A bicycle provides special freedom in the park. Bicyclists can ride past the checkpoint where cars have to turn back, at mile 14 on the park road. Riding is gritty, however, as buses come frequently and kick up a lot of dust. Bikes are not permitted off-road. Park campgrounds have bike stands and, with enough prior planning, you can set up a trip riding from one to the next. The longest stretch on the park road between campgrounds is 52 miles. With a reservation, you can take a bike on the camper bus so you can ride one-way. The shuttle system lacks much capacity for bikes, however, as only two can fit on each camper bus, although the park is gradually installing racks on the buses. Given this shortage, it can be hard for cyclists to find room on buses returning to the park entrance; instead, get a reserved spot on an outbound bus and bike back. Until more racks are added, groups larger than two must split up onto different buses. Pick up a copy of the bicycle rules from the Backcountry Information Center before you start. Denali Outdoor Center (tel. 888/303-1925 or 907/683-1925; www.denalioutdoorcenter.com) rents front-suspension bikes for $40 for 24 hours, $25 for 6 hours, with discounts for longer rentals. The center has an office in Glitter Gulch, and its headquarters are near Healy, at Otto Lake Road.
In the winter, rangers patrol the park by dog sled, as they have for decades. In the summer, to keep the dogs active and amuse the tourists, they run a sled on wheels around the kennel, and a ranger gives a talk, normally at 10am, 2pm, and 4pm. Although it's no substitute for seeing dogs run on snow, you can get a sense of their speed and enthusiasm from the show. It can be the highlight of the trip for youngsters. There's no parking at the kennels, near the headquarters at mile 3.4 on the park road, so take a free bus that leaves the Denali Visitor Center 40 minutes before each show. Times are listed in the Alpenglow park newspaper.
A Kennel Tour -- Like the free dog-sled demonstration at the park, former Iditarod champion Jeff King shows off his dogs at his Husky Homestead Tour (tel. 907/683-2904; www.huskyhomestead.com). What makes his tour hugely popular, however, is the program telling about living and raising a family on a homestead in this remote area. Admission is $49 for adults, $29 children 3 to 12; not recommended for children 2 and under.
Fishing is poor at Denali. There are grayling in some rivers, but the water is too cold and silty for most fish. Those who don't care if they catch anything, however, do enjoy fishing in this wonderful scenery. You don't need a fishing license within park boundaries, but you do have to throw back everything you catch. Bring your own gear.
For a better chance of catching something -- and an opportunity to learn about fly-fishing, too -- go to a private lake outside the park with guide Rick McMahan of Denali Fly Fishing Guides (tel. 907/768-1127; www.denalifishing.com). He picks up clients at their hotels and takes them lake or stream fishing, on the bank or wading, mostly for Arctic grayling but also rainbow trout. The per-person cost is $175 for a half-day, $325 for a full day, lunch included. He also provides jet boat trips to wilderness streams for $275.
Climbing Mount McKinley
Because of its altitude and weather, Mount McKinley is among the world's most challenging climbs. Summer temperatures at the high camp average -20° to -40°F (-29° to -40°C). If you're looking here for advice, you're certainly not up to an unguided climb. A guided climb is a challenging and expensive endeavor requiring months of conditioning and most of a month on the mountain. Get names of authorized guides from the Park Service's Talkeetna Ranger Station, P.O. Box 588, Talkeetna, AK 99676 (tel. 907/733-2231). The climbing season lasts from late April or early May until the snow gets too soft, in late June or early July. Climbers fly from Talkeetna to a 7,200-foot base camp on Kahiltna Glacier. About 1,200 climbers attempt the mountain annually in about 300 parties; about half typically make it to the top each year, and usually a few die trying.
A good, close look at McKinley is best accomplished by air. Frequently, you can see McKinley from above the clouds when you can't see it from the ground. Best of all, Talkeetna operators that fly mountaineers also land visitors on the mountain, a unique and unforgettable experience. Regardless of how close you approach the mountain, a flight shows how incredibly rugged the Alaska Range is.
Small planes and helicopters fly from the park airstrip, from private heliports and airstrips along the Parks Highway, and from the Healy airstrip. Denali Air (tel. 907/683-2261; www.denaliair.com) has an office in the Nenana Canyon area and operates flights at mile 229.5 of the Parks Highway. An hour-long flight going within a mile of the mountain costs $350 for adults, $175 for children ages 2 to 12. Fly Denali (tel. 888/733-7768 or 907/683-2359; www.flydenali.com), flying out of Healy, is the only operator offering mountain landings from the park area at this writing (others do so from Talkeetna). Era Helicopters (tel. 800/843-1947 or 907/683-2574; www.eraflightseeing.com) has 50-minute flights for $335, including van pickup from hotels in the area. Their heli-hikes land for a 4-hour walk on a mountain ridgeline, the difficulty tailored to the customers' abilities, for $465. A 2-hour outing that includes a 20-minute glacier landing costs $435.
Rafting on the Nenana River, bordering the park along the Parks Highway, is fun and popular. Several commercial guides float two stretches of the river: an upper portion, where the water is smoother and the guides explain passing scenery; and the lower portion, where the river roars through the rock-walled Nenana Canyon and rafts take on huge splashes of silty, glacial water through class III and IV rapids. Guides take children as young as 5 on the slow trip (although I wouldn't let my kid go at that age); the youngest accepted for the fast portion is age 10. White-water rafting carries risks you shouldn't discount. Each session takes 2 to 2 1/2 hours, including safety briefings, suiting up, and riding to and from the put-in and take-out points. Prices vary from $82 to $112 for adults, with discounted rates for children (from $10 less to half off). Denali Outdoor Center (tel. 888/303-1925 or 907/683-1925; www.denalioutdoorcenter.com) is a professional operation, offering rafting trips and instruction in river techniques. The firm also offers self-paddled inflatable kayaks, popular with those who want to take an active hand in their float. Its main office is at Otto Lake Road, at mile 247; and the company also has an office right in Glitter Gulch. Plan a shower afterward -- the silt in the river water will stick to your skin and hair.
All-Terrain Vehicle Rides
Most Alaskans who venture into the Alaska Range backcountry (outside the park) do so on snow machines or, in the summer and fall, on ATVs. Their purpose is usually hunting or trapping, but these balloon-tire buggies are handy just for seeing a lot of country as well. They're easy to drive. Denali ATV Adventures (tel. 907/683-4288; www.denaliatv.com) offers rides on one- or two-person machines north of the park, in the Otto Lake area and on the Stampede Trail, for scenery and wildlife viewing. Commentary is delivered through radio headsets inside riders' helmets. A 2 1/2-hour tour, including instruction, costs $95 as a driver, $65 as a passenger; a 4-hour trip is $175 and $100. The firm has an office in Glitter Gulch and headquarters north of the Denali entrance at Mile 238.6, Parks Highway.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.