Denali is huge, more than 20,000 feet tall, and most visitors to Denali National Park never see it. Did we see it? How can you be sure to see it during your visit?
No reason to be coy, you already know that we saw Denali during our visit based on the above picture. The big mountain was there, right behind the trees, behind our RV the whole time. But we were never sure about our plan or if our plan would deliver the desired results. For our entire stay, we didn’t really know where to look. We dedicated twelve days hoping to get a cloud-free picture of Denali and were rewarded during the morning of our last day.
How you can be certain to see Denali
I don’t have any tricks to be certain to see Denali. If you want a higher chance of success you probably need to time your visit at the end of June (we did) and stay for about two weeks (we did that too). Most visitors to the park fail to see Denali and among the ones who see Denali, most of them only get a partial view of the mountain.
Only 30% percent of visitors see any part of the mountain while at Denali National Park. In the park, a partial viewing is considered a success. Nearly everyone will see pictures of the big mountain when in the park. Some will even buy the tee-shirt that says “I saw the mountain”. I bet that many visitors buy the tee-shirt and the only thing they saw was a photo.
So how many visitors only see part of Denali peaking from behind the clouds and call it a success? I can’t say. I am willing to bet that the total number of visitors who see Denali on a blue sky day numbers about 5% of the total number of visitors. For us, we had a blue sky day on one day out of twelve and that blue sky disappeared that afternoon. If you have a blue sky day and are anywhere near Denali make sure you go to a well-known viewpoint. Blue sky days are rare and that doesn’t mean that the sky will be blue for the entire day.
Denali National Park is a sightseeing paradise
Denali National Park is a sightseeing paradise, really it is, but it is the only National Park that I know about that most visitors do not get to see the number one attraction. I am going to guess that every visitor to the Grand Canyon gets to see a view of the Grand Canyon. A view of Denali is not easy to get. A view of Denali without clouds is extremely hard to get.
On June 23, three days after we started camping in the park, we took the park shuttle bus tour 43 miles into Denali Nation Park. Even though we could have seen the Denali before our bus ride, it was always in the clouds.
Yes, the park is named after the mountain, but the park was initially established to protect the Dall Sheep. We didn’t see any Dall Sheep. Actually, I think I saw and even photographed some Dall Sheep but they were well more than a mile away. In a photo of Dall Sheep, from more than a mile away, all you see are white dots.
Dall Sheep are very much like other sheep that we have seen during our travels. The difference is that Dall Sheep are completely white. In the Yukon, we saw some Stone Sheep and have a picture of them. Even if you don’t care about the sheep, you should check out the pictures of a stunning lake. Stunning Northern Rockies on the Alaska Highway
You have to take the bus, unless
Private cars are not allowed beyond mile 15 into Denali National Park. Except during shoulder seasons when the bus does not operate. In the summer, you have to take the bus to go deeper into the park. The only exception is for campers with reservations at remote camps.
Once you drive into a remote camp, you are not allowed to drive around inside the park, nor are you allowed to drive back out and then return back to your camp. Our camper wouldn’t fit in these remote campgrounds anyway. If you have a smaller RV then perhaps you could drive in and then camp in the remote campgrounds and then use your bikes to move around the more remote areas of the parks.
You don’t have to take the bus. You could walk, but 43 miles is well outside my range for walking. Or you could ride bikes. Perhaps I could go 40 miles but that would be a round trip range. You could also combine walking or bike riding with the bus but you have to have a bus pass to make a combination trip.
Be careful, however, with the bicycle idea, bears love a nice chase before they have a people snack. You will not be able to outrun a bear so don’t try. Bears consider running an invitation to chase you and teach you that you cannot outrun a bear.
The bus ride was tolerable. It had much nicer seats than the similar ones that they use to transport prisoners from one jail to the next. It had typical school bus windows. Do prison buses have windows? Anyway, we had a great driver who told us stories the entire way. Drivers don’t have to say anything, but ours was a talker. I really enjoyed it.
