On a cruise to Alaska, don’t miss exploring the scenic Alaska Range whose gem is Denali, North America’s tallest peak, rising 20,310 feet. Allow time before or after your Alaska cruise to see Denali and experience inland Alaska, a place of dramatic mountains, rivers where bald eagles perch in trees along the banks, and streams where brown bears swipe at salmon. To explore Denali, we disembarked the Alaska Railroad at Talkeetna, a three-hour trip from Anchorage. Since we knew we could depart on a flightseeing tour to the mighty mountain from this Alaskan town, a gateway to Denali State Park, we opted against staying on the train four more hours to reach Denali National Park, especially because at this point, we craved out of vehicle leg-stretching walks.
We checked into the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, a 70-minute bus ride from Talkeetna.
Located on the banks of the Chulitna River in Denali State Park, the lodge’s main deck looks out onto the Alaska Range and Denali. However, every time we stared from the hotel, clouds shrouded the mountain.
From Talkeetna we took a flightseeing tour, hoping to glimpse the mighty Denali. From our helicopter at 10,000-feet, Ruth Glacier in Denali National Park spread out below us as a massive river of blue ice. The glacier, slit with crevasses and dotted with turquoise pools, seemed to run on forever. Craggy cliffs and rugged brown slopes towered on either side.
The closer we flew to Denali—the Great One, as North America’s highest peak is known in native languages—the more jagged, menacing, and majestic the mountain became. Suddenly, within two miles of Denali’s summit, the clouds parted and Denali’s sharp, snow-covered pinnacle split the sky.
We took this glimpse of the top of the world as a great gift and a good omen. On our return flight through Denali State Park, 325,240 acres situated between the Talkeetna Mountains to the east and the Alaska Range to the west, we spotted a family of grizzlies loping across the frozen tundra. This was the Alaska we had traveled so far to see.
You can also explore Denali National Park in summer by driving the first 15 miles of Denali Park Road, by taking a bus tour that goes beyond the drive-on-your-own lookouts, or by hiking. Along with trekking scenic trails with rangers, you can walk the 2.5 miles, one-way, from the Denali Visitors Center to the kennels to meet the resident sled dogs, the only such teams in a US national park.