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Hiking in Denali National Park Alaska

Denali National Park is considered by many to be the crown jewel of Alaska.

Alaska is always the highlight of my year. This will be my tenth trip.

This trip will accommodate dayhikers as well as backpackers. We can establish a car camping base at Riley Creek Campground located near the park entrance and headquarters. Campsites cost $28/night and will accommodate up to three tents and 8 people. There are flush toilets but no showers. Showers can be had at the park store for a fee.

Savage River is anotherdrive in campground that is located 13 miles into the park. it has group sites that will accommodate 9-20 people and no limit on the number of tents. Group sites are $40.

For those that don't like to camp, private lodging is available in the town of Denali, a couple of miles from the park entrance. If you choose this option, plan on having your own rent car or using the shuttle buses.

The better restaurants, bars, gift shops etc are also located in the Denali township. Dining out can be a bit pricey in this part of Alaska. Expect to pay roughly twice what you would pay in Texas.  I usually have breakfast in camp and pack a lunch. I like to go out to dinner if I get back early enough.

There are no trails in Denali aside from a few dayhiking trails near the park entrance. All hiking is done off trail. However if you stay on the high ground you will often find game trails that serve quite well, but they do come and go so there is always some bushwacking involved. Higher ground tends to be dry with short vegetation and spectacular views. Low ground tends to be wet and brushy, but there's a lot of wildlife there. You can drive your car down the park road as far as the Savage River at mile 15. Hikers park their cars at the many pull-offs along this 15 mile stretch and just start hiking cross country. You can expect to see anything from moose and caribou to grizzlies, black bears and wolves in this area. Beyond mile 15 is another 70+ miles of road that is only accessible by park bus. Bus fees range from $26.25 to $50 per day depending on how far into the park you wish to go. Lot's of wildlife is seen from these buses, including the aforementioned animals and dall sheep. On a clear day, Mt McKinley (also know as Denali) can be viewed from several points on this road. It is the highest point in North America at over 20,000 ft. It is an imposing sight and viewing it on a clear day is one of the trip's highlights. The bus driver will drop you off anywhere along the road you like. If you see a mountain that you'd like to hike up, yell "stop please" and ask to get off the bus. When you finish your hike, you simply wave down another bus. Your bus pass is good for the whole day in either direction as far into the park as your pass allows.

There are 2 ranger guided hikes offered every day. They must be reserved in advance. They are free except for the bus fee; usually about $35. These are very interesting and enjoyable hikes. The rangers I hiked with pointed out and explained all kinds of things that I would have just walked passed and never taken notice of. There are literally hundreds of different routes that rangers can take and no route can be used on a ranger hike more than twice per year. This is designed to keep the park as wild as possible. Sometimes when on a ranger hike you might see a different route that you would like to hike on another day. The ranger usually knows if the hike - say a peak you want to climb to - is doable as a day hike. 

Backpacking is allowed by permit only. Unlike other National Parks, you have to apply for a permit in person no sooner than the day before beginning your hike. You may find yourself in a lottery for a permit in popular areas. Backcountry permits are for a maximum of 4-6 hikers depending on the unit your permit is for. As a result some of our group may leave the main group for a few days now and then.

Getting there: Fly to Anchorage Friday or Saturday. Those that arrive early can pick up supplies like fuel canisters and bear spray for those who want it. In addition, there is excellent hiking just outside of Anchorage. I like to get in a good dayhike on Saturday to bird peak where the views of snowcapped mountains and glaciers are incredible. Anchorage has lots of gift shops with good selections at reasonable prices. There is also a great pizza/brewery place that we usually go to Saturday night. 

We will depart from the Motel 6 in rent cars on Sunday morning. From there it's about a 5 hour drive to Denali NP. After checking in and setting up camp, we can check out the ranger hike schedule, dayhike or whatever. Since we will be car camping for the most part, cold beers, wine, etc are not out of the question. Fire pits are provided. Quiet time in the campgound is from 10 PM to 6 AM. 

Camp can get pretty buggy but I never had mosquito problems while hiking. Bring long sleeves, glove liners and a headnet with a wide brim hat to keep the net away from your skin.

