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"The Land of the Midnight Sun"

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Alaska Post #1

Denali National Park and Preserve, Denali, AK

The Park: Denali National Park and Preserve is a popular tourist attraction located in Denali, AK, yet the park has remained “wild.” Denali is a six million acre park (bigger than the state of Massachusetts)– with one 90 mile road cutting into the wilderness. The main attraction of Denali is Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America at 20,320 feet. Don’t be surprised (or upset) if you don’t see Mt. Kinley– it makes its own weather, due to its altitude. The weather is unpredictable at best– most people don’t see the mountain their first trip! Denali has many great beauties to offer– the trees, wildflowers, mountains, snow (I could keep going)– but above all, its wildlife shines. Denali is bursting with life, despite its chilly climate (temperatures range from about -50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.) There are bears, caribou, moose, dall sheep, lynxes, wolves, foxes, hares, ravens, eagles, etc., etc., etc.!

Transportation: Visitors gets to Denali by car, bus, or train (or private plane, but that’s not likely.) When in Denali, the park is not the most accessible national park because private vehicles are only allowed a certain distance into the park (approximately 13 miles.) However, park buses/ shuttles are allowed all the way to the end of the road, so most people utilize this option. The park made the rule to keep traffic flowing in the park (many people stop to take photographs of animals,) keep the park “wild,” and promote sustainability. So, it makes sense. Using the park’s transportation is actually quite easy because the buses/ shuttles stop at many of the nearby hotels, as well as the park’s Visitor Center and Wilderness Access Center. Also, tourists don’t really need a rental car to get around outside the park (in nearby Denali.) There are many free hotel shuttles to little shops, restaurants, etc.

Accommodations: All of the nearby hotels cater to park visitors, and are within one to two miles of the park. There are many to choose from, depending on price range, but I’ll focus more on the park in this installment on Alaska.

Activities- In and Around the Park:

In the park, there are many activities from which to choose in the summer (note that the tourist season in Denali is very short, about March to September, and especially June.) Some popular tours are the Natural History Tour (five hour tour) and the Tundra Tour (about eight hours). The tours take visitors into different distances into the park and make different stops. The tours at Denali are focused on the landscape, both physical and cultural. For example, the tour guides/ bus drivers talked about the plants, animals, mountains, and native people of Denali (just to start.) For the most part, the tour guides are very intelligent and engaging– and sometimes funny! Also, for many people the objectives of these tours are to spot animals and take some great photographs to show to friends. These tours come with a price, but are well worth it.

Another popular tour in the park is of the dog kennel of the Denali dog sled team. Visitors get to pet the huskies and take photographs before the team does a dog sled demonstration around a loop. The show is short, but sweet. All of the dogs are beautiful– and they adore their job! This tour is free, so it is definitely a must-see!

Obviously there are many other activities in the park, such as biking, hiking, backpacking, camping, etc. It is important to note that many things like camping are by permit only in the park. Additionally, there are no trails past the first mile or two of the park, so BE CAREFUL!

Outside the park, some things to do that I recommend are:

1) A Helicopter ride, either over Mount McKinley or with a glacier landing. One word: AMAZING. The scenery is gorgeous and unforgettable!

2) White-water rafting on the Nenana River. Don’t worry, you wont be cold even though the water is 36 degrees Fahrenheit– there are dry suits, which work wonders. The river is glacier-fed and a pretty blue hue. The river runs through valleys and canyons. Oh, yeah, and there are rapids!

3) A host of tours on solid ground: horseback riding tours, ATV tours, guided walks, and more — all through the “backcountry,” also known as the wilderness.

Please realize, many of these activities are pricy, but well worth it. The experiences are priceless, and many of my fellow tourists expressed the same. Just remember, everything in Alaska is expensive, and time is limited, so make the most of what you can! There will always be more to do in Alaska!

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