Winter is Coming, but Denali Still Has Much to Offer
DENALI PARK—Despite the Denali Park Road is now closed to visitor travel beyond mile marker 30, Denali National Park is still open during the winter and there is much to do.
Visitor services has transitioned from the Denali Visitor Center to the nearby Murie Science and Learning Center (MSLC). The center is open daily from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. September 19, 2019–May 14, 2020, except for major holidays. The center offers displays and exhibits that tell the stories of Denali and some of the science currently taking place in the park. The center also serves as the fee station for processing the park’s admission fee of fifteen dollars or validating any of the America the Beautiful passes visitors may have.
“Just as in summer, a friendly ranger face will be available to assist visitors with planning their adventure and discovering what makes winter so special in Denali,” said G. W. Hitchcock, the park’s Public Affairs Officer.
The MSLC is also the stepping-off point for adventure into Denali. Several winter trails start from the center and allow visitors the opportunity to explore the winter wonder of the park on foot or skis. These trails offer varying degrees of difficulty and access. Snowshoes and grippers may be available for check out from the MSLC, depending on availability. A ranger-led winter walk and nature program is offered on weekends from 1-3 p.m., September 21–October 31, and February 15–May 14.
More information about Denali’s winter trails can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/thingstodo/denali-winter-trails.htm
“Denali never closes—it’s just the access that changes. Bring your boots, snowshoes, or fat-tire bike and you can create your own person-powered adventure in the snow!” said Sierra McLane, who is the Education Coordinator for the park and leads visitor center operations in the winter.
While most of the park road is closed, visitors will still be allowed as far as mile marker 30, weather permitting. In the fall this means as far as Mountain Vista, the Savage River trails, and the Teklanika Rest Stop, until the first snows close those portions of the road, expected sometime in late September to October. In spring, access may begin as early as February or April.
“The roads crew will only plow the road up to Headquarters at mile 3.5,” said Ray Moore, Facilities Manager for the park. “Once winter comes, we let nature take over and allow the park to return to its quiet solitude.”
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While winter may be a time for quiet reflection for people, it is the busiest season for the park’s furriest staff members: The Denali Kennels sled dogs.
“Once there’s a good blanket of snow, our sled dogs and mushers set to work, doing what we’ve trained all year for,” says Jennifer Raffaeli, Kennels Manager for the park. “Our sled dogs are patrolling the park, transporting supplies and equipment for research teams and maintenance projects. They can be out for weeks at a time, returning to the kennels for a well-deserve rest before setting out again.”
The kennels are open daily from 1–4 p.m. September 18–October 31, weekends only November 1–March 31, and daily April 1-May 14. The kennels have an exhibit highlighting the work of the sled dogs, as well as the historical aspects of mushing in Alaska. A ranger is also available to talk about the dogs. The kennels are located at park headquarters, so visitors will be able to access them via the plowed portion of the park road. If the kennel’s gate is open, visitors are welcome.
More information about winter kennels operations can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/kennels-winter.htm
Camping is still available during the winter season. Riley Creek Campground remains open and offers tent or vehicle/RV camping with no reservations or nightly fees September 18–May 7. Riley Creek is a rustic campground with vault toilets and no running water or electricity, though water is available at the MSLC during operational hours. Camping is also available in the backcountry. Visitors may snowshoe, ski, or mush out into the backcountry after obtaining a free backcountry permit from the MSLC. Visitors are advised to be prepared for extreme weather and practice “Leave No Trace” principles. The nearest services are eleven miles north of the park entrance, in Healy.
The Denali backcountry is open to visitors who seek to travel with their dogsled teams or ski-jor. Visitors are welcome to use trails established by the park’s dogsled teams, or to blaze their own backcountry route. A free backcountry permit is required and can be obtained from the MSLC.
Portions of the park are open to snowmobiling for traditional and subsistence activities, weather permitting. Snowmobiling is prohibited in wilderness areas, which includes the park road.
A map and updates with areas that are open or closed to snowmobiling can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/snowmobiling.htm
Due to a lack of human light pollution, Denali is an excellent place to see the Aurora Borealis.
Denali Winterfest is a four-day celebration organized and supported by the park, Denali Borough and Denali Borough School District, Denali Education Center, Doyon/Aramark Joint Venture, Alaska Geographic, and additional community organizations. Held in February to commemorate the park’s founding on February 26, 1917, Denali Winterfest celebrates the best of winter in Alaska with community events, competitions, workshops, and gatherings that focus on fun, family and the frontier spirit.
Details and dates for Denali Winterfest 2020 will be made available here: https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/winterfest.htm
The Walker Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station is also open in winter. The station is open weekdays, 11 a.m.– 3 p.m. October 1–April 15, and closed on weekends.
For educators, Denali offers several distance-learning programs covering a wide range of topics, designed to appeal to many age groups. These programs and materials are free and offered from November 1–March 31, with the exception of major holidays.
“Our education team would love to help your class connect with Denali, no matter where they are located,” said Sierra McLane. “Our rangers can help make a topic come alive, or just give students the opportunity to connect with the park and understand what makes it so special.”
Registration and more information on these distance learning programs can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/dena/learn/education/learning/index.htm
“Winter is a magical time in Denali,” said Sierra McLane. “The hearty folks who visit during our winter months are treated to a slower pace, a quieter atmosphere, and the subtle beauty of solitude and snow.”
For more information about winter activities and services, please visit the Winter Activities page on the website: https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/winter-activities.htm