I would never go to Denali without my binoculars. There is so much to see and binos make a huge difference. A camera of course is a must.

Climate: It's Alaska! It gets cold, it get's warm (think layers) and we will get rain. Nights are usually in the mid 40s to 50s. I like a 32 degree down bag with a thermarest and a good waterproof tent. Good raingear is a must. I use a pair of high top gaiters, lightweight REI rain pants and a lightweight Marmot or North Face rain jacket with gererous pit zips for ventilation; about $90 each. I own a very expensive E-vent rain jacket that has no pit zips (supposedly breaths so well it doesn't need them - that's just hogwash). It's heavy, bulky and miserably hot when hiking even on a cool day. If your thinking about buying one, buy mine. I also bring a lightweight down sweater or fleece jacket, warm hat and warm waterproof gloves to wear on those cool breezy days and at night. Please have a quality pair of hiking boots that are well broken in and good hiking socks and liners. Bushwacking crosscountry is hard on your feet. 

Return to Anchorage on Sunday or Monday August 11-12 to catch a flight home. My flight leaves ANC at 12:55 AM Tuesday.

PLEASE READ THIS: Members will not be allowed to bring a guest on this trip. If you want to bring someone along, they can join NTO and then sign up for the trip themselves. Doing so relieves the trip organzer of any liability. Please be aware that the trip organizer is never responsible for your safety and well being. We are all adults here. We try to look out for each other, but everyone is responsible for their own safety.

I was in Denali last summer for a week and only began to scratch the surface of what this park has to offer. You could go there every summer for the rest of your life and not see it all.

Cost: The Motel 6 is $135/night plus tax. Rent cars are about triple what you would expect in the lower 48. Gas is about $1 more per gallon than home. There is an entrance fee for all national parks. Google the park website for details. Camping fees will be divided equally among the people at each site. Same for car rentals and gas. Everyone will have to make their own hotel and flight reservations. I will schedule planning meetings to work out the details.  

 

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  • Tom D.

    Great trip everyone! Awesome wildlife viewing and some close encounters! Great climbing mixed with some tough bushwacking, too. Denali is an amazing place and the Great One is spectacular when you can see it all! I love this wild place and hope to see some of you in Alaska next year :)

    1 · August 12, 2013

    • Johnny H.

      Ooo Ooo I'm game....Raina isn't LOL

      August 17, 2013

    • Paul

      I'm interested. Never done it before though.

      August 17, 2013

  • Autumn

    Great pictures Paul and Tammy! I will try to post mine next week.

    August 13, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Beautiful views

    August 13, 2013

  • Tanna D.

    Beautiful park with lots to do and see

    1 · August 13, 2013

  • Johnny H.

    'twas awesome...

    August 12, 2013

  • Autumn

    Awesome trip! I can't wait to see everyone's pictures ( :

    1 · August 12, 2013

  • Erin P.

    I am going to Alaska Sept 6th-12th to backpack Denali. I wish I could have done it with you guys but August was a bad month. I would greatly appreciate any advice, suggestions, tips, or anything you can offer for my trip. So far I am only going back country packing for a couple nights but am looking to do some other excursions as well. Thanks in advance!!!

    2 · August 6, 2013

    • Erin P.

      Great photos! Thank you for sharing! How long do you normally go for? Do you have a favorite zone/ unit you like to try to be in?

      August 7, 2013

    • Kevin

      We normally go to Wrangell St Elias area (Unit 11). the Glacier is Root Glacier with the Ice Falls in the background. (second tallest in the world). Time depends on the trip. Last year (2012) we did a fly-in. Flew into the tundra and stayed 5 days 4 nights. backpacked back at the landing strip and flew back to McCarthy. I really enjoy McCarthy/Kennecott area (in Unit 11). Ok my post was way to long so I had to delete a lot of it. I'll be glad to share any info with you before you leave. We get together Thursday the 15th.

      August 7, 2013

  • Laura

    Is anyone thinking about white water rafting? I've not looked into at all and have no idea as to price but people who have been keep telling me it was great.

    August 1, 2013

  • Paul

    Could I get a show of hands who is actually backpacking??

