All About Denali Park | From The Denali Summer Times
Denali State Park >Back to the top One of the Best State Parks in The U.S. On your way to or from Anchorage, you’ll pass through a large Alaskan state park. It has three nice campgrounds and a long, high, rugged trail system, with 4 trailhead access points. Denali State Park also has a well-staffed visitor center at a large veterans’ memorial. But Denali State Park is primarily known for its magnificent views of Denali and the Alaska Range. The state park system has constructed two viewpoints with telescopes, one at the south end of the state park, at Mile 135 Parks Highway – and the other at the north end of the park, at Mile 163. For years, state and federal officials have been talking about building a South Denali interpretive center.
Trapper Creek>Back to the top Get Your Camera Ready This is where you start to get breathtaking views of Denali. The 18-mile Petersville Road starts in Trapper Creek and heads west over wild countryside, with grand views of Mt. McKinley. It is the future site of a southern Denali Visitor Center. Use a telephoto lens and get some foreground (trees or people) in your mountain shots or they will "flatten" out.
Cantwell>Back to the top Just South of the Entrance Cantwell is 210 miles north of Anchorage. It is the first town you come to after traveling through Denali State Park. Cantwell is where the Parks Highway meets the Denali Highway. Alaska Natives who live in Cantwell are Ahtna people who migrated from the Copper River Valley. It was the Cantwell region’s plentiful game that attracted miners to this area. In the early 1900’s ‘market hunters’ shot wild sheep and caribou here and shipped them to Fairbanks. A Boone & Crockett Club member named Charles Sheldon came here and was so alarmed by the large-scale market hunting that he urged Congress to create a game sanctuary. That game sanctuary became Mt. McKinley National Park in 1917.
The Parks Highway travels across Broad Pass to Cantwell. At Cantwell you can turn onto the Denali Highway which is famed for its scenic views and berries. Photo, Chad Cook, BLM, Glennallen Office
Talkeetna Railroad Town The old railroad town of Talkeetna is where miners, prospectors and adventurers used to live. It’s at the junction of the broad Talkeetna, Susitna and Chulitna Rivers. The word Talkeetna means “where the rivers join,” in the local Athabascan dialect. The town was built along the river and the railroad track.
Climbing Season Climbing season runs from late April to early July. During those months, rangers live on the mountain in tent camps to help protect the environment, and provide assistance to climbers in need. Rangers are taken off Denali in early July, when the summer snow becomes soft, and it becomes dangerous to cross the crevasses. Nowadays, about 1,200 people try each year to climb McKinley. Around 50% of them get to the summit. Meanwhile, on nearby Mt. Foraker, which is considered more technically difficult, there is no ranger station. Only about 30 people a year climb Mt. Foraker. The Athabascan name for Mt. Foraker means ‘Denali’s Wife.’
Because of the northern latitude of Alaska, climbing Denali is very cold, and mountaineers must use specialized extreme-weather gear. Water is a big problem on the mountain. Frostbite can be prevented if a climber is hydrated, so climbers must drink 4 liters of water a day, melting it from snow. It’s a time-consuming process melting snow – and it requires the climbers to carry a lot of fuel.
Go Flightseeing You can’t miss Talkeetna’s ties to the mountain when you visit. In May and June, you can see the climbers returning from the mountain, with heavy beards and sunburn. The airport is busy all summer long with flightseeing trips, as well as hauling mountaineers and their gear. There are naturalist talks at the Talkeetna Ranger Station, which is considered the park service’s mountaineering headquarters. At the Talkeetna Museum, there’s a scale model of Denali, donated from the Boston Museum of Science. The model represents 22 miles on each side, and every 100 foot rise in elevation is shown as a contour.
At the museum, you can see the heavy clothing that was originally used by mountain climbers, including canvas tents, wool, leather, fur, standard household ropes, reindeer and wolf hide sleeping bags, and wood and rawhide snowshoes.
Denali Highway>Back to the top Ancient Migration Route The Denali Highway is a 135-mile road that follows along the south side of the Alaska Range, and links Paxson, on the Richardson Highway, to Cantwell, on the Parks Highway. Mostly unpaved to this day, the Denali Highway follows an ancient migration route along the south side of the Alaska Range. Some of the land is protected by the Bureau of Land Management because of its archaeological importance. It is said that perhaps the oldest evidence of human habitation in America – 10,000 years – is on the Denali Highway. The Ahtna, or Copper River, people traveled between Paxson and Cantwell to hunt, and eventually to work on the railroad. The trail became a highway in 1957 and people began to drive across it to get to the park.
The Denali Highway is truly scenic and is a favorite road for many Alaskans. It is still mostly dirt, and can get bumpy, dusty and rough. But it is an excellent place to view wild animals, pick berries, and camp. In many ways, it is much like the road into Denali Park, starting at treeline in Cantwell and changing into alpine tundra, with wide, sweeping vistas. Highbush cranberries and short shrubs turn scarlet in August, making this a photographer's dream.
Base Camp for Climbing Denali Today, the mountain ("Denali") has become the focus of the town. Talkeetna has evolved into the place where mountain climbers prepare for their trips. This is where they ‘jump off’ (leave) to the base camp for the West Buttress route.
There are 30 possible routes up Denali, but 90% of the climbers take the West Buttress. This route was first mapped out by Bradford Washburn who was looking for a safer route to the top in 1951. Getting to this route required flying into the Kahiltna Glacier in a small plane. By 1954, Don Sheldon, a famed local Talkeetna pilot, had perfected the glacier landing on Kahiltna Glacier. Most climbers now fly that same route, from Talkeetna to the 7,200 foot level of the glacier, which is known as Base Camp. They then slowly move up to 14,200 feet. If they climb too quickly, they can get altitude sickness – such as pulmonary or cerebral edema.
Denali, "the high one", taken from the Petersville Road. Photo, Trapper Creek Inn