there)- Denali has you beat.

There are 18,679 miles of streams and rivers. To put that in perspective, the circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,901.55 miles.

17 percent of the park is covered by glaciers- the deepest being Ruth Glacier at 3,805 feet.

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How do I get to Denali?

Denali Mountain Morning Hostel and Cabins is located about 2.5 hours (130 miles) from Fairbanks and about 4.5 hours (224 miles) from Anchorage. Although Fairbanks is closer, most flights coming to this part of Alaska arrive in Anchorage first and then may continue to Fairbanks. It usually (but not always) costs more to fly on to Fairbanks. If you plan to visit the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage on your vacation, Anchorage is a better choice. Most people fly into Anchorage.

There is bus service and train service to both Fairbanks and Anchorage. You need to do some research though. There are some airlines that fly into Fairbanks that don't land in Anchorage which may offer a better price or times.

If you don't rent a car, you will be coming to Denali by bus or train. We are an authorized ticket vendor for the Alaska Railroad and The Park Connection Motorcoach. The railroad and The Park Connection serve travel to Seward, Anchorage, and Denali. Travel to or from Fairbanks is also served by the Alaska Railroad, as well as other shuttle services (like the Alaska/Yukon Trails bus).

We can book your tickets on any combination of these you wish and we sell discount tickets for travel on the Alaska Railroad and of course on most of the local tours. You can learn more by clicking HERE.

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How do I get to AND into the Park?

We are located about 13 miles from the park entrance. The park entrance is home to the Wilderness Access Center or 'The WAC'. The WAC is where you get tickets to go into the park on their shuttles and from where their shuttles depart. If you have a car, that is the best way to get there and they have a large parking lot. Leave the hostel and turn left. At Mile 237 turn left onto the Park Road. About a mile up that road you will see a sign for the WAC which is on your right. If you don't have a car, the WAC is where our shuttle picks you up and drops you off. Another thing to keep in mind: the Park usually refers to their buses into the park as shuttles and their tour busses as busses.

Now this part is important- TRAVELING INTO THE PARK:

We recommend the Park's shuttles over their tour busses. The two are essentially the same, but the tours are much more expensive and offer less flexibility in terms of departure times and the ability to get on and off the shuttle at your own discretion to go for a hike. Additionally it is much cheaper to take the Park's shuttle than other private corporate tour buses and you still get narration from the driver. The options are described in more detail at the national park web site. Click Here.

Another very important consideration is time. If you are utilizing our free shuttle, even our earliest shuttle will not get you to the private companies' tour bus departure locations in time. If you have a car it's not a problem. Additionally, please keep in mind that if you will be utilizing our free shuttle, you cannot book any Park shuttle buses or tour buses that depart from the WAC prior to 7 AM or that arrive back to the WAC later than 9:15 PM. If you do, you will need to arrange for alternate transportation from the hostel via taxi, or by finding a ride with one of our other guests.

We highly recommend that you make your reservations for the Park shuttles in advance, particularly if you are only staying two nights in the area. Many visitors arrive and are out of luck because the buses going into the National Park do fill up. Of course this is not always the case, and at times a person can find an open seat at just the right time. Generally, particularly before and after the peak season (mid-June through late July), you can arrive on one day and make reservations for the following day. If you wait until you arrive to buy tickets, we recommend you buy them at the Wilderness Access Center, from where they depart, but you can also buy them at The Visitors Center next to the Railroad Depot, or at the Riley Creek Mercantile, which is where you can also purchase some small grocery items (the Mercantile is open later than the WAC and Visitors Center, so if they are closed and you are waiting for the hostel shuttle, you can pass some time by following the walking path to the Mercantile and arranging your bus trips into the park or purchasing some snacks. They also have a free wi-fi signal there.). Busses and shuttles into the Park are the only local reservations that we cannot book for our guests, but you can do so and learn more about the options by visiting the link above.

To avoid confusion about all the buses shuttles remember this. We are located 13 miles south of the park entrance. We offer a free shuttle between the park entrance and the hostel (for groups of 6 or less who do not have their own vehicle). The Park has buses and shuttles which go from the park entrance into the park. The three choices with the park are tour buses (expensive, tan in color), shuttle buses (the way to go, green in color, sometimes with room for bikes) and camper buses (still green and have room for bikes but you need to be a camper or have a bike to take them). Some of the shuttle buses also have room for bikes. You can see which do by looking at their schedule at the link above. Other private companies offer buses into the park, but they cost more and our shuttle times don't match up (unless you have your own vehicle).

Then there is The Park Connection Bus travels between Seward, Anchorage and Denali. They don't take you into the park. We hope that makes sense to everyone. If you aren't sure just ask us!

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Is there a fee to get into the Park?

