see + do
Concierge.com's insider take:
Alaska's biggest draw is Denali National Park—at over six million acres of wilderness, it is home to Mount McKinley, the continent's highest peak (locals call it Denali, or just "the Mountain"), and glaciers so giant and so old that forests grow on them. Even by Alaska standards, Denali is extraordinary. In all that wild scenery, there is only a single road, and it's essentially closed to private traffic. The purest method of exploring Denali is to go to the ranger station at the park entrance, obtain an overnight permit, and start hiking. Permits are granted for a particular zone, but no matter which one you draw, you'll have the world to yourself—except, of course, for the bears, caribou, moose, and the occasional wolf. Day hikes aren't normally restricted, although park rangers may close an area so you don't, for example, cross paths with a pack of wolves protecting a kill. Otherwise, board one of the National Park–run school buses that go as far as Wonder Lake, 85 miles from the park entrance and close enough to Mount McKinley that the mountain looks like a wall. If 11 hours on a bus is more than you can take, even going out partway will reward you richly: Scenic highlights include Polychrome Pass, at mile 44, where the landscape is colored more shades of red, pink, and gold than any crayon box can hold, and the Eielson Visitor Center, at mile 66, which offers great mountain views…if you're lucky. Mount McKinley is so massive that it makes its own weather systems; since it's often shrouded in clouds, only about a third of park visitors get to see the peak. Anywhere in the park, keep your eyes peeled: The local subspecies of grizzly bears, Toklat grizzlies, are smaller than usual grizzlies, and cinnamon-colored; they blend into the tundra like ghosts. Even if you don't have time to venture far into the park, there's plenty to see and do, including dogsled demos at the main visitor center and whitewater rafting on the Class IV Nenana River. To get a good overview of Denali (literally), try a flightseeing tour.—Edward Readicker-Henderson
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