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Free Traveling Guides » States » Alaska » Alaska National Parks

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Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

mount mckinley

Denali National Park & Preserve is situated 240 miles north of Anchorage, and is named after the Athabascan word for its most famous landmark, the 20,320-foot tall Mount McKinley. The mountain is not the park's only attraction, however. A ride through Denali offers a look at a vast world of tundra, glaciers and abundant wildlife.

Visiting this park in the height of summer can be problematic. The visitor centers and hotels are a stream of RVs and tour buses. The only way to enjoy a solitary experience during this time is to undertake back country hiking. In winter, Denali is transformed into a ghostly, snow covered world. Motorized vehicles are banned and northern lights (aurora) glitter over the snows.

Camping is the best way to experience Denali up close, with most of the park's eight campgrounds open from May to September. The best views are at Wonder Lake with a stunning view of McKinley; Igloo Creek is good for spotting Dall sheep, while Riley Creek near the entrance is open year-round. To preserve flora and fauna, the only vehicles allowed in the park are a few tour buses and shuttle buses.

At the visitor center, you can pick up a free copy of the Denali Alpenglow paper and a wide range of literature, and join ranger-led activities including short hikes and the popular dogsled demonstration. Overnight back country camping is also a rewarding experience, but don't expect it to be easy. There are no formal trails, and with river crossings and thick tundra, even experienced hikers are forced to go slow.

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