Yes. There are all kinds. There is the basic fee to enter the park. There are varying camping fees depending on where you want to camp, there are bus fees, there is even a fee for not paying a fee! Those are called fines. ;)

Most people just need a $10, 7-day entrance pass and you can pay that when you purchase your shuttle bus tickets into the park. If you take a tour that involves going into the park you will need that too, but remember it is good for 7 days, so if you have already have a pass let the provider and us know, and you won't have to pay again. For more information you can Click Here.

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What important operating dates and special Park events do I need to know about?

Summer bus service begins May 20 each year, although the entire road is not accessible by bus until June 8. This means if you arrive before June 8th, you will not be able to take a shuttle bus all the way out to Kantishna. Shuttle buses operate through the second Thursday after Labor Day each year. Thus, shuttle bus service ends September 13, 2018. You can view full shuttle bus schedules and operating dates HERE.

Each September the park hosts a five day event called "Road Lottery" This annual Road Lottery event always occurs the weekend (Friday through Tuesday) after shuttle buses conclude (this year, September 14-18, 2018). Applications to the lottery are accepted in the month of June for each year’s lottery and you can apply online through the National Park web site.

During these five days, winners of a lottery drawing are given a chance to purchase a single, day-long permit, allowing them to drive as much of the Denali Park Road as weather allows. One of these days is reserved for military members and their families, while the other four days of the lottery are open for the general public to entrer it. In years with early snow, the Park Road might open no farther than Savage River (mile 15); in milder years, lottery winners are able to enjoy a trip out to Wonder Lake (mile 85).

If you do not have a permit for the Road Lottery then you are unable to drive your personal/rental vehicle beyond Savage River, and there are no Park Shuttle buses running during this time (although the more expensive, private tour buses DO still run during this time, you should check availability and confirm your reservations for those buses well in advance. You can learn more by going HERE

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What is there to do in and around the Park Entrance Area?

There are a lot of things to do there. The Wilderness Access Center is there which is where you get tickets and buses into the Park. The train Station is there. The Visitor's Center, next to the train station, is another place where you can get bus tickets and where you sign up for Ranger-led walks. There is a small grocery called the Riley Creek Mercantile. The Park Headquarters is there and is where they have a free sled dog demonstration. There is a campground, a cafe', a post office, a book store, a wonderful science center, and some nice hiking trails.

There are three free buses at the entrance. One is the Riley Creek Loop which is the one that loops around all the entrance facilities. Then there is the bus that takes you to the sled dog demonstration and the third is a free bus that will take you to Savage River, 15 miles into the park and back. Both the WAC and the Visitors Center have lockers in which you can store your luggage if you want to hike while waiting for a shuttle or train or even our shuttle. You can see a map of the area by Clicking Here.

About a mile and a half north of the entrance is what some call "Glitter Gulch". Others refer to it as simply "The Canyon". That is where most of the big hotels are along with tourist stores, bars, tourist stores, eating places, tourist stores, a gas station, tourist stores, a liquor and grocery store, and did we mention tourist stores? Most tour operators have offices there as well. You can walk there on an improved trail (it's called the Jonesville Trail) or there is a private bus service operated by The Salmon Bake that will pick you up at the WAC and take you there and back on a schedule for a small fee (contact them directly for more information).

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What are my hiking options?

Everything from a gentle walk to Horseshoe Lake to climbing to the summit of Denali!

First, there are some nice hikes from the hostel, just ask us. Next, there is a nice hike called the Triple Lakes Trail. You can take that from Mile 231 of the highway and hike all the way to the park; it is about 9 miles. Some guests have had us drop them off at the trailhead on our way to the Park and they hike it and come back on our shuttle in the evening.

At the Park Entrance there are several nice hikes of varying degrees of difficulty which you can see on a map by Clicking Here.

Inside the park there are trails at Savage River (Mile 15), the Eielson Visitors Center (Mile 66), and Wonder Lake (Mile 85). Another great option is when you see an area you would like to explore while on a shuttle into the park, just ask your bus driver to let you off. This is what is known as “back-country hiking” and it should be known that MOST of the hiking in Denali National Park is of this variety. Most of the park is devoid of human-made trails. You can hike around and get on a subsequent shuttle continuing on your way to your destination or get one going back to the entrance. The shuttles will stop for you if they have room, and if not the next one might. Regardless how many may go by you, they won't leave you up there for the night. You can see the shuttle schedule by Clicking Here.

Ranger led hikes are another great way to see the park and learn something along the way! For more information, see the Ranger Programs Page on the national park web site. Click Here.

These hikes are offered daily and often involve the purchase of a park shuttle bus ticket, a drive into the park, and a hike at a pre-determined location. You can only sign up for these hikes in person (at the Visitor’s Center) no more than 48 hours in advance.

If you want to summit Denali, may we suggest that a hostel web site probably isn't the best place to do research. But Good Luck! ;)

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Can I bike in the Park?

