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Travel Tip For Today

Bring one pair of comfortable walking shoes as well as a pair of sandals or Tevas. Before you leave home, break in your new shoes so you're not uncomfortable on the road.

Denali National Park

Alaska

A trip to Denali Park is the high point of any trip to Alaska. "Denali," an Athabascan word meaning "high one," was the Native American name for Mt. McKinley-at 20,320 feet, the highest mountain in North America, with the sharpest rise of any in the world. The park is the premier wildlife-viewing preserve in North America. 37 kinds of mammals and 157 species of birds inhabit the park. With a little luck, you may see grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolf and Dall sheep, among the larger mammals, all roaming free.

The park has been set up to minimize visitors' impact on the fragile subarctic ecosystem. There are few trails outside the main entrance area, so hikers must disperse and thus lessen the impact on the environment. Traffic is strictly controlled, with no access past mile 12 on the park road unless you have a camping permit for that night; even then, only one transit is allowed.

Most transportation is via park shuttle buses which ply the road, generally at half-hour intervals. To board at Riley, you need a token, free at the office. To board at other points, you don't need anything, just flag the bus down. However, to camp overnight within the park you need a permit; for day hiking you do not. This system makes it easy to get off when you want to explore on your own, on foot. Bear in mind that this is a real wilderness, and you are responsible for yourself! I suggest you read the free Alpenglow thoroughly and purchase a Denali National Park map and a copy of "How to Find Wildlife at Denali Along the Park Road" at the Riley Creek Information Center. Consider buying "Denali National Park: An Island in Time" by Rick McIntyre, an excellent, in-depth guide. When you get home, it makes a great souvenir or gift because of the glorious color pictures of the park and its inhabitants. Also, consider the Denali Road Guide, a mile-by-mile description of the road and its features. All the books, information, maps, permits and reservations that you need are available at Riley Creek Information Center.

The park rangers are enthusiastic and very helpful. You should read the next section of this guide very carefully, and when you arrive at Riley Creek Information Center on the first day, make all your reservations and obtain all the permits you will need for your entire stay in the park, i.e., campsite reservations for as many nights as you will be spending in the park, hiking permits and overnight camping permits.

Accommodations

Campgrounds: one night of free camping is allowed for backpackers only, at Morino Campground by the train station, across from the Youth Hostel.

For those in camping vehicles, there are several pull-outs on the road just north of the park. Roadside camping within the park boundaries is strictly prohibited. The best commercial campground for easy access is Lynx Creek, located one mile north on the main highway from the entrance to the park. Generally, there is plenty of room. If this campground is filled, the KOA Campground, located farther north, always seems to have spaces.

For those who want a roof over their heads, the budget option is the Youth Hostel, located right by the train station. For an inexpensive room with shared bath, a tiny roomette in a converted railway car at Denali National Park Hostel is another low cost alternative. They also offer luxury accommodations. Another expensive but fun accommodation is Denali Crow's Nest (P.O. Box 70, Denali National Park, AK 99755, (907) 683-2723), perched above the road just north of the main entrance. This convivial place has cute miniature cabins with room for 4 with two double beds. There are two large hot tubs.

Top-of-the-line is McKinley Chalet Resort, a full-service resort with pool, sauna, recreation center with nightly videos, a deli and an excellent and most scenic restaurant. Make reservations for either McKinley Chalet Resort of Denali Park Hotel c/o A.R.A. Outdoor Room, 825 West 8th Avenue, #240, Anchorage, AK 99501. Telephone numbers for reservations: in the park, (907) 683-2215; in Anchorage, (907) 276-7234.

Another alternative, available only on a four- or five-night stay, for those who have extra time, is Camp Denali (P.O. Box 67, Denali National Park, AK 99755, (907) 683-2290), located at the very end of the National Park road in the geographic center of the park. This is a rustic, informal resort for those who seek the in-depth experience of a sub-arctic alpine wilderness. Accommodations are in individual guest cabins, located on a hillside with an expansive view of Mt. McKinley. Each is equipped with a wood-burning stove for heat, pure spring water, propane lights, hot plate and a private "path." There are facilities and a central shower, plus a hot tub. Delicious home-cooked meals are served family-style in the central dining area. The comfortable living room has a large Alaskana library. The staff naturalist will help you maximize your experience at Camp Denali.

