National preserve open for bus tours, camping

DENALI PARK, Alaska -- Telephone and online reservations are open for the summer season for Denali National Park and Preserve shuttle buses, bus tours and the park's four largest campgrounds: Riley Creek, Savage River, Teklanika River and Wonder Lake.

About 300,000 people visit the 6-million-acre park each year, two-thirds by motorcoach.

To enter the interior of the preserve, coach passengers change to a local tour bus or a park shuttle bus -- vehicles more suited to the passes that wind along mountain ledges. Cars are not allowed in the park's interior, except by permit.

Riley Creek, near the entrance to the park, is open all year. It's the largest campground in the Park, with 102 sites for tents, trailers and campers. Rates range from $12 to $18.

Teklanika River, the second largest campground, provides 50 sites for tents and motorhomes from May to September. Rates range from $16 to $20.

Hikers should be aware that the Teklanika rest stop, just beyond the campground, is the last rest room until Polychrome Overlook, 24 miles away.

The paved road ends at Savage River bridge, and the Savage River campground, 13 miles from the entrance, is as far as private vehicles are allowed to travel without a permit.

Once the site of a park headquarters, the campground is open from May to September and offers 34 tent, trailer and camper sites. Rates per night are $18 to $20.

Nearby Primrose Ridge provides trails for hikers and photo-ops for shutterbugs.

At this point, the landscape begins to change from tiaga forest -- the white and black spruce, quaking aspen and paper birch that are found along the rivers in the park's valleys -- to tundra, a landscape of tiny plants growing close to the ground that at elevations above 7,200 feet is replaced by a blanket of lichens and mosses and rocks.

At Wonder Lake campground, which has 28 tent sites, visitors can launch canoes and kayaks, but motorboats are forbidden. Wonder Lake, open June to September, is 85 miles from Riley Creek and the Parks Highway. Rates are $16 to $20.

Each of the four main campgrounds has flush toilets.

Because Wonder Lake and some of the smaller campgrounds are accessible only by bus, camper buses take campers and their gear into the park.

Teklanika campers can drive their vehicles to that campground but are subject to a three-night minimum stay. They are not permitted to leave and reenter the park.

When making campsite reservations, reserve a seat on the camper bus ($18.50 for adults, $9.25 for ages 15 to 17. Children age 14 and under are free on all shuttle and camper buses). Return reservations are not necessary for camper buses. Campers may board any shuttle to exit the park. Bus schedules are available at the Visitors Center.

For those who are visiting just for the day, the bus and shuttle tours offer wildlife viewing and interpretive information on the park's big five: caribou, moose, Dall sheep, grizzly bears and Mount McKinley -- which is located inside the park and which locals call by its Athabascan name, "Denali," or "the High One."

The mountain, part of the Alaska Range, is the highest in North America, reaching an elevation of 20,320 feet.

Campsite reservations may be made by calling (800) 622-7275 between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Alaska Standard Time, seven days a week. Online reservations are available 24 hours a day at www.reservedenali.com. For more information on the park, visit www.nps.gov/dena.

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