Some Sure Signs of Spring at Denali National Park and Preserve

Mt. McKinley

Mt. McKinley. Photo by travfoto via Flickr.

The first climbers of the season have reached the summit of Mt. McKinley, there's no longer enough snow on the ground to allow the use of snowmobiles in the area, and the first 30 miles of the road into the park are open. It must be spring at Denali National Park and Preserve.

The economy may be slow, but that doesn't seem to have deterred climbers intent on reaching the summit of the highest peak in North America. According to officials at Denali, a total of 1,054 climbers have already registered for a trip this season, and 221 of them are currently at various locations on the mountain. Those numbers are said to be typical for recent years.

The first climber to reach the 20,320 foot summit for this season was a 33-year-old man from Germany. He completed his successful assent on Thursday, April 30th, the first of eight people to reach the top of the mountain that same day.

Sadly, all of those climbs aren't going well. As reported in the Traveler last Friday, a man from New York died, apparently of natural causes, during a guided trip on the mountain last week.

If you'd like an update on the number of climbers on the mountain and related data during the climbing season, it's available on the park website.

Less adventurous souls who want to visit the park will be glad to know the park reports

The Denali Park Road is currently open for travel by private vehicles to the Teklanika River Rest Area at Mile 30. The road will be open for travel to that point through Tuesday, May 19. The shuttle bus system will begin its seasonal operations on Wednesday, May 20 to provide access beyond the Savage River to destinations further west on the park road. The first fifteen miles of the park road will remain open for travel by park visitors in private vehicles throughout the summer season.

The park website has a page with updates on the status of work to open the road for the season.

Elsewhere in the park, snow is melting at lower elevations, and officials have closed all areas of the park and national preserve to snowmobile use until next winter.

Due to the deterioration of the snowpack, Denali National Park and Preserve Acting Superintendent Philip Hooge has determined that there is no longer adequate snow cover for the use of snowmobiles for traditional activities in the 1980 additions to Denali National Park and Preserve on both sides of the Alaska Range.

All park lands that were open for traditional snowmobile use are now closed for the season. Even in areas such as Broad Pass and near Cantwell, the warmer temperatures and long days have reduced snow depths to a level that is no longer adequate to protect the vegetation and soils.

Since snowmobiles have been a bone of contention in parks such as Yellowstone, here's a point of clarification for Denali: When the park was enlarged in 1980 and subsequently renamed Denali National Park and Preserve, the use of snowmobiles was allowed by authorized subsistence users in parts of the area added to the park. Such provisions are not uncommon for some of the NPS units in Alaska. A park news release notes,

All lands within the former Mount McKinley National Park on both the north and the south sides of the Alaska Range are closed to all snowmobile use by federal regulation.

A good reminder of one of the main attractions for this park is found in a recent comment about the road crew on the park's website:

On their way out to begin their work week yesterday the Sunday-Wednesday crew saw 4 wolves, 2 lynx, 2 different groups of caribou, bear, sheep and eagles.

I'd say that makes for a pretty nice "commute" to work.

If you've never been to Denali, I hope you can add it to your "must see" list.


I was hiking past Teklanika last week. It was very beautiful and peaceful--not another person seen the whole three hours out. It is nice to get into the park before the buses start running. Lots of signs of moose and wolves in the Igloo forest area. The ptarmigan are staking territories and calling mates and the hares and getting gray. Spring is a great awakening time in the park. Thanks for the updates.