Denali National Park
Quick Trip to Denali National Park
Denali National Park is absolutely worth seeing. Period. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather to experience the most amazing views possible of the Alaska Range and Denali, the highest peak in north America. Generally speaking, however, cloudy/overcast weather is more common than blue skies, so consider yourself very lucky if you actually catch a glimpse of Denali’s summit (get up early or stay up late to increase your chances). Even if you don’t actually see the summit, the Alaska Range is absolutely breathtaking.
There’s a ton of good information at the main visitor center near the Park entrance and the best resource to plan your visit is on the National Park Service’s website here. The following is a just a few ideas and things to consider if you plan to visit the Park for a day or two before or after your Alaska fly fishing trip with us.
During July and August, you can ignore the estimated driving time based on mileage from Anchorage (about 240 miles)… it’s a 5 to 6 hour drive if you account for the numerous scenic pull-outs, possible road construction and slow-going RV’s. One of the best views on The Parks Highway is at Denali Viewpoint South Campground around mile marker 135.
If you don’t want to shop in Anchorage for food or supplies, there’s plenty of options on the way to Denali NP in the town of Wasilla.
You can also fly into Fairbanks (and rent a car) or take a scenic train ride from Anchorage.
In the Park
Most people take the 85 mile, 12 hour round-trip bus ride to Wonder Lake (driving options within the Park with your own car are limited). Worthwhile, but most people do not take advantage of one of the best Park options: you can get off the bus at any point along the road to hike on your own, then you catch a bus anywhere along the road back to the entrance in the afternoon. The hiking options are endless.
Eielson Visitor Center, 66 miles into the Park, is very interesting and scenic. This would be a good alternate final destination instead of Wonder Lake (especially if the long bus ride is wearing you or your family down, or you just want to avoid the long bus ride all together). There is plenty of excellent hiking options around this visitor center to stretch your legs or to catch amazing views.
If you’re a dog lover, definitely check out the Sled Dog Kennels near the Park entrance.
You may see bears, caribou, moose, Dall sheep, fox, wolves, lynx, marmots and ground squirrels. (The best Dall sheep and Fall moose viewing we’ve experienced is between the Park entrance and the Savage River area.) Binoculars are a must, and the best way we’ve found wildlife is to pull over at an open area along the Park road, sit for a while and patiently scan the vast valleys and numerous hillsides. You’d be amazed at what you can spot… especially once you realize those little white dots are actually Dall sheep.
Serious encounters with Alaskan brown bears (grizzly bears) are extremely rare, but pick up some bear spray in Anchorage (REI, Mountain View Sports or Sportsman’s Warehouse) or Wasilla for a hiking piece of mind. IMPORTANT: Bear spray is illegal on airlines, so don’t try to fly home with it… even in your checked luggage.
Bring a head net and bug repellent because the biting insects can be absolutely ferocious at times during the “warmer” months (it can snow or get cold even during the summer months). The mosquitoes are especially notorious around Wonder Lake (until cooler Fall temps arrive.)
Fishing options within the Park exist but are very limited. Lake trout and grayling are found in Wonder Lake, and there’s some grayling fishing in the limited amount of clear streams throughout the Park. Most streams and rivers are glacially silted, providing poor fish spawning habitat.
The best plan is to fish outside the Park along the Parks Highway between Anchorage and Denali NP. Willow, Montana or Sheep creeks are just a few good options along the way.
The Road Lottery
Visitor vehicle access is limited to the first 15 miles of the park (unless you’re planning a multi-night stay at Teklanika Campground), which is why you have to take a bus into the park. However, there’s a 4 day period each September where special permits awarded by lottery allow a limited number of visitors to drive the full 85 miles to Wonder Lake (or as far as the weather permits).
Once this period is over, the park is open to visitor vehicle traffic to the Teklanika Campground (29 miles in), as long as the weather permits.
If you want to go “all out” with a glacier landing or the ultimate scenic flight, check out the flight seeing options around the Denali NP entrance or in the town of Talkeetna (in no order of preference):
49th State Brewery a few miles north of the Park entrance in Healy is a good place to eat, and has the bus movie prop from the movie Into the Wild.