Project Alaska (Part VI): Denali National Park

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The Park Chasers are heading to Alaska! This is the sixth installment in a series on how to prepare for an unforgettable Alaskan vacation. Check out our first few posts on choosing dates for your trip, selecting a base camp, traveling North of the Arctic Circle, and Visiting Gates of the Arctic National Park.   With millions of acres of national parks to explore, follow along with us as we plan our next adventure to Denali National Park!

Now that the summer is officially over and the camping season is winding down in Minnesota we are beginning to spend more time looking at our 2017 Alaskan National Park tour. The goal for this month continues to be figuring out where we want to be on which days so we can arrange lodging and camping. This week we’ve been focused on the National Park gem of Alaska: Denali National Park.

For many National Park enthusiasts, Denali is the ultimate destination. It has the tallest peak in North America and some of the most remote wilderness in the United States. Sounds perfect for a camping trip, right?

Camping Denali National Park

One of the locations we really want to camp on our Alaskan vacation is in the Denali area. Denali National Park has 6 different campgrounds. You can drive a car or RV to Riley Creek, Savage and Teklanika Campgrounds. Access to Sanctuary, Igloo, and Wonder Lake is by bus or foot only. All of the campground reservations must be made through the Denali National Park concessionaire “Reserve”

Riley Creek is the largest and most developed of the campgrounds.  With 147 sites, pay showers, and a campground host, it has the most amenities for RV and tent campers in the park.  Savage Campground, another popular spot for RV and tent units is located 13 miles into the park.  It has running water but no electricity or showers. The remainder of the campgrounds continue to be more remote and with less amenities. Igloo Creek Campground is the smallest in Denali with only 7 tent-only sites and no potable water.

Where we choose to camp comes down to what we plan to do during our visit to Denali. Reservations cannot be made until December 1st for the following season so we have a couple of months to decide.

So far a bus tour, hiking, and driving the Denali Park road have made our itinerary:

Bus Tours in Denali National Park

The top item on our list (and most other visitors to Denali) is a bus tour of the park. Denali National Park is a vast wilderness and in order to preserve its integrity, personal vehicles are limited to the first 15 miles of the 92-mile park road. The NPS has a one-stop shop for you to research your options on bus tours.

As we researched bus tours, it became very clear that ‘bus’ can mean many different things in Denali.  Depending on what service you need, you’ll need to book a different type of bus.  “Tour buses” are just what they describe.  They provide a narrated tour of the park.  The biggest difference in tour buses is the length of the tour.  Shuttle buses only take you from point A to B – is just a mode of transport within the park.

Reservations are the same as the campground, starting December 1st for the following summer.  At this time we are thinking about the Kantishna Experience because it is the only one that goes to the end of the road and a NPS Ranger narrates a portion of it.

Vantage Points

 Hiking in Denali National Park

Unlike many of the other National Parks we have visited, hiking can be more of a challenge. Denali is a wilderness and therefore an expanse of developed and marked trails was intentionally not created.  In the immediate area around the entrance there are a few trails, however the vast majority of the park remains ‘off trail’ area.

Others have recommended hiking in nearby Denali State Park.  The area is immediately south of Denali National Park and offers more developed hiking trails. We’ve been told if you are lucky enough to be there on a clear day you will be afforded an awesome view of Denali.

Denali National Park
Park Chasers is heading to Alaska in 2017. Follow along with the hashtag #alaska2017

Driving Old Denali Highway

Early in our Alaskan vacation planning, we came across a scenic drive near Denali.  South of the main park road, just out side of the town of Cantwell is the Old Denali Highway. According to National Geographic, this 135 mile stretch of road from Cantwell to Paxson is supposed to be one of the most scenic dives in the world. The road is gravel and slow going, but mostly above the treeline.  We’ve been told though to make sure our gas tank is full before starting this uninhabited route!

As always, we know there are many of our readers who have successfully planned vacations to Denali and the other National Parks in Alaska.  We welcome your suggestions and recommendations as we plan our 2017 Alaskan adventure!  Be sure to share them in the comments section or on Facebook.



Greg & Amy
Chasing a visit to all 400+ units in the NPS
Current Count: 130/423
Next Stop: @hawaiivolcanoes


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