The Kantishna Hills area, where we stayed, is in a less traveled part of Denali National Park, but it is very different from the rest of the Park. It is at a lower elevation, so the vegetation is different (lots of brush, a few trees). The river beds are much narrower. It is also a historic mining district, so you'll see a number of old mining roads. Even the animals are different - Dall sheep will be seen in the Park to the east, but usually not in Kantishna due to overhunting several decades ago, and their preference for the really steep mountain slopes. However, while we were there, one of the Lodge staffers spotted a Dall sheep which was apparently a noteworthy event.
Denali used to be McKinley National Park, but in 1980 it was reorganized into Denali National Park and Preserve. At that time, the Kantishna Hills were included in the Park.
Every state in the United States of America is sub-divided into counties, with the exceptions of Louisiana and Alaska. Louisiana has parishes, virtually the same as counties except for the name, reflecting the Catholic heritage of that state. Alaska, on the other hand, is sub-divided into boroughs, which operate more like a widespread town than a county, complete with a mayor, assemblymen, etc. In my lifelong quest to visit each one of the 3,141 counties (or their nearest equivilent) in America, Alaska provides by far the greatest challenge.
Denali Borough is one of the newer Boroughs of Alaska, being formed in 1990. It covers a vast area of 12,000 square miles, surrounding and including Denali National Park. Denali Borough is larger than the states of Maryland and Delaware combined, yet it is smaller than most of the Alaskan boroughs that border it. In this immense space there are less than 1,900 human inhabitants, scattered in four small towns and a few other settlements.
My dear friends here on VT who so often refer to big cities as small towns ought to visit Denali Borough, Alaska. On the other hand, maybe they should stay away, lest they find the culture shock harmful to their psyche.
Denali is an amazing park, but suffers from an excess amount of visitors. The best way to escape the masses is go backpacking in the backcountry. I chose the Kantishna area (units 40-43). This area has several advantages for backcountry camping:
A. It's at the end of the park, so you get to go with the bus all the way in and out, and this is the best way to see all of the park and get the best chance of viewing many wildlife on the way.
B. Remote and away from other places.
C. Although remote, It's starts near the Denali lodge, so in case of an emergency you can find somebody to help you.
D. There is a marked ATV trail which you walk on starting from the Denali lodge deep into the park, so you don't risk getting lost in case you get your map navigation wrong.
E. The area is very nice, the fall foliage colors at Mid-August were beautiful.
F. A nest of hawks/falcon is nearby, you can watch many of them flying.
G. A creek crossing were you can easily set your tent is only 2-3 hours walk from where the bus drops you.
Disadvantages to this area:
Many of the creeks are contaminated with heavy mining metals. You need either to carry all of your water (I did, because I was only going for an overnight) or bring enough for the first night and hike further fast enough to reach the higher sources of water which are still unpolluted.
Enjoy your stay, don't get too much worried about bears...
At Milemarker 179 of the George Parks Highway (i.e. 60 miles south of the park), Hurricane Gulch is reckoned one of the most beautiful in the state, but the drive along this highway passes several that are similar. For those who have seen advertisements for tourism in our 49th state, wonderful shots depicting the Alaska Railway trains going over a breathtaking valley are often shot at Hurricane Gulch. While photographing the ravine from the trains is permitted and encouraged, commuters will find prohibitions against standing on the bridge for the same shots off the highway.
Denali is not strictly confined to the Alaska Range and parts northward. A great portion of the park's 4.7 million acres lies south of the Alaska Range, but accessing these areas is not particularly easy. Those sections which lie along the Parks Highway sometimes involve a formal permission from private landowners to reach the forested slopes beyond, while those farther away demand a far greater commitment of time. Expect spruce and alder to be constant companions, and as always, make plenty of noise when leafy tangles prevent a far-reaching vision.
In the largest American state, keeping gas in the tank is a high priority, because gasoline stations are not as frequent as they are in the lower 48. Around Denali, there are two obvious stations heading north to the park (one at Milemarker 189, the Igloo -- the other at Cantwell at the junction of AK-8 and AK-3, 27 miles south of the park). On the other hand, there is a small enclave with stations a mile north of the park entrance called "Canyon," and Healy has stations 11 miles north of the park. There are no stations within the park boundaries.
Wonder Lake - the chances for you to see the wild animal is the highest.
rafting in Denali could be fun
Nearly all of Denali is roadless and the majority of the park does not contain hiking trails. Exploring Denali is mostly a matter of going off the beaten path.
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