    July 30, 2013

  • Paul

    Who all is on American #278 for Aug 3rd. Maybe we can meet at airport and /or exchange phone #'s

    July 25, 2013

    • Paul

      My # is[masked]

      1 · July 26, 2013

    • Autumn

      [masked] I'm leaving today for Anchorage. Please call or text me if you guys meet for dinner on Saturday.

      July 31, 2013

  • Laura

    Am I the only one on the trip who will be visiting Denali for the first time?

    I arrive in Anchorage at about 2:30 PM on Saturday (3rd) and plan to join you all for dinner Saturday night. At this point I'll probably leave Denali Saturday, August 10 as I'm planning to spend a few days in the Seward and Kenai area.

    July 18, 2013

  • Laura

    For those who are interested, this free program is on Friday, August 9 from 7 PM to 8:30 PM at the visitors center.

    Mountaineer and retired Denali State Park ranger Dave Johnston will do a slide presentation on winter mountaineering on Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker. He made Denali history by being part of the expedition that made the first winter ascent of McKinley on February 28, 1967.

    Over a period of 42 days, he, Art Davidson, and Ray Genet battled high winds, massive snowfall, and brutal temperatures to reach the summit. They endured additional hardships on the descent, as a storm with calculated wind-chill temperatures of -148 degrees (the title of Davidson's book on the expedition) kept the team trapped in an ice cave for six days.

    Johnston also made the first ascent on Mt. Foraker's Sultana Route in March 1979, the second winter ascent of that peak. In 2005 he met a life-long goal by becoming the first person to climb to the highest point in all 50 states during the winter.

    July 24, 2013

    • Paul

      Sounds good

      July 25, 2013

    • Johnny H.

      Raina and I will plan to attend. Just remind us. LOL

      July 29, 2013

  • Tom D.

    **Update** Due to unusually warm weather and heavy rains in Denali, the mosquitoes are worse than normal this year. They will be especially dense near water and in the woods. It is recommended to bring repellant such as Deep Woods Off and a head net. REI in anchorage sells bug repellant and head nets. I recommend Sea to Summit's head net for $9.95 or Sea to Summit Head Net with Insect Shield for $11.95. You might want to pick one at the Dallas/Plano REI before leaving in case the Anchorage REI sells out. Bear spray and camp fuel can also be picked up at REI anchorage. (You can not pack bear spray or camp fuel on a plane.) See you all there!

    July 24, 2013

    • Johnny H.

      Thanks for sharing!

      July 24, 2013

    • Laura

      I bought a head net last weekend (among other things) at REI. Mosquitoes love me. Unfortunately.

      1 · July 24, 2013

  • Tom D.

    Nope! My first time to Denali as well. ;)

    July 18, 2013

  • Maribel A.

    I'll have to cancel. My husband will have surgery at the end of this month and he will need my assistance

    July 10, 2013

    • Adriana

      I hope the surgery goes very smoothly..best wishes!

      July 17, 2013

    • Maribel A.

      Thank you. Hopefully we can join the group on a trip to Alaska next year

      July 17, 2013

  • Tanna D.

    We have room at our campsite for one more tent. We are at Riley Creek 8/3-8/11, although we wont be showing up until 8/4.

    July 17, 2013

    • Paul

      Darn auto correct. Lol

      July 17, 2013

    • Tanna D.

      Yes. 3 tents per site. We have room for one more

      July 17, 2013

  • Kevin

    Can't work make it. I'm bummed. First year I'll miss it since we started.

    July 14, 2013

  • Laura

    I'm hosting a pool party at my home in Frisco Saturday, July 13. If any of you all can make it that would be great! I've met some of you all that are going to Denali but I'd like to meet a few more of you. If you can attend the party please do (even if the event shows as full, message me and I'll send you my address so you can come).

    July 11, 2013

  • Tanna D.

    We are booked for Riley Creek 8/3 check in through 8/11 check out

    March 9, 2013

    • Al D.

      Paul, We'll be driving from Anchorage to Denali on Sunday the 4th. I have room for two passengers if you'd like to share a car.

