Most tourists and travelers alike seem to have dreams of visiting Alaska. Big mountains, big skies, big wildlife. There is so much to see and do in Alaska that you could fill months and months with activities. Seeing the state was my top dream bucket list item. In 2014, I achieved that goal and now live in the Denali area seven months out of the year. Come visit, you will not regret the decision.
People far and wide travel to the Alaskan interior in hopes of catching a view of the tallest mountain in North America, Denali. Formerly known as Mt. McKinley, President Obama approved the renaming to the original Athabascan name of Denali in August 2015. Denali, meaning The High One, summits at 20,322 feet above sea level. Seeing The Mountain should be high on your Alaskan list. There are several ways. Three of these must take tours gives you the opportunity.
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1. Denali National Park Bus
Taking the park’s bus tours are the only way during the official season (mid-May to mid-September) to see the interior of Denali National Park. Two types of buses are offered. You can sign up for an official tour with full narration by the extremely experienced bus guides, either the Natural History, Wilderness Tundra or Kantishna tours. All three afford views of The Mountain, if it is visible. Or you can take a shuttle bus which allows riders to hop on and off anywhere along the park road. The best viewing point is at the Eielson Visitor Center located at mile 66. The park road is 92.5 miles long, starting at George Parks Highway and ending in the teeny tiny town of Kantishna. Kantishna used to be a mining town but now only a few wilderness resorts are located there.
Not only do visitors get the opportunity to view The Mountain but also some incredible wildlife spottings. The big five to find are bears, moose, caribou, wolves, and Dall sheep. On any given day, the chances of seeing all are very high except for the wolf. Wolves are a little more elusive than the rest. Of course, many more species live within the park and may surprise you with their presence.
Prices vary depending on which tour you pick or how far you chose to go on the shuttle buses. Prices range from $26.50 to $194.
2. Flight to Denali
You can take either a glacier landing flight or a Denali fly-by scenic flight. I’ve flown on both and recommend either. Fly Denali is the only Denali area flight company allowed to offer glacier landings within Denali National Park. You will get an up close and personal view of Denali as you land on a glacier which seems a stone’s throw from the summit. You will see ice blue glacier pools from above that will have you scrambling for your camera. Taking the glacier landing is pricey ringing in at just over $500 but so worth the money.
If a glacier landing is out of your price range, there are other options. You can do a flight seeing tour. These tours fly through Denali National Park up to and around The Mountain. Prices vary from $200-$400 depending on starting point, how long you are in the air and number of guests. Try Denali Air or Kantishna Air Taxi as some options.
My favorite time to take one of these flights is in the fall which means the end of August or beginning of September. Why? Because usually the mountains are covered in freshly fallen snow and I love snow. Both types of flights are only offered during the May to September season.
3. Denali Highway Tour
Considered the #2 “Drive of a Lifetime” by National Geographic Traveler magazine, Denali Highway is unique in that it is only open when there is no snow. It is a gravel highway that is not maintained during the winter. The highway connects Richardson Highway to George Parks Highway. Prior to the construction of Parks Highway, Denali Highway was the only road access to Denali National Park. Denali Jeep Excursions offers a four-hour narrated tour of this highway with wide open views of spectacular scenery. Guests drive themselves in 4-door Jeep Wranglers with a guide in a separate Jeep along the gravel road looking for wildlife and adventure. Several stops along the way allow for picture taking and walking around. There are a few spots along the road in which to view Denali if it is visible. Another unique feature of the highway is the availability of roadside camping. Visitors are allowed to pull over anywhere and camp as long as they are not obstructing the road. Tour prices are $169 per person.
4. Husky Homestead Tour
Jeff King, four-time Iditarod champion, is the owner of this sled dog kennel. Jeff and his staff present a show three times daily. Upon arriving in their shuttle bus, guests are presented with an armful of puppies. Cuddle and play with a chubby little playful pup while getting your picture taken. Then watch as the staff hook up a team to an ATV for a practice run. Excited dogs jump and howl for their chance to participate in the run. They love to run and put on a show. After the team dashes off, guests are given an informative and fun presentation on the life and care of sled dogs as well as a talk with Jeff himself about running in the Iditarod. Time flies by and before you know it, it is time to leave. Who knew there is so much to dog mushing? Tour price is $59 for a 2 1/2 hour show.
The area offers several more varieties of tours; however, these four are the ones I feel guests get the most bang for their buck. Other options include white water rafting, ATV or Argo tours, helicopter rides, covered wagon rides, off-road Jeep tours, and midnight golf to name a few. If tours are not your thing, there is plenty of hiking and other outdoor activities to keep you occupied.
About the Writer:
Tricia Krohn, author of the guidebook Denali, It’s for Everyone from Tourist to Seasonal Worker, calls the Denali area home most of the year. She funds her travels by working seasonally in various areas of the US and abroad. Read about her travels at The Adventure List along with ways to travel and work.