This was a most memorable thing we did - and was an experience of a life time. We booked a two hour flightseeing trip with Kantishna Air Taxi AND had the extremely good fortune of having clear blue skies. We were in Kantishna for three full days, but the only day the pilot could go around the mountain happened to be the day we booked our trip. We were so very lucky.
The pilot was extremely knowledgable and had lots of tidbits of information about climbing the mountain (he did it once), the glaciers and the mountain itself. My travelogue has more photos of our flightseeing trip - Denali from the Air
The most dramatic feature of the Denali landscape is the snowcapped peak of Mt. McKinley. At 20,320 feet, it is North America's highest mountain. Measured from the 2,000-foot lowlands near Wonder Lake to it's glistening summit the mountain's veritcal relief is over 18,000, which is greater than that of Mount Everest. The Athabascan natives called it Denali, "the High One," This massive towering peak is the centerpiece of the Alaska Range. On a clear day it can be seen from Anchorage, 237 miles to the south. And I have seen the peak from even several miles further south, along the Seward Highway.
The only problem is that clouds obscure the summit of Mt. McKinley more often than not, an average of 6 or 7 days out of 10. On my first visit to Denali, in 1990, I spent two days in the park and didn't see the mountain at all, but that was not a major disappointment because the wildlife and scenery of the lower slopes was still almost more than I could take in. I went to Alaska a second time in 1997 and still did not see the fabled mountain. But it is said that "three time's a charm," and on my 2004 trek to Denali the mountain was visible in all it's glorious splendor.
When the sky clears locals say "the mountain is out." If you are fortunate enough to be there on one of those days, it will be a sight you will always remember.
Several companies offer flightseeing tours of Denali National Park from the small airports in the the towns of Talkeetna and Healy. Although Talkeetna is more than 60 air miles south of the entrance to the park, it is actually closer to Mount McKinley than is the entrance. For this reason, Talkeetna is the starting point for most climbers attempting to Summit Mt. McKinley. This is the airport from which I took my own flight over McKinley. For years I dreamed of climbing McKinley one day, but that would take a minimum of three weeks time, thousands of dollars, months of physical conditioning, and would still be a risk of life. With my advancing age and limited pocketbook, I decided seeing the summit from the air was going to be the best I could do.
A variety of different tour routes and lengths are offered, with the most expensive being the summit flight. See my transportation tips for a little more about this amazing experience.
Mt McKinley is a main attraction in Denali National Park. Considering that it is only visible once every 4-5 days, you might be hard pressed to see it.
There are flightseeing trips to see the summit from the entrance to the park, as well as from Talkeetna; a small town about a hundred miles away.
Many climbers come here each year in the attempt to climb this peak. Some die trying but others do reach the summit. Many give up due to the extreme weather conditions or because of their own fatigue.
However you decide to see this massive mountain of rock and ice, I know you'll be impressed... I was!
Depending on weather conditions, you may or may not be able to view the highest mountain on the North American continent, Mt. Mckinley at 20,320 ft. We were fortunate even with clouds hanging at the highest peaks.
Denali National Park has the highest mountain range in North America, including Mount Mckinley (Denali) which is the highest mountain in North America at about 6200 metres above sea-level. However, it is usually visible about 25% of the time, so you must have some luck to be able to get a clear day to see it. Best chance is during sunrise and sunset where there are not so much clouds.
Wonder Lake is the end of the park road, literally. The road goes a little bit past the lake to a couple of lodges, but really, Wonder Lake is it, and round-trip, it's a 12 hour ride!
I've taken the camper bus out to Wonder Lake and had a wonderful experience. We camped on the McKinley bar and after hiking down in a virtual monsoon, woke up to see the mountain clear as a bell across the river and a momma and baby moose splashing through the shallows. The next night we camped up on top of the hill above the Wonder Lake camp ground, both of our locations were within easy hiking distance of the road.
If you wanted more time off the bus, I would check out the units around Eilson and Sunset Glacier. I haven't camped in either, yet, but they're next on my list. They should be good units for day hikes.
It is VERY easy to flag down a bus, they come and go regularly and you can get a schedule on your way out. Just be on the road at about the right time and wave and you're on!
The main trouble with accomplishing the goal of spotting Mt. McKinley is the weather. In summertime, many visitors will leave without ever seeing the mountain. Cloud cover is quite common in the summer. Often, one must wait for days to see it if staying in this area. Also, the main lodging area near the park entrance is not a place where you can see the mountain even on a clear day. You have to go several miles into the park to reach an area where you finally have a chance to see the mountain. The best places for viewing are at the Eielson Visitor Center and in the Wonder Lake area. If you are taking the train from Anchorage, there is a chance to see the south face on a clear day. Talkeetna, AK is the launching point for expeditions up the mountain. Another great way of seeing the mountain is by taking a bush plane to get near it. That will be an unforgettable ride indeed. The mountain has two main summits, the very top one is 20,320 ft. above sea level. It is huge.
At 20,316 feet, Mc McKinley is the roof of Denali National Park, and the highest peak in north America. It's so massive that it creates its own climate system. Even when it's sunny in the Visitor Center, often the peak is surrounded by a halo of clouds. An Alaska tour guide once said, he had lead groups to Danali a dozen times and only saw the peak a couple of minutes.
I guess I was very lucky. For the three days I travelled from Anchorage to Denali to Fairbanks and back, McKinley was always in my sight. From Anchorage northbound along George Parks Highway (#3) there's a roadside photo stop near Talkeetna. As seen in photo, here I got my first glance of the mass of McKinley before entering the Park.
The photo was taken in the exact same spot as the previous one, only 3 days later, when I was driving south to return to Anchorage. The peak was still clear, but you can see in photo a halo was forming. Later in the afternoon the peak was no longer visible.
Mt McKinley is impressive not just for its height of 20,316 feet, but more for its vertical rise of 18,000 feet measured from its base of only 2,000 feet. In contrast, Mt Everest, the world's highest peak, rises only 11,000 feet from the plateau it sits on.
Similar to the previous photo, this one was also taken along Denali Park Rd with Mt McKinley in background. It's a different turn, and the sky was darkening. From the Park Rd we view the McKinley peak from the east. On a clear day like this, you can even tell the south peak (the true peak) from the slightly lower north peak. It's a better angle than viewing from the south along George Parks Highway (#3) near Talkeetna.
There is tours that go through the National Park you can either take a bus or flight. If you fly to Fairbanks via Anchorage or vice versa Alaska Airline depending on the pilot will fly over Mt McKinley. Denali mean "great one". The pics below where take from a Alaska Airline flight.
The parks namesake a.k.a "The Great One", or Denali. It is one of the most coveted sights in Alaska. Probably because a sighting of the tallest peak in North America is pretty rare. Denali actually creates its own weather. So even on those rare nice weather days in Alaska its possible not to see the mountain. Some people do get lucky, though I wasn't one of them.
One thing I wished I'd done while visiting Denali NP was to take a flightseeing trip to view the mountain. There are numerous companies that do this and I would highly recommend it.
Get an instant answer from local experts and frequent travelers