Monday, September 15, 2014

Best trails for seeing Denali N.P.’s wonders

Aurora borealis at Denali National Park.
Photo courtesy of Denali NPS.
Among the best ways to see Denali National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just four short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – North America’s tallest mountain, rare wildlife, an aurora borealis like you’ve never seen before, and a boreal forest.

North America’s tallest mountain
At 20,237 feet, Mount McKinley stands above any other peak on the continent, and the park is centered on it. You’ll need to be an mountain climber to ascend McKinley, but a 5-mile round trip day hike on the Wonder Lake Trail, leaving from the lake’s campground, offers great views of the mountain.

Rare wildlife
Caribou, Dall sheep, gray wolves, grizzly bears, moose, red squirrels, and snowshoe hares all call Denali home. A safe way to see them is via the Savage River Loop Trail, a flat 2-mile walk in which wildlife can be spoted on rocky slopes in the distance. Bring binoculars.

Aurora borealis
By mid-August through early September, Alaska’s skies are dark enough to see the enormous shifting streams of green and purple that occur when the solar wind interacts with the earth's atmosphere. Any spot in the park is good for watching them, but try one of the unnamed trails heading away from the Riley Creek Campground for a view of the northern lights dancing over a mountain range.

Boreal forest
Denali sits at the edge of a great northern (boreal) forest and the tundra. Aspen, birch and spruce dominate the woodlands here, and can be enjoyed via the Roadside Trail, a 3.6-mile hike.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.