How to Prepare for an Environmentally-Friendly Trip to Denali
By: Alyssa Lucia
Sitting amidst six million acres of boreal forest, alpine tundra, and snow-covered mountains is North America’s highest peak. Reaching 20,301 feet above sea level, Denali is a beacon for sightseers, photographers, and adventurers alike. Denali National Park draws about 400,000 yearly visitors, but there is much to know before you go.
With remote terrain, unpredictable weather, and sizable wildlife, planning ahead is key. Cell service is limited throughout the park, so make sure to pack everything you might need in case of an unexpected change in weather or an emergency. Being prepared and knowing what to bring (have you heard of the 10 essentials?) helps keep you safe, and it can prevent unintentional impacts on the earth.
With only one 92-mile-long road, the park aims to keep traffic to a minimum. Plan to leave your car in a designated parking lot and book yourself a bus tour. One of the most popular ways to experience Denali is by bus — and another option is to bike! Cycling is a great way to reduce emissions, get exercise, and go sightseeing through the majestic land.
Leave It as You Find It
Because of its rich and unique history, Denali’s land is punctuated with dinosaur bones, historic mining tools, and 10,000-year-old artifacts. Although a fossil might look amazing on your mantel, it’s vital to leave what you find where you find it. Even rocks and antlers are definitive parts of the environment and should be left to develop naturally.
Keep Wildlife Wild
Denali is a sanctuary for many diverse animals, too — you’ll likely encounter some while you’re there. Maybe you’ll spot a moose along the Savage River shoreline, see a grizzly bear up ahead on the trail, or hear the wolves howl at night. It can be incredible to observe animals in their natural habitat, but if the animal changes behavior, you’re likely too close. (Do you know the thumb trick?). Respect wildlife by staying at least 25 yards away, unless it’s a bear, in which case you’ll want to keep at least 300 yards distance.
Beyond wildlife viewing, Denali boasts fun activities and attractions for the whole family. The park is open year-round, with each season offering different things to do. Summer is the best time for birdwatching, ziplining, or exploring Wonder Lake by packable raft. Winter is perfect for cross-country skiing or alpine climbing on Mount Foraker. And since Denali is almost entirely free from human light pollution, it’s an amazing place to view the night sky and the Northern Lights. As for Denali’s most unique interest, the sled dog kennels are open year-round, with ranger demonstrations in summer. (Dog lovers, this is when you can get in line to pet and visit with the pack!)
Choose the Right Path
Denali offers a variety of hikes to enjoy, too. Ranging from short trails around the visitor center, to the steep Mount Healy Overlook Trail, to the popular Horseshoe Lake Trail, there’s a hiking trail for every adventurer. Should you venture off the formal trails, which is common for backpacking trips, best practice is to travel and camp on durable surfaces, like rock, sand, gravel, or snow — any areas free of vegetation. Denali offers six campgrounds and four lodges, with more options just outside the park entrance, so there are plenty of places to book a stay during your visit. But if you find yourself tent camping off the beaten path, be careful not to camp in the same spot more than two nights, and avoid pitching your tent where someone else camped before.
Be Careful With Fire
Denali’s campgrounds supply firepits in designated areas, but winter backpackers should plan on bringing a personal stove in order to minimize campfire impacts. Otherwise, use dry, down wood to build a bonfire, and scatter the ashes once you’re done. Avoid throwing trash in fires as it can attract and endanger wildlife.
Trash Your Trash
No matter what Denali adventure you choose, it’s vital to know ahead of time how to dispose of waste properly. Whether you’re backpacking, tent camping, or just sharing a picnic, make good use of Denali’s trashcans and outhouses. If those aren’t available, be ready to carry out any trash, food scraps, and possibly even human waste. Frozen ground in winter might inhibit your ability to dig a cathole, so consider where the waste will melt out come spring. Take your business at least 50 feet away from trails and 200 feet (70 adult steps) from any water source.
Share Our Trails
People venture to Denali for all different reasons. Be considerate of other visitors by being kind and courteous. Camp out of sight. Keep your group small and give space to other groups. Let nature’s sounds prevail, and know that what connects us all is simply to enjoy being there, spending quality time with the wild land.