Denali National Park

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Denali National Park


Situated in south-central Alaska, Denali National Park is home to the USA's highest peak, Mt McKinley- 6,194 mt of formidable rock, snow and ice. The majestic Alaska Ranges tower over Denali- the word `denali' itself means `great one' in the native Athabascan dialect, and refers to the huge massif which makes up McKinley and its neighbouring peaks. An expanse of about 25,000 sq km, Denali offers the ultimate in the wilderness experience- whether you want to go mountaineering or dog-mushing, whether you want to see bear and moose at close quarters- this is where it is. A vast, frozen stretch of mountains and glaciers, characterised by the `taiga'- the stunted evergreen forests which border the treeless tundra, on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Wildlife is Denali's core competence, but there's more to see. More than 430 species of flowering plants burst into bloom at the first sign of the short-lived spring, and lichens, mosses and algae thrive in what is hostile terrain to all but the hardiest. The lower altitudes of Denali's mountains are covered by woods of quaking aspen, spruce, paper birch and poplar, but higher up, where the snow begins, all that survives are cottongrass, sedge and stunted shrubs- the tundra. Here, in the bleak, subzero temperatures of the sub-Arctic, live a surprisingly large number of species- caribou, moose, Dall sheep, wolf, fox and grizzly, along with smaller mammals. Many of these, like the squirrels and smaller rodents, lay up stocks of food for the long, bitter winters, while others, including the grizzlies, simply hibernate. Also among Denali's list of inhabitants are a wide range of birds, both endemic and migratory- ptarmigans, Lapland longspurs, terns, owls, golden eagles and goshawks being the prominent species. Yes, you certainly can't complain that Denali is commonplace or doesn't offer much. This is definitely adventure in its rawest, wildest form.

Best time to visit

The park is open throughout the year, but even in summer- between June and August- average temperatures are about 20°C, while in winter averages range between -18 to -22°C, although freezingly low temperatures of less than -40°C are not unknown. Stick to summer, unless you're keen on winter sports like skiing or dog-sledding, or are hellbent on masochism. Another point to keep in mind is the fact that the road to Denali is open only between late May and mid-September. Whenever you do go to Denali, make sure you've got plenty of woollens and protection against rain, wind and snow- this isn't a nice place to find yourself without another jacket to put on.


The most unforgettable views of Denali are to be obtained along the 145 km long stretch known as the Denali Park Road. It's a breathtaking slideshow of Denali's biggest attractions, and can be traversed by car, by bike or aboard the shuttle bus which does the trip from the park entrance to Kantishna. During peak season, only


Entry passes costing US$5 per person or family passes for US$10 have to be obtained by anyone entering Denali; both entitle you to a week's stay in the park. Annual passes worth US$20 are available too. American citizens are eligible for lifetime passes, which allow entry to all the national parks in the country. These passes are free for those with permanent disabilities, and cost a nominal amount- between US$10 and 50- for everybody else. Denali has two visitor centres, the Eielson Visitor Centre and the Park Headquarters Visitor Centre, from where entry permits can be collected. Both centres offer maps, brochures and tourist literature regarding Denali, and are venues for slide programmes, talks, hikes and interactions with the park's rangers.

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