Denali National Park is located in central Alaska, between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Denali is also a preserve for the animals that live there, so the park service minimizes the amount of human contact the animals have with visitors. They do this by only having one road. The road bisects the 6 million acres of the park. After mile 15 the road is closed to private vehicles. To access the full 92 mile road, the park offers a shuttle service which will take you as far as you would like to go, with stops along the way. How far you would like to venture into the park will determine how much your bus ticket will cost. The shuttle service allows you to get off anywhere you would like and return on a different shuttle bus if you so choose. Depending on the time of year, will determine how many buses are out and about. The wilderness access station (the bus station) has a schedule of times and stops that the buses will make, which is very important because if there's a national park you don't want to be stranded in, it's Denali.
At first I was a little annoyed with this setup. I wanted to drive my personal vehicle, stop at the stops I wanted to stop at, take the time photographing what I wanted to photograph. After about a hour on the bus I realized they have it this way to protect the animals. Denali National Park is home to truly wild animals, and to see them uninfluenced by mankind is amazing! It's like I would imagine it hundreds of years ago when we first settled in America. Denali is a park for the animals!
So what's to see in Denali National Park? Well what I saw the most were grizzly bears. Also caribou, moose, Dall sheep, arctic ground squirrels, mountain goats, all from the shuttle bus. Some things I didn't see include wolves, wolverines, and other small critters. The park offers a shuttle bus or a tour bus, the difference being the tour bus will pass on more information and history about the park. The tour buss also has a higher fare. The driver I had on the shuttle bus was full of great information. He had been driving the bus in Denali for 22 years. He knows a lot about the park and the animals that live there. His name is Mike, if you can swing it, I suggest you try to ride on his bus. He knows where the animals will be, what direction they like to travel, how to approach the animal, and how they will act. Because of this I was able to get more and better images. Mike is a bit of a surly fella, but he knows his stuff and he will call you out if you break the simple rules, (hanging out of the bus window, being loud, etc..) this turned some people off, but his main concern was for the animals.
Denali doesn't have many designated trails. All of them are within the first 15 miles. After mile 15 you make your own hiking trail. Many people backpack Denali, I would like to someday, but it's truly a wild place and will take a lot of time and preparation.
Alaska in general is a great experience. Denali National Park was part of that experience. Denali is a wildlife park, much like Yellowstone, but the Alaskan range is also beautiful! Mt. McKinley is often covered in clouds, but it's a powerful sight to see. It looks so scary and strong at the same time. It has the ability to humble and awe inspire just about anyone.
When visiting Denali National park you will want to be using mostly telephoto lenses. A 100-400mm or a fixed 500 or 600mm would be ideal. I suggest you rent a longer lens before heading out. You will be up close to wildlife, but having the extra focal length is ideal. This weeks post image is one of the dozen or so grizzly bears I saw on my 11 hour bus tour of Denali. He was walking down the dirt road, and veered off into the brush to eat some berries. Every once in a while he would look up at the bus, and this time he had his tongue sticking out. One of my favorite images from my Alaskan trip.