Food

If you're camping in Denali, you should have purchased all your supplies in Anchorage. There is one tiny store and one gas station (expensive) near the information center. Be sure you have plenty of gas before driving in on the park road.

The snack shop at the Denali Park Hotel has inexpensive burgers and fries. Early breakfast, for 5:00 to 6:00 am departures, is available at Denali Park Hotel or McKinley Chalet. Prices are moderate; food service begins at 5:00 am. A giant breakfast buffet is available at McKinley Denali Salmon Bake; also, a bountiful lunch and an especially bountiful dinner. This is a good deal if you're hungry. McKinley Denali Salmon Bake is located on mile north of the park entrance. (907) 683-2733.

Lynx Creek Pizza at Lynx Creek Campground serves great pizzas at moderate prices.

Fine dining is available at McKinley Chalet Resort. Their jewelbox of a dining room overlooks the river, with a spectacular canyon view.

A good, quick meal, especially sandwiches, can be had at the Denali Deli, opposite the Chalet Resort, open 10:30 am to midnight-your best bet for a late-night snack.

Healy Roadhouse, located 8 miles north of the park, is a traditional Alaskan stop for prime rib.

For those who plan to hike in the backcountry, be sure to read and observe the food handling rules published in Alpenglow to avoid a close encounter of the unpleasant kind with a local grizzly bear.

Denali Park Road to Wonder Lake.
Wonder Lake Tour

Buses leave Riley Creek Information Center hourly, beginning at 6:00 am. The last departure that will leave time to return the same day is at 1:00 pm. The 85-mile trip to Wonder Lake takes 5 hours one way. Stops along the way include Polychrome Pass, Toklat River and Eielson Visitor Center; the bus may also stop for wildlife viewing.

Consider walking back one-half mile and taking the trail marked "McKinley Bar Trail." Two miles each way, it is an excellent introduction to the beauty of hiking in the park. This trail forms the first leg of the Mt. Nearing route for climbing to the summit of Mt. McKinley. Have your picnic lunch.

The last return bus from Wonder Lake is around 6:00 pm, arriving back at Riley Creek at 11:15 pm.

While riding the shuttle bus to Wonder Lake, watch for areas along the way that you'd like to explore further. The next morning, stop at Riley Creek Visitor Center, discuss your hiking plans with the ranger and get your permit. Then get on the bus and go do it!

Hike Denali

The Denali backcountry provides superb sub-arctic hiking. A full day of hiking can take you from tundra riverbanks, across meadows of alpine wildflowers, up into rugged glacial moraines and back. There are virtually no trails in the back country. Most of the area is above timberline, and hikers usually follow rivers or ridgelines. A map is essential. Hiking permits are assigned on a zone system to prevent overcrowding of popular areas and to assure solitude for your wilderness experience.

If you don't want to brave it alone, discovery hikes depart daily. These are small group hikes, led by a park ranger/naturalist of four or five hours duration. The hikes are posted at Riley Creek. All you need to do is show up. They also post what you need, i.e., picnic lunch, extra shoes. Spend the rest of the day, before or after the hike, learning more about the park and seeing a sled dog demonstration at Park Headquarters. Demonstrations are held three times daily; times are posted at Riley Creek.

A raft trip is another possibility, as Denali is a favorite rafting area, with churning water (but not really all that rough) and great views. For complete information, contact McKinley Raft Tours, P.O. Box 138, Denali National Park, AK 99755, (907) 683-2392. The tours are of varying duration, several times a day. A family tour of 2-1/2 hours, minimum age nine years, departs at 9:00 am and 2:30 pm.

Flightseeing Mt. McKinley on a clear day is another great idea. Inquire at the train station, where there is a flightseeing company office.

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