You can only drive the first 15 miles of the park and there are only a handful of marked trails. Aside from that, you're on your own to explore the untouched wilderness of Denali National Park & Preserve.
Whether it's loving on the sled dogs, hiking the trails, admiring the untouched backcountry from a bus, or spending a few nights in the backcountry, you're bound to leave the park with a whole new love and appreciation for the park that's home to North America's highest peak.
Here are 7 great ways to experience Denali National Park & Preserve:
1. Marked Trails
The majority of the marked trails are found within the first 3 miles of the park. They're very easy to hike and navigate and surround you with nature within a few steps. Further into the park you'll find a couple more hikes that are more difficult and wild, but offer fantastic views.
2. Sled Dog Demonstration
The park has used sled dogs for nearly a century. Originally used to help catch poachers hunting wolves, the sled dog teams now help park rangers access the backcountry during the snowy winter months, eliminating the need to use loud snow machines that disturb the wildlife. At the sled dog demonstration you can meet and love on the sled dogs and learn about how they're a vital asset to the park service in their efforts to keep the park pristine year-round.
3. Bus Ride/Tour
You can only drive your car up to 15 miles into the park. After that you'll have to take a bus to get anywhere within the remaining 74 miles of the park road. There are two types of buses you can take past mile 15, all of which cost a fee.
By far the cheapest, this bus also gives you the most freedom. Throughout the day you can hop off the bus to explore and then hop on another bus to continue on your journey through the park. The bus driver will also stop to view wildlife from the bus and do his/her best to give you more information about the park.
A tour bus is by far the best way to learn about the park. Your bus driver is your narrator and will give you an incredible program as you take a ride through the park. Oh and they provide you with lunch and snacks!
4. Day Hike
Taking a ride on the shuttle bus or camping past mile 15 will give you the perfect opportunity to go on a day hike. Keep in mind that past mile 15 there are hardly any marked trails, which is awesome because you get to explore virtually untouched land as much as you'd like.
Most of the park's visitors that venture out past mile 15 only see the park through the window of a bus. Take advantage of your chance to explore the park. Hop off one bus and hop back on another and explore another portion of the park.
Spending a night, or up to 14 nights, in the park provides you with the chance to see the park in a new way. There are several campgrounds located in the park that allow you to tent, car, or RV camp.
If you want to be near your car or RV while you're camping, you'll want to stay at the Riley Creek, Savage River, or Teklanika River campgrounds. Now you might think that all three are within the first 15 miles of the Park Road, but Teklanika River Campground is actually 29 miles into the park. This is the one exception to driving your car past mile 15. If you manage to get a camping spot at Teklanika River Campground, you'll also be issued a vehicle pass to show the park ranger at mile 15 and that pass allows you to drive your car to the campground.
Staying at the other 3 campgrounds: Sanctuary River, Igloo Creek, or Wonder Lake will require you to bring everything you'll need onto the camper bus.
6. Backcountry Backpacking
Backpacking in Denali National Park & Preserve is a backpacker's dream. The park service tells you from the get-go that there are no marked trails. It's your job to find your route to a secluded spot to set up camp, out of view of the road, practice Leave No Trace, and have little to no impact where you go.
When you're backpacking, you're out there with nature and all the animals that inhabit the area. You're likely to come across caribou, grizzly and black bears, and maybe even a moose if you're lucky. A camper bus will take you to the zone where you'll be staying for the night and then leave you in its dust. It's your job to explore however much, or little, of the park you'd like.
Past mile 15 is where cars are stopped. But you can actually ride your bike along the Park Road. In most parks you have to battle cars all the time if you choose to explore the park by bicycle. In Denali National Park & Preserve, you get the road to yourself, with the exception of the occasional bus. Take your time pedaling along the park road and stop to explore on foot whenever you choose. You can even mix in some camping to get a truly unforgettable experience.
Have you been to Denali National Park and Preserve? What is your favorite thing to do there?
*All photos courtesy Justin Fricke.