America’s National Parks offer up some of the most spectacular natural landscapes and wildlife viewing available in the country, but they can also be extremely congested. Fortunately, Alaska’s ruggedly wild, 6-million-acre Denali National Park provides an idyllic solution—its rugged wilderness only draws about 600,000 visitors per year versus the several million that other U.S. national parks, like Yosemite, attract. While Denali’s shuttle buses transport plenty of travelers, you’re not likely to contend with hordes of people, park entrance lines or booked campgrounds during your visit. What you will experience is a thrilling North American safari.
Denali National Park ranks high on traveler bucket lists for its vast spruce and taiga forests; snaking glacial rivers and valleys; alpine vegetation; towering, polychromatic Alaska Range peaks (Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest peak, is located here); and unparalleled wildlife viewing opportunities. From mammoth grizzly bears and moose to Dall sheep, caribou and wolves, this remote wilderness is a treasure trove for animal seekers willing to travel quietly and keep their eyes peeled for even the smallest of movements.
The park is home to 39 species of mammals, from small to large—you’ll just need a good amount of luck and patience to spot them. Make sure to bring a good pair of binoculars with you and have your camera at the ready. Whether you see the animals you’re hoping to or not, Denali’s pristine natural settings offer up jaw-dropping vistas and 169 species of birds that promise to amaze you.
Take a Denali Park Bus to Make the Most of Your Trip
Private vehicles are only allowed to drive 15 miles past the entrance, so to maximize your wildlife sighting chances, skip your car and hiking and take either a non-narrated, hop-on, hop off park shuttle bus (6-12 hrs. roundtrip, depending on your route) or a narrated tour bus (8-12 hrs. roundtrip, depending on the tour you choose) into the heart of the park. Check out bus options here.
Park buses travel along the 92-mile-long Denali Park Road, from the park entrance to Kantishna, relieving you of the burden of navigating the winding and, at times, extremely treacherous mountain road. Another advantage: With the higher perspective that a bus seat provides, you will be able to see a long way into the distance.
Best Wildlife Gathering Places Along the Denali Park Road
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Entrance to Mile Post 15
The odds of seeing moose are in your favor here—moose calves congregate near Riley Creek Campground by the park entrance in spring. And in the fall, male moose seeking breeding mates gather between Mile 9 and 13. The Savage River at Mile Post 15 draws caribou and bears.
Mount Margaret at Mile Post 15-22
You may spot Dall sheep, pika and marmots at Mount Margaret, a park hangout for mountain-dwelling creatures.
Teklanika River at Mile Post 30
Teklanika River is an open spot that attracts bears on the prowl for the edible plants and tubers that grow along the river bar.
Mile Post 46
Take in the extraordinary kaleidoscopic colors of the volcanic rock peaks at this overlook and keep a look out for the grizzlies, moose and caribou that roam down below. They’ll be quite a long way from where you’re standing so there’s little chance that they’ll be spooked.
Toklat River at Mile Post 52
Here, a sediment-filled stream, the convergence point for various rivers, cuts through an expansive valley that provides an excellent viewing spot for roaming wildlife below.
Highway Pass, Stony Dome, Thorofare Pass at Mile Post 66
Caribou and bears often traverse the passes. This area is probably where you’re most likely to see a grizzly bear. You might also see foxes, coyotes and wolves.
Wonder Lake at Mile Post 85
If you travel to this gem of a lake formed by retreating glaciers, you’ll be among the lucky few who ever do—this site is reward enough but if you go at dawn or dusk, you may get the added benefit of seeing the moose who tend to congregate here at those times of day.
Safety Tip: Never intentionally approach a wild animal. Here’s what to do to stay safe in case you do happen to encounter one.
Is Alaska on your bucket list? Tell us about where you want to visit in the comments below!