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Published: September 8th 2021
Denali National Park was established in 1917, however it was then called Mount McKinley National Park. Apparently people were huge fans of President McKinley and thought that was a better name than the one the native people's had called the mountain. I had to look him up because I couldn't even remember his first name or when he was president. The name debate continued and in 1980 the name of the park was changed to Denali NP but the mountain was still called McKinley. Finally, in 2015, the mountain was officially resorted to Denali.
The park is a little over 6 million acres and has one road that extends 93 miles into the park. The first 15 miles is paved and open to cars, the rest is by tour bus or campground bus only. However, as of a few weeks ago, travel on the road is limited to mile 42 due to worsening landslide at mile 45. Climate change has led to warmer winters and faster thawing of the permafrost making the road condition here worse and no longer able to be temporarily fixed. From what I heard today, it will be 2023 before any construction begins. Therefore, there is
only one visitor center, the main one, with only one chance to fill up on water. After the main center, there are limited service vault toilets and no food or water available.
There are also only 12 maintained hiking trails, all within the first 15 miles of road. The majority of the park is wilderness backcountry hiking. The park offers a free shuttle service between the visitor center and Savage River at mile 15. This is a great way to get around without a car. There is a set schedule and the bus sticks to it. I decided I would take the shuttle to Savage River and take one of the hikes out there. The shuttle bus doesn't stop to take pictures of wildlife (unless said wildlife is on the road and the bus has to stop) so you have to be ready if you see cars stopped on the side of the road. We were lucky enough to see one female moose as we drove along. Also of note, some of the areas are closed to hikers due to the moose rut. It makes them crazier than they already are and it's best not to bother them.
My plan to go all the way to Savage River was derailed when the driver noted that Denali was visible. TWO DAYS IN A ROW! I got off at Mountain Vista instead as that is the only spot along this part of the road where you can see the mountain, if she is out. This was a good area to hike as it's only a .6 mile round trip loop with plenty of places to take pictures of Denali and the surrounding park. She was pretty hazy but still visible. I caught the next shuttle and headed back towards the Visitor Center.
The next stop was very important, the sled dog kennels! Denali has maintained sled dogs since it became a park. They are vital in the winter for patrolling out to the end of the park road and performing other tasks. In the summer their role is to educate guests on their role and also to get lots and lots of love and pets from everyone. They happened to have a 5 week old liter that was just out for viewing. A ranger was holding up one of the pups when I was there so I was able
to pet her foot and see her cuteness. Any dog that will let you can be petted. Some were sleeping, some hanging out on top of their kennels and some were waiting impatiently for their walks. If you happen to live here you can be a volunteer and walk the dogs. How fun would that be! I ate my lunch here and then headed out to hike back to the visitor center.
There is a moderate 1.8 mile hike called the Roadside Hiking Trail that is a one way trail between the Visitor Center and the Sled Dogs. This hike meanders through the forest, with some small uphill sections and more downhill sections. There was a couple walking behind me so I wasn't concerned about bears. There also were several people going the opposite way including one dog. This trail is the only one that leashed dogs are allowed on. Otherwise dogs are not allowed on the trails. I would recommend this trail as a nice way to stretch your legs.
There is a really nice gift shop up at the main campus, the Alaska Geographic Store. Lots of books and other park souvenirs. And then I took
A hazy Denali
But the fall colors are beautiful!
the shuttle back to the hotel. That's another nice perk, the hotel has a shuttle that goes to the park and also to the "downtown" area. It runs all day and into the evening and the drivers are all friendly. Once I had a little break I took the shuttle to the downtown to find somewhere to get dinner. The season ends here pretty soon and about half the places are already closed. Luckily the food truck with the $6 cheeseburger was still open. That is about the cheapest meal you can get. Even the Subway is closed already! And then back to the hotel.
Tomorrow I have a 5.5 hour bus tour in the park. It would have been 8.5 hours but the landslide has caused everything to be shorter. It will still be enjoyable and I hope to see more wildlife!
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