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Denali & the Alaska Range
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Denali & the Alaska Range


George Parks Highway (AK3) -- Wasilla to Fairbanks


Denali State Park

Denali National Park and Preserve

McKinley Park (the town)


Denali Highway (AK8)

National Wild and Scenic Rivers: Delta and Gulkana

Central Richardson Highway (AK4) -- Glenallen to Delta Junction


Long before the mountain was dedicated to President McKinley after his assassination, the native people called North America’s highest peak Denali (duh-NAH-lee), "the high one" or "the great one." At 20,320 feet, its elevation alone is impressive. What few visitors realize is that Denali is the largest continental mountain in the world—nowhere else on the planet can you see greater relief from base to summit (about 3.5 vertical miles) or a larger massif (a closely related grouping of peaks within a larger range). It is "the great one," indeed.

Denali rises from the heart of the impressive Alaska Range. More accessible by road than most others, the range is divided into thirds by two highways. The Parks Highway (AK 3) stretches from Palmer to Fairbanks, providing road access to Denali National Park; and the Richardson Highway (AK 4) parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline from Delta Junction to Valdez. Denali National Park and Preserve encompasses much of the western section of the range, the BLM administers most of the central section, and the eastern section includes large parcels of state and native lands. Most peaks of the Alaska Range are about 5,000 to 7,000 feet in elevation, but each of the three segments offers a set of lofty, glacier-crested summits visible for miles across the surrounding lowlands.

There are numerous travel opportunities throughout the range. The 90-mile park road in Denali National Park and Preserve offers excellent access to hiking routes, wildlife observation, and mountain viewing—though it is closed to most private vehicles beyond Mile 15. The Richardson Highway crosses a higher pass and comes fairly close to a couple of glaciers. Best, perhaps, is the Denali Highway (AK 8)—a lonely gravel route from Cantwell to Paxson through the open high country south of the range.

Remote access to the Alaska Range is by small plane only. Pilots land on lakes, glaciers, gravel bars, and remote airstrips, shuttling people to backcountry lodges, recreational drop-offs, and mountaineering approaches. Flightseeing around any of the high-peak regions—particularly around the Denali massif—is one of the most memorable activities you might choose.

Many travelers simply enjoy their views of the Alaska Range as they race along the Alaska highways. Of those who opt for something more, the majority visit Denali National Park and Preserve, enjoying bus tours, hiking, and rafting close to the park entrance or along the park road. This is certainly the least expensive way to enjoy some of the best opportunities for wildlife and mountain viewing.