Denali offers a world-class setting for photography enthusiasts. From beginner to professional, photography is one way to capture the beauty and immensity of this magnificent place.
Professional photographers might be interested in the park's professional photography program. If you are involved in a commercial enterprise, please review information about our commercial filming program.
Whether you are photographing wildlife or wilderness, please be considerate - for many visitors, this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Please do not interrupt other visitors as they experience the park.
Mt. McKinley - where and how to see it
While wildlife can be theoretically seen just about anywhere in the park, the most common wildlife viewing opportunities occur during a bus ride along the park road.
A few very general thoughts and tips for those looking for wildlife during their visit:
When photographing wildlife from outside a vehicle, please follow the distance regulations listed below.
Pedestrians and bicyclists: do not approach to 300 yards (meters) or less.
If you are adjacent to a vehicle (i.e., within 2 yards of entering it): do not stay outside of the vehicle if the bear is 25 yards or closer to you.
Raptor nests and occupied dens (lynx, fox, wolverine, coyote, wolf, etc)
Pedestrians and bicyclists: do not approach closer than 100 yards.
The park will institute and post temporary closures of at least one quarter mile around known wolf dens; and appropriately-sized closures around other sensitive den/nest sites.
Other animals and active bird (non-raptor) nests
Pedestrians and cyclists: Maintain a minimum distance of 25 yards.
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Photographing Mount McKinley
Standing head and shoulders above the crowd, Mt. McKinley dominates the landscape of central Alaska. On clear days, it can be seen from as far away as Anchorage and Fairbanks. Within the park, however, it appears and disappears as the Park Road winds its way among the smaller mountains along the north edge of the Alaska Range.
While clear skies are common in deep winter, with intense cold locking up moisture, summer skies are often cloudy. Veteran bus drivers in Denali say that only one in three days offers glimpses of Mt. McKinley. If you are lucky enough to catch good weather, however, you can view the mountain from many places along the Park Road.
Viewpoints to which you can drive
Mt. McKinley is not visible from the park entrance - the road sits too low, and is hemmed in by other mountains. You may, however, drive as far as mile 15 on the road, to Savage River, with hopes of seeing Mt. McKinley along the way.
Mile nine on the Park Road is the first place where it rises high enough, and has the right angle, to potentially see the mountain. Mile 11 features a pull-out and interpretive waysides. The Savage River area itself sits too low to see the mountain, but energetic photographers can hike a short distance up nearby Healy Ridge to gain vantage points with views of Mt. McKinley.
Viewpoints accessed by bus
As it travels westward beyond mile 15, the Park Road offers many views of the mountain.
Every bus trip in the park, from the shortest (Denali Natural History Tour) to the longest (Kantishna shuttle bus / Kantishna Experience Tour) will offer chances to see more of the mountain, given clear skies.
The first base to summit viewpoint is at Stony Dome, located at mile 62. You can reach this point with the Eielson, Wonder Lake or Kantishna shuttle buses; or with the Kantishna Experience Tour. The Tundra Wilderness Tour, which normally turns around at mile 53, will travel to Stony Dome if there is a chance of seeing Mt. McKinley.
One of the most iconic and often-photographed images of the mountain is from Reflection Pond, just beyond mile 85. The Kantishna shuttle and Kantishna Experience tour will take you past Reflection Pond.
However, Wonder Lake shuttles turn down a spur road leading to Wonder Lake Campground about half a mile before Reflection Pond. Therefore, if you use a Wonder Lake shuttle to access Reflection Pond, be prepared to walk that distance from the campground spur road to the pond. Also, be sure to have your driver let you off the bus at the campground road / Park Road junction - you do not want to wait until reaching the campground itself to disembark, as it is a 1.5 mile spur road.
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Though Mt. McKinley may be shrouded in clouds, the vast and inspiring landscapes seen from the Park Road can be enjoyed in all but the dreariest weather.
Mountains of seemingly every size and shape can be seen. Older, rounder ancients, called the Outer Range, march along the north flank of the road and offer an interesting contract to the younger, sharper and, at times, intimidating mountains lying in the center of the Alaska Range. The Outer Range is almost entirely free of snow and ice by mid-summer, while the taller peaks of the Alaska Range keep their shoulders crystalline white year-round. Snow line is generally around 6,000' above sea level here.
Glaciers can be spied from the road, though many are in decline compared to their size ninety years ago. They are also much smaller than glaciers seen on the coast of Alaska, which are loaded with immense amounts of winter snow - however, the Alaska Range's rain shadow prevents dramatic amounts of snowfall north of the mountains. To the inexperienced eye, glaciers on the north side of the Alaska Range often blend in with the snowline when seen high in the mountains. Glaciers at low elevations can be disguised, too, as dirt and even plant life covers them.
Fall colors emerge at high elevations as early as the first or second week of August, spreading down the mountainsides and into the valleys by the second week of September.
If you wish to spend significant time photographing landscapes in the park, you may wish to consider one of the many shuttle bus options. Shuttles allow you to disembark from your initial bus, and re-board later shuttles on a space available basis.
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Did You Know?
In 1908, Charles Sheldon – a hunter and naturalist – described in his journal the idea of a park that would allow visitors to enjoy the beauty he saw while visiting Alaska. In 1917 his vision became reality, with the creation of Mount McKinley National Park.