DENALI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE, Alaska – Summer travel is winding down at Denali National Park and Preserve, ending the season that sees the vast majority of visitors to this largely wild place.
The park is home to North America's tallest peak, formerly called Mount McKinley but now officially renamed Denali. The park covers more than 6 million acres — about the size of Vermont — and is an adventurer's paradise with few marked trails inviting backcountry exploration. On a recent trip in late August and early September, the fall colors were in full force — bold reds and browns and yellows drenching the landscape in areas not already covered by snow. Wildlife sightings included grizzly bears, ptarmigan (birds), Dall sheep on ridge lines, some caribou, moose and even an elusive lynx.
While snowfall in August isn't unusual, the amount that fell this year was, park spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri said. The last four days of the month saw more than a foot of snow, which caused road closures, she said.
Buses are a primary means for traveling into Denali during the summer, with the meandering, in places narrow, 92-mile park road closed to most personal vehicles past mile 15. Shuttle bus riders can hop off to hike and flag down a returning bus later if they want a ride back. Or, they can just enjoy the ride and be on the lookout for critters along the way. You can also bike in or walk.
Most tour and shuttle buses will stop running for the year Wednesday (Sept. 16), clearing the way for winners of the annual road lottery to drive in. That event allows members of the public who've won a lottery held in the spring to drive the entire park road on one of four designated days — Sept. 17, 18, 20 and 21. Front-country shuttles, operating up to the first 15 miles, will run during the lottery days, Gualtieri said.
Winners of the lottery pay a $25 fee to drive the road on their own, weather permitting. Lottery entries are taken in the spring.