On our bus trip, we saw the big mountain. Good thing the driver pointed it out, I probably would have missed it and the following picture. I didn’t know where to look or even what I was looking for. Without the bus driver, I would have dismissed the view of Denali in the following photo as just another cloud.
About climbing Denali
Because of the wind and weather, Denali is a very hard mountain to climb. The wind, weather, and bitter cold turn back lots of climbers. Unlike most huge mountains, Denali is in the far north latitudes and it is very cold. Can you say arctic? The only thing about climbing Denali that makes it slightly easier than mountains in the Himalayas is that you don’t use oxygen during the climb. Climbing big mountains is never easy.
Near the Mountain View campground, we again saw the big mountain. This time we knew what to look for. The Mountain View campground is quite the appropriate name for this campground. Again the mountain was covered in clouds but at least we had two days in a row that we could see it. At this time we were feeling pretty special.
It is hard to believe that we saw the big mountain on two consecutive days. Good thing we saw it, it was our last day in the park. That was the bad news. We didn’t have to leave but instead, we had a different goal. If we drove about a hundred miles to the south there was another viewpoint and next door there was a great campground.
All the previous views were from the northeast side maybe we could get lucky on the south side. So the next day we left the National Park and moved into a State Park. Our stay in the National Park was six days. We were going to be at our next campground for five days.
K’esugi Ken Campground
K’esugi Ken Campground is up the hill from a Denali Viewpoint South inside Denali State Park. This offered more chances to see the big mountain from a different perspective. However, we didn’t expect the weather to improve. Rain was in the forecast. Unlike our previous stop except for getting a great view of the mountain, there wasn’t that much to do except wait for the mountain to make an appearance.
From K’esugi Ken we scheduled an airplane ride up towards Denali including a landing on a glacier. This would have been fun if the weather was good. The weather however wasn’t good and for this reason and the fact that we had to drive to Talkeetna, which was on the far side of the river, we first postponed and then cancelled the flight. Anyway, it would have been a long drive only to find that the weather there wasn’t great either. I will tell you the other reason we canceled our flight next week.
Other than a drive to Trapper Creek one day to pick up the mail we sat with occasional short drives over to the viewpoint only to take a couple of pictures of clouds and come back and sit again waiting. One cool thing was that during our drive to Trapper Creek is that we saw a wolf. He was moving fast so there was no chance for a picture. At Trapper Creek, we were looking for our mail. It was a real hunt. We started at the post office. The post office suggested that we try the gas station. She was right. Trapper Creek is a tiny town and we were running out of places to look.
The weather finally cleared at K’esugi Kenon after four days of rain. We got to see Denali in good weather with a blue sky. The weather at our campsite was good and I first went to check to see if the mountain was visible or if again it was covered in clouds. Hoping for a great view I drove towards the viewpoint in our car. Before I got out of the campground I circled around again to go pick up Tami. The weather at the mountain, about a hundred miles away was perfect.
In the above photo, you get a perspective of how Denali is almost twice the elevation of the surrounding mountains. The large snowy peak to the left in the above picture is Mount Hunter. For perspective, Mount Hunter is 13,965 feet high. To add perspective on how big Denali is, Mount Hunter is nearly as tall as most of the highest mountains in Colorado. Denali really is a huge mountain
What is next?
What did we do during the twelve days of clouds and rain while we were waiting to see the big mountain? We explored and kept a vigilant lookout for the large animals that Denali National Park is known for. While there we saw and got some good pictures of both Grizzly bears and moose. The other thing we did was nurse some illnesses, allergies, head colds, or was it Covid. Maybe it was Covid. If it was Covid we survived as you can tell by the pictures. Don’t miss our next blog post where we will show off some great photos of really big animals and tell the rest of the story.
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As you know, our blog income is zero – this allows us to be independent and just tell the truth. We do not get income or commissions. No, we don’t make paid endorsements. We don’t make recommendations but instead, we will tell you what we like (or dislike). The links are only provided as a quick reference to help our readers.
Note, the three previous links all use the same photoshopped picture at the top. The picture is perfect except for the size of the mountain. The above selfie will give you a more realistic view. After all the mountain is more than one hundred miles from the viewpoint.