      April 29, 2013

    • Paul

      I am sharing a car with Tammy. I am so ready for this trip. Just a couple more weeks!

      2 · July 10, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I'm originally from Texas and have been in Alaska the past seven years. Lived in Denali National Park from 2009 -2012. Happy to answer any questions.

    July 4, 2013

  • Luzona

    Not release from Doc yet :(

    July 3, 2013

  • Laura

    Does anyone with a campsite reserved have room for 1 more tent? I'll split the cost of the site.

    June 16, 2013

    • Paul

      Laura, I have a site. There will be two people and will have one tent. You are welcome to share if you want

      June 16, 2013

    • Laura

      Great. Thanks Paul!

      June 16, 2013

  • Autumn

    I will be staying at the Denali Park Hotel.

    April 21, 2013

  • Mark D

    Are we all choosing Riley Creek Campground?

    March 3, 2013

    • Paul

      Is Riley Creek Campgound where we are staying??

      April 18, 2013

    • Tanna D.

      mark and I and a few people have chosen Riley Creek. I cannot speak for everyone in the group, however.

      April 21, 2013

  • Maribel A.

    I would like to join this trip. How strenuous is the backpacking?

    April 14, 2013

    • Al D.

      As easy or as difficult as you choose to make it. I think most of us will be doing day hikes although backpacking opportunities will be available to anyone who wishes to do that. You can reserve a campsite at the park or arrange to share a site with someone else. Same with rent cars and lodging at the Motel 6 in Anchorage.

      April 15, 2013

  • Tom D.

    I booked a Fullsize for my solo flyin on Sunday. Will try to sweet talk the lady into a small SUV like I did the last 2 times. I can help give rides to peeps/gear back to Anchorage on Monday (when we leave Denali) if that helps anyone with logistics.

    March 14, 2013

  • Autumn

    Tickets bought- leaving early to work a few days in Anchorage
    July 31- American 278 3:25pm
    Aug. 11- 279 American 8:30pm


    Let me know if someone has already rented a car and needs a passenger.

    March 10, 2013

    • Autumn

      I will take one of those spots! Thank you ( :

      March 11, 2013

    • Al D.

      Very good, thanks

      March 11, 2013

  • Paul

    I plan on getting tickets the same as Tanna. I realize that we will be sharing rental cars and I am willing to reserve one but I would like to know if there is anyone interested in splitting the cost. Looks like Ford Escape could handle 3-4 people if we are cozy and is $826 for the week

    March 6, 2013

    • Johnny H.

      With four people we easily filled up the interior and roof rack bag with gear....on a Tahoe.

      March 6, 2013

    • Paul

      I dont mind getting a rental, size depends on who else needs transportation.

      March 6, 2013

  • Tanna D.

    tickets bought

    American Airlines 278
    (Alaska Airlines 1052)
    Boeing 757 Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX (DFW)
    Sat, Aug 3
    3:25 pm Anchorage (ANC)
    Sat, Aug 3
    7:15 pm K
    (Alaska Airlines 1052)

    American Airlines 279
    (Alaska Airlines 1056)
    Boeing 757 Anchorage (ANC)
    Sun, Aug 11
    8:30 pm Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX (DFW)
    Mon, Aug 12
    5:45 am V
    (Alaska Airlines 1056)

    4 · February 23, 2013

    • Johnny H.

      Tickets bought, same ticket info. :)

      March 1, 2013

    • Paul

      Tickets bought same as Tanna

      March 6, 2013

  • Johnny H.

    Thread to discuss gear questions, cars, planning, etc.

    http://www.meetup.com/North-Texas-Outdoors/messages/boards/thread/32173972/#[masked]

    March 6, 2013

  • Johnny H.

    I have a rental (SUV) secured through National. It should be noted Mark, Tanna and I come in on the same flight Saturday and I fly out a day later. Leave Monday evening and land in Dallas Tuesday morning. (12th-13th)

    March 6, 2013

    • Mark D

      Tanna and I will share the ride with you.

      March 6, 2013

  • Luzona

    Tickets bought same as Tanna

    1 · March 2, 2013

  • Tom D.

