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Backpacker Magazine – August 2008

Denali National Park

Hike with grizzlies in this remote northern corner of Alaska's greatest park.

by: By Willie Karidis

Photo courtesy National Park Service
Photo courtesy National Park Service

Exit Strategy

>> Clean up Located just inside the park entrance, the Riley Creek Mercantile has women's and men's showers for $4 each.

>> Pig out 229 Parks Restaurant and Tavern dishes up tangerine duck salad and pistachio-crusted Alaskan silver salmon. Bonus: The salads come straight from a local organic garden, where potatoes grow to softball size and the lettuce leaves are as big as fans. (907) 683-2567;

>> Best Dayhike: Healy Overlook On a clear day, Healy Overlook is the only place dayhikers can score a view of McKinley–and what a view it is. From the trailhead, hump 2,000 feet and two miles to the popular view spot. Then break free of the (usually sparse) crowds by continuing two miles over well-worn but undeveloped trail to the 5,715-foot summit of Mount Healy, where marmot and Dall sheep pose in front of lesser-known Alaska Range peaks Mts. Deborah, Hess, and Hayes.

>> Try something new The Nenana River Canyon's Class III and IV wave trains are possibly the wildest–and certainly the coldest–water you'll ever paddle. If the water's low enough, guides will let you dive into the 36°F water–wearing a dry suit. Denali Outdoor Center, (888) 303-1925;

Master McKinley
Denali is a wonderland of megafauna, but it can also be hell to hike in. Here's how to get the most out of the park.

>> Survive your river crossings Trailless also means bridgeless, at least in the backcountry. Cross rivers safely by scouting shallow spots (throw a rock and listen for the telltale "ker-plop" indicating deep water), facing upstream, and linking up with your strongest teammate out front. Watch BACKPACKER's How to Cross a River video.

>>Spot a bear The best way to see a grizzly? Get out your binoculars and focus them on one hillside. Watch for fur balls ranging in color from dark brown to tawny gold. You'll notice the movement first; then the shape.

>> Attack the schwack Bushwhacking through willow sucks the life out of anything larger than a lynx. Detour if there's an option. If there isn't, go with–not against–the branch growth. If you find yourself floundering, follow a game path–but alert bears by making noise.

>> Forage Supplies Don't buy stove fuel until you've scoured the food lockers at the Riley Creek Campground next to the train depot. On past visits, we've seen enough leftover gas and food on the shelves to provision an entire weeklong trip.

You're a Tourist, Now Act Like One
Ride the park bus all the way to Wonder Lake. Yes, you'll jostle for window space with the camera crowd, but you'll also see roadside bears and Alaska Range views on the 12-hour roundtrip drive–and you'll get a dozen different views of Mt. McKinley on the way.

The Stats
Acres 6,075,030
Miles of trail 36
Phone (907) 683-2294
2007 visitation 458,308 (total), 30,919 (backcountry)

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