Denali Wildlife & Wilderness: Alaska’s Wondrous Frontier

Cloud-piercing, 20,310-foot-high Mount Denali cannot be ignored. North America’s highest mountain is massive from miles away, a formidable mass of snow-packed granite that towers protectively over the surrounding area like a proud, rock-hewn lion. And proud it should be, for Denali National Park and Preserve is a pristine wilderness that is simply unmatched.

The park spans over six million acres, enclosing and protecting one of the world’s last great frontiers. The rugged terrain changes throughout the park, from ancient forests dense with rising pines to barren tundra scattered with shrubs and jagged mountains chiseled by glaciers. Denali wildlife encompasses a variety of species, as well. Grizzlies, caribou and curve-horned Dall sheep pace the grounds, while gyrfalcons and golden eagles claim the sun-streaked skies.

And it’s all accessible to cruise passengers. Most cruise lines offer pre- or post-cruise tours from Anchorage, making it a must-do experience if you truly wish to immerse yourself in The Last Frontier. These tours often include luxurious wilderness lodges and locally-inspired culinary experiences, making your time here truly authentic.

denali wildlife

DESTINATION DENALI

While each cruise line expedition into the park differs, it may begin in a glass-domed rail car leaving Anchorage, as you watch the awe-inspiring landscape and Denali wildlife glide by. Northern goshawks, easy to spot with their white eyebrows, watch you from thickset birch trees, while a family of moose descends into a riverbed, their antlers swinging widely with each lumbering step.

Once you reach the park, the choice is yours. Hiking and mountain-biking trails sprout off in every direction, while sturdy kayaks are on standby ready to introduce you to the flashing whitewater of the Nenana River. A fly-fishing class packs up their long rods, heading to Eldorado Creek in search of sculpin, salmon and Arctic grayling.

denali wildlife

As tempting as those are, you head to the heliport for a bird’s eye view of Denali. Within twenty minutes of being airborne, you spot your first Bald Eagle. Undaunted by the whirring helicopter blades, it glides on an airstream forty feet away, its piercing gaze sizing you up. From the safety of your craft, you admire its slick, white head-feathers rippling in the wind, the fierce sharpness of its bright golden beak, its massive claws.

After the regal bird swoops into the valley in search of prey—leaving you speechless from the encounter—your pilot slaloms downward to race across the tree line on your approach to Mt. Denali. You fly over raging rivers coursing through the old-growth forest, their banks teaming with wolves.

The pilot deftly lands on Yanert Glacier, where you disembark with a wide-eyed stare and a grin that will not fade for weeks. The entire park is laid out before you; Mt. Denali stands tall behind. And every angle you peer, every sight you see, is undeniably Alaska in its purest form.

denali wildlife

DENALI’S TOP FIVE

  1. FLIGHT-SEEING

Helicopter flight-seeing over Denali’s changing terrain—from birch forests to tundra to Mt. Denali’s Muldrow Glacier—showcases the incredible scope of its rare and virtually intact wilderness treasures, as well as the trails forged by early frontiersmen. Choose a tour that includes landings for a thrilling glacier walk or trek in a wildflower-filled alpine valley.

  1. THEMED TOURS

Several themed tours venture deep into the heart of Denali. They explore the natural history from thriving flora and fauna to archeological findings dating to the dinosaur era and Ice Age; the tundra wildlife and indigenous vegetation; or Athabascan villages and frontier settlements en route to the Kantishna mines that lured prospectors during the gold rush.

  1. HUSKY HOMESTEAD

With Denali’s transportation restrictions, the bushy-tailed dogs are the park’s prime patrollers. You’ll see teams of exuberant dogs pulling sleds; learn how they mushed through frigid terrain for pioneer survival; and perhaps meet a champion of the famed Iditarod dogsled race.

  1. ADVENTURES GALORE

Take a wild water adventure into the Nenana River’s pristine environment as it meanders through a glacial valley. Guided expeditions run from tranquil kayaking in glassy waters to rafting through waters that vary from light flowing to white water rapids.

  1. TEE OFF

Golfing on Denali’s high tundra will put duffers in the forefront for bragging rights. The excursion includes golfing the nine-hole Denali Black Diamond Course and dining at the clubhouse, which overlooks beautiful Mt. Healy.

denali wildlife

Ready to live the many adventures Alaska has to offer? Speak to one of our Alaskan travel experts today to start planning your trip to see Denali wildlife and wilderness.