Image by Stacy McCormack Five Hundred Pixels
What makes 20,310ft Denali (formerly Mt McKinley) one of the world’s great scenic mountains is the sheer independent rise of its bulk. Denali begins at a base of just 2000ft, which means that on a clear day you will be transfixed by over 18,000 feet of ascending rock, ice and snow. By contrast, Mt Everest, no slouch itself when it comes to memorable vistas, only rises 12,000 feet from its base on the Tibetan Plateau.
Despite its lofty heights, the mountain is not visible from the park entrance or the nearby campgrounds and hotel. Your first glimpse of it comes between Mile 9 and Mile 11 on Park Rd – if you’re blessed with a clear day. The rule of thumb stressed by the National Park Service (NPS) rangers is that Denali is hidden two out of every three days, but that’s a random example – it could be clear for a week and then hidden for the next month. While the ‘Great One’ might not be visible for most of the first 15 miles of Park Rd, this is the best stretch to spot moose because of the proliferation of spruce and especially willow, the animal’s favorite food. The open flats before Savage River are good for spotting caribou and sometimes brown bears.