Denali Delights

Male caribou, Denali

Male caribou, Denali

Touring through Denali is unlike other U.S. national parks because there is only one road, and few trails. This glorious park is well designed to preserve the park, protect the wildlife, and lighten the impact of human visitors.


Denali Park Road is 92 miles long, with only the first 15 miles open to private vehicles. Going deeper into the park requires park buses.  Additionally, most of the park does not have trails; those that exist are less than five miles long and primarily near the entrance. This is to minimize maintenance in this extremely remote and unserviceable place.

Denali Park Rd & Mt. McKinley

Denali Park Rd & Mt. McKinley


There are 39 species of mammals, including caribou, moose, bear, wolves; and 169 species of birds.  With over 650 plant species in an environment of forest, tundra, and glaciers, there are numerous habitats.   In addition, majestic Mt. McKinley looms at 20,320 feet offering hiking, mountain climbing, and glacier exploration.


For visitors there are ecological options of courtesy, shuttle, or tour buses.  Hiking is largely cross-country.


green bus stopped along a dirt road, mountains in the distance, and a sheep downslope.

Denali Shuttle Bus. Photo: Nathan Kostegian, NPS

Green shuttle buses travel Denali Park Road, picking hikers up and dropping them off wherever they please.  I noticed not many people did this.  Alternatively, there are a few designated day trips available, or visitors can take a park bus tour.  Learn more here.


One day we enjoyed a designated day trip to Wonder Lake.  With views of Mt. McKinley and exquisite panoramas of the mountains and tundra, it was awesome.  We did not spend as much time at the lake as hoped, because the mosquitoes were rabid.


Grizzly Bear, Denali NP, Alaska

Grizzly Bear, Denali

One day we took a pre-arranged flight tour to a glacier at the top of Mt. McKinley.  Spectacular!  Read more here.


Several days we explored, on foot, areas we had researched, targeting wildlife and birds.  We used the required green bus and boarded and de-boarded as we liked.  One day the bus driver dropped us off, and as the two of us descended the bus steps he said, “Be careful, I’ve heard there are grizzlies around here today.”  Off goes the bus, we are completely alone in this vast expanse, and I said, “What did he just say?”


A few hours later I had forgotten my fear about the grizzlies.  We had hiked a few miles, taking photos and exploring, and then came across a delightful stream.  After carrying loads of equipment, we decided to temporarily stash the scope and tripod under a bush; set the daypack down while we scouted out a picnic spot upstream.

Denali creek, daypacks

Athena photographing, Denali streamside (Photo: Jet)


Ten minutes later we returned to the daypack and found, disconcertingly, that it was moving.  We ran at the backpack, and shouted at it.  Out jumped a ground squirrel.  Fortunately it was only a small mammal, and not something big enough to eat us.


Ground Squirrel, Denali

Ground Squirrel, Denali

One of the things I absolutely love about hiking and outdoor adventures, is that the conventions of household living are considerably looser.  Here we were in the middle of 6 million acres of wilderness, no food shops for hundreds of miles.   We needed lunch, but would there be any left?  Fortunately, he had only eaten parts of our Fig Newton cookies.  So we sat down, ate our pawed-over but uneaten lunch, including the untouched ends of the Fig Newtons.


Wolf, Denali

Wolf, Denali


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander (except as noted)


Mount McKinley, Denali NP, Alaska

Mount McKinley

Dall Sheep, Denali NP, Alaska

Dall Sheep, Denali

Wonder Lake, Denali

Wonder Lake, Denali

49 thoughts on “Denali Delights

  1. This is one place I have been. I only had a day, and took a long bus ride. Wildlife everywhere, with people even getting off when a grizzly was spotted. They wanted pictures and the driver left them there.

    • So very glad you enjoyed the post, ORO. Not too many birds. Since it is so cold 3/4 of the year there, most birds don’t settle in. We had a lovely look at a flock of ptarmigans, and closer to the water, in Seward, we saw bald eagles. Many thanks! 😀

    • We were so relieved to find it was just a ground squirrel, and not a baby cub with a mother grizzly nearby. Thanks for stopping by, it was a pleasure to share the adventure. 😀

    • Isn’t that funny? They’re good for hiking because they don’t melt like chocolate, and they can endure anything, even wildlife munchings. lol. Thanks so much, Jan, I enjoyed your comment. 😀

  2. Beautiful wilderness! And nice shots of the wildlife. You were lucky it wasn’t a grizzly who’d found your food 🙂 Thanks for the great tour!

    • You know how the national parks can be enjoyed by many; the buses are great for managing the crowds. So very glad you enjoyed the post, Amy, and I appreciate your visit and comment. 😀

    • Well those stories about the mosquitoes are very real. We found they were worse near the lake, which makes sense. I hope you can make it to Alaska sometime, I know you will enjoy it. Thanks so much for stopping by! 😀

  3. Great post Jet! I imagine that you felt so much like an ant in such vast area, away from everything we are used to have handy. I’ve seen grizzly bear from far in Wyoming years ago. Very dangerous because they can run very fast. It’s best to keep your distance. Thank you! 🙂

  4. Ah.. what wonderful adventures you’ve had! The memories you’re creating will see you through many, many a quiet hour. It’s a bit too wild and remote for the likes of me, but so wonderfully wild. So glad you got to experience it.

  5. Lovely photos from Denali. It was one of my favourites in Alaska, your post brings back good memories. So lucky you were to see a wolf!

    • So glad the Denali sites brought back good memories for you, Inger. Yes, we were VERY thrilled to see the wolf, our only siting. Thanks so much for your visits and comments. 😀

  6. Beautiful photos — not easy to get Mt McKinley without a lot of cloud cover!
    LOL at the vision of you nibbling on the non-rodent-eaten end of the FNs. You’re right; that’s not likely something you’d do at home!

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