Recently reclaiming its original name, Denali means “Great One” in the indigenous Athabascan language and is the tallest peak in North America. Despite Denali’s size, weather in the park can be unforgiving and visitors have only a 30% chance of seeing the mountain. After white-knuckling our way up and down the Dalton Highway, we decided to take our chances and headed south for a few days in Denali National Park.
With building cloud cover and a gray forecast, we snagged a campsite in the park for three nights and committed to the odds. Eager to catch a glimpse of Denali, we drove the permitted 15 miles into the park before nightfall. As we drove, what we initially mistook to be billowing white clouds towering high above the horizon quickly revealed itself to be not clouds at all but Denali itself. Even from 80+ miles away, it was shockingly enormous.
This preliminary view ended up being the only glimpse of Denali we’d get during our entire time in the park. We set up camp at Igloo Creek, rode along the park’s only road in green buses past Dall sheep, grizzly bears and stunning landscapes, climbed the wrong way up the summit of Cathedral Mountain, visited Eielson Visitors Center, hiked to the top of Thorofare Ridge, and happily encountered exactly zero grizzly bears on the trail.
Although Denali didn’t reemerge, it was time well spent away from the car and out in the mountains!