A former Denali ranger shares her secrets for finding solitude, scoring the most coveted permits, seeing wildlife, beating the weather, and more. Follow her from-the-field advice for the ultimate trip in America's wildest park.
AVOID HIGH-SEASON CROWDS
Dayhike all night.
Between late May and early August, it stays light enough to hike 24 hours a day in Denali. As long as you don’t pitch a tent (or even take a nap), you don’t need a backcountry permit. Yes, conventional dayhiking is always possible, but by hiking through the night you’ll share choice units with only the permitted backpackers—and they’ll likely be sleeping in their tents. Explore some of my favorite units (6, 7, 8, 10, 13, 15, 18, 32, and 34) by taking the bus to Wonder Lake (last daily departure at 10:15 a.m.). Hop off at your starting point (on the way back from Wonder Lake, if you want the round-trip ride). Some ideas: Hike to Upper Glacier Creek (unit 18) near the Muldrow Glacier; explore the old East Fork wolf den site (unit 7) along the East Fork of the Toklat River; or circumnavigate Mt. Eielson (unit 13), with views of the entire Alaska Range. Hop back on the bus the next day. You can sleep on the ride out. (Note: Park officials tell us they discourage this strategy, as weary hikers could make poor decisions. Your call.)
Pedal the park road. All hiker buses are equipped with space to carry two bikes. Load yours, along with camping gear, and overnight at Wonder Lake Campground. Your plan: In the morning, bike back toward the park entrance before the buses start up. The first one doesn’t hit Eielson visitor center (mile 66) until 10 a.m., so you can spend the morning riding east in solitude. (A few overnight buses might pass you on their return trip from Kantishna.) Grab a shuttle back to Wonder Lake when you’ve had your fill. In the morning, before the bus traffic ramps up, you’ll be amazed at the wildlife you encounter.