Yes. First, unless you brought your own bike with you, have us set up a bike rental for you which will also save you money. Next, you will need to reserve either a Camper Shuttle OR one of the regular shuttles that have room for bikes. You can tell which do by looking at their schedule. The shuttles that have room will have a bicycle icon on it. You can see their schedule by Clicking Here. It is a PDF File. The Savage River courtesy shuttles all have room for bicycles as well, if you prefer not to bike beyond the first 15 miles of the Park road.

You cannot ride bikes "off road". You have to stay on the road, campgrounds or one of the few bike paths. A lot of guests find it more rewarding to take a mountain bike tour or rent a bike and ride to places other than up the park road. We can help you with either.

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Is it possible to Camp in the Park and what are the options?

Yes. There are a couple of options. First, at the entrance to the Park there is Riley Creek Campground. There are a lot of sites there and of course there is a fee.

If you want to go into the park and camp there are two options. You can stay at one of the improved campsites. You can even reserve and pay for your spot in advance. Or you can get a permit and be assigned to a back country "Unit" to camp in. That, of course, takes more planning and being able to know where you are on a map, but we can help you figure it out.

If you do want to camp and do not want to bring your own camping gear you have a couple of options. You can rent gear at Denali Mountain Works located in "The Canyon". Their Telephone number is (907) 683-1542. Another option is to rent gear in Anchorage. There are a couple of places to try: Alaska Mountaineering & Hiking and REI. There is an REI in Fairbanks as well. 

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What about Mosquitoes?

What about them? They are NOT our state bird, even though some people will tell you that and a lot of people think they should be!

But they surely do live here, so be prepared. Have lots of repellant handy and a head net is nice when they are thick. Some years are worse than others, some days are worse than other days, it varies. If you are near a brand new hatch, they will be thick. If you aren't protected you will be miserable. We try to have head nets and repellant available at the front desk, but you may want to bring your own just in case. And while we are talking about what to bring- don't forget sun block. When the sun is out it is potent and remember it is up for up to 23 hours! You may want to consider leaving your mosquito stuff behind for other people to use if you are leaving mosquito country.

It is not unusual to spend a day outside and hardly see a single mosquito, but you will be glad if you are ready. Our wall tents have mosquito nets over the cots and we usually have hand held bug zappers you can borrow. They look like a small tennis racket but the stings are metal and operate similar to a bug zapper you may have seen hanging on someone’s porch.

If you would like a reason to not hate mosquitoes consider this: they pollinate blueberries. An abundance of one leads to an abundance of the other, so they aren't all bad.

The main thing to remember is that a little planning and preparation on your part will go a long ways toward your comfort and happiness.

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What kinds of animals might I find in the Park?

Well, you won't find a skunk or a snake - that's kind of nice.

Scientists have documented thirty-nine species of mammals in Denali National Park and Preserve. Mammals here range in size from the 1,200+ pound moose to the 1.5 gram tiny shrew.

Rodents and shrews make up more than half the species of mammals. That would include collared pika, mice (including jumping mice), voles, lemmings and the largest rodent, the beaver. In addition Denali is home to caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, grizzly and black bears, wolverines, red fox, ground squirrels, red squirrels, flying squirrels, hoary marmots, arctic ground squirrels, snowshoe hare, short tailed weasel (ermine), least weasel, brown bats, coyotes, lynx, otters, marten, mink, muskrats, and porcupines. Did we miss any?

What about birds? Well there are a jillion of them, far too many to list here, but you can find a list here.

One list that is short is the amphibian list. Denali is home to the venerable wood frog. Isn't he cute? Or is that a she?

Photo borrowed from NPS - thanks.

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What is the deal, is it Denali or Mt. McKinley?

You might be surprised how long one could talk about this, but we'll keep it short.

The park and mountain were originally named in 1896 for presidential candidate William McKinley of Ohio, who supported the gold standard. A summertime gold miner from Seattle by the name of Dickey wrote 'a story' in the New York Sun claiming that "We" named the great peak McKinley after the politician. And just like that, the deed was done and remained so until very recently- the summer of 2015. (Mr. Dickey considered himself pretty important, so we also have a Mount Dickey here in Alaska).

The official name of the mountain according to the Alaskan state government was restored to "Denali", a Native word meaning "The Great One" or "The High One" back in 1975. But the federal government refused multiple petitions to change the name of the mountain from McKinley to Denali until 2015- despite McKinley having never stepped foot in Alaska and never seeing the Park or the Mountain!

Finally, the federal government came to their good senses in August of 2015 and restored the official name of the mountain to Denali. We think this should have happened long ago, but we're glad the mountain now has it's proper name back in the books.

You will be considered more knowledgeable and show greater respect to Alaskans, especially Alaska Natives if you call it the mountain Denali. You can read more at Wikipedia by clicking HERE.

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Is there a question that should be here that we missed?

If you find there was something we didn´t cover here and it would have helped, please let us know and we will add it.

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