Large shapes moved outside the tent, blurred by the canvas until they crossed the doorway and their silhouettes were clear: caribou. A large sigh of relief went through the group, followed by nervous laughter. The card game was forgotten. You never know when or what wildlife will appear when you’re in Denali National Park and Preserve.
One of the best “back to nature” experiences adventurous visitors can have in the park is wilderness camping. Begin by borrowing a bear-proof food container at the Wilderness Access Center (WAC), which is also the transportation hub for the park’s bus system. Board the park bus to travel the 90-mile road into Denali National Park. Ask the driver to stop whenever you want to disembark—you’re free to wander the backcountry of this 6 million-acre park. When you’re ready to return to civilization, hike back to the park road and catch the next (space available) bus. The buses depart the WAC every half hour between approximately 6 am and 10 pm in summer.
For those who are not enthusiastic about (or prepared for) seeing Denali National Park from a tent, the park’s tour operators offer a wide array of experiences to choose from. You can explore by motorcoach, jeep, ATV or airplane, by road, trail or river.
Whitewater Rafting (approximately 3.5 hours): Feel the rush of the rapids during this exhilarating 11-mile guided rafting adventure on the Nenana River. Gear up in drysuit, lifejacket and neoprene booties and board an oar-powered raft for a wild ride down Class III and IV rapids. Also see: Denali Raft Adventures and Raft Denali.
Black Diamond ATV Adventure (approximately 3 hours): Drive an ATV through Denali’s breathtaking backcountry. Your guide will narrate the area’s mining history, you keep an eye out for wildlife. Explore Dry Creek riverbed, site of Athabascan Indian artifacts. Also, two- and four-hour tours are available from Denali ATV Adventures.
Denali Zipline Tours (approximately 3 hours): Consider seeing Denali from the treetops on a zipline tour! These cable-ride attractions have become increasingly popular in Alaska, offering spectacular views of Denali and the Alaska Range.
Denali Jeep Backcountry Safari (approximately 4 hours): Delve into the Alaska wilderness on this off-road adventure along Stampede Road, a historic trail blazed by miners in the 1930s to access the Kantishna gold fields. Listen via two-way radio as your guide details the area’s rich history. Watch for moose, caribou and bears, then enjoy a hearty snack before returning to civilization.
Denali Air Flightseeing Tours (approximately 2.5 hours): View the 14,900-foot-high Wickersham Wall, 2,000-foot deep Ruth Glacier, and the towering 20,320-foot-high Mount McKinley summit. Other flightseeing tours include Talkeetna Air Taxi, Sheldon Air Service and K-2 Aviation in Talkeetna; and Rust’s Flying Service in Anchorage.
Denali Park Tours (approximately 5 hours): This guided natural history tour begins at the Wilderness Access Center, where you’ll view the award-winning film "Across Time and Tundra." Then board the bus to sightseeing along the park road. Watch for moose, bears and Dall sheep. Morning and afternoon tours allow time for independent exploration.
Husky Homestead Tour (approximately 2.5 hours): Jeff King, four-time champion of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, welcomes you to his home and kennels. Enjoy a warm welcome from a cuddly pup; watch champion huskies on a training run; and see a dog-powered carousel.
Kantishna Experience (approximately 11 hours): Coming to Denali National Park to see wildlife and Mount McKinley? This full-day tour with boxed lunch is your best bet. You’ll make a round-trip to the mining town of Kantishna via the 90-mile park road with stops at Wonder Lake and Eielson Visitor Center.
Nenana Gorge Tundra Wilderness Tour (approximately 7 hours): Your expert driver/guide will narrate throughout the journey which includes stops at Mount McKinley viewpoints and magnificent vistas. Watch for bears, caribou and Dall sheep high above steep mountain passes.