    My ticket info:

    Alaska Airlines 755
    St Louis 6:05 pm Sun, Aug 4
    Seattle, WA (SEA) 8:35 pm Sun, Aug 4
    Alaska Airlines 103
    Seattle, WA (SEA) 10:40 pm Sun, Aug 4
    Anchorage (ANC) 1:20 am Mon, Aug 5
    Total: 3,148 mi | 10 h 15 m

    Returning
    Alaska Airlines 148
    ANC - Denver. 12:20 am Tue, Aug 13 Arrive Denver 7:22 am

    February 26, 2013

  • Erin P.

    I am very interested in making this trip. The flights seem very reasonable, although I can not go for the whole week. If anyone is in the same situation and wants to go for 4 or 5 days, please let me know, we can buddy up on rental/hotel/gas cost. I was thinking I could fly in on Saturday and leave on Wednesday night (there is a flight that leaves at 10 p.m. and will have me back to dfw Thursday morning. Its a short time I know but I take so many vacations throughout the year, I have to keep them short and exciting. Flight cost is $700 round trip + hotel,gas,rental we could do it and it still be worth it.

    February 21, 2013

  • Kevin

    Also note that Al has posted a pre-planning meeting for anyone interested. Check the calendar. It's Thursday February 21st.

    February 14, 2013

  • Kevin

    Mary, there is a meet-and-greet on Feb 18th. Many of the people that have been to Alaska and that are going on this trip generally go to the meet-and-greet. It's on the calendar for next Monday.

    February 11, 2013

  • Kevin

    I am gonna go ahead and sign up yes so I can stay in the loop. I am really a maybe though.

    February 11, 2013

  • David M.

    Well, ok. It's on my bucket list.

    February 10, 2013

  • Luzona

    Sound awesome

    February 10, 2013

  • Mary M.

    I have been investigating this one. I am missing Alaska and Hawaii in my states in the U. S. I hope to have it finalized soon. Will there be a meet and greet before this trip? I haven't been able to participate in any of the hikes so far but watch all the time. I will be in Minnesota doing the Lake Superior North shore hike this June into July. if anyone is interested let me know I have a bunch of info on it.

    February 7, 2013

    • Al D.

      Mary, we have a clup social every month and I will be posting a planning meet-up for this trip soon.

      February 8, 2013

  • Tanna D.

    February 8, 2013

  • Tanna D.

    Still waiting approval for PTO at work but don't anticipate problems

    February 6, 2013

  • Tom D.

    I will have a companion ticket, but I might be flying out of St. Louis to ANC then ANC to DFW. Still working out the details.

    February 5, 2013

  • Al D.

    About airfare to Alaska; if you get a Alaska Airlines Credit Card, they will award you 20K miles when you make your first purchase and give you a coupon to take a companion on any AA trip for $100. Both travelers have to be on the same flights both ways. teaming up with someone going on the trip could be a real money saver. Check out Alaska Airlines' website for details. To use air miles, you need 40k miles to fly to Alaska. AK Air flys to many other locations outside of Alaska as well.

    February 5, 2013

  • Tom D.

    Can't wait!!

    February 1, 2013

  • Paul

    I see plane fare is about $700. Any idea approx. cost of shared rental vehicle?

    January 29, 2013

    • Al D.

      A quick search on the internet shows that a full size car will run about $800. A full sized car should support up to 3 people and luggage. Price and availability is likely to increase the longer you wait.

      January 29, 2013

  • Scotty F.

    Sounds awesome. I would sure like to make this one. Is hammock camping doable

    January 26, 2013

    • Al D.

      Thanks for your input Kevin. I forgot to mention that outside of the campgrounds, most of the park is open tundra where trees are very scattered or non existent.

      January 28, 2013

    • Scotty F.

      The tent is no problem. Thanks for the feedback.

      January 29, 2013

  • Joanne

    This sounds fabulous, but I'm going to France this year and can't afford another vacation. I hope you do it again in 2014 or 2015. I went on an Alaskan cruise several years ago and it was phenomenal.

    January 27, 2013

  • Paul

    This is really a maybe at this point.

    January 26, 2013

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