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McKinley To Denali? How To Visit (And Enjoy!) America's Most Talked About Mountain

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By: Fiona Moriarty, Hipmunk

In advance of his three-day trip to Alaska, where he will advocate for more urgent action on climate change, President Obama officially changed the name of the tallest mountain in North America. Known to Alaskan natives for centuries as Denali (a native word meaning "the high one"), the 20,237' peak was renamed after assassinated President William McKinley in 1917. Obama may get to experience Alaska in the company of renowned survivalist Bear Grylls (who is not, in fact, a bear), but there's plenty of adventure to be had without him.

Approaching The Last Frontier

When the destination is America's last great frontier, getting there is ideally half the fun. The most populated place in Alaska is Anchorage, a 6-hour drive from even further-isolated Fairbanks, and a 21-hour drive from the state capitol, Juneau. Air travel is the cheapest and most efficient way to get to Anchorage. Home to roughly 300,000 people, Anchorage is a fabulous hub for outdoor excursions. Lodging exists for every budget, from backpackers looking for an affordable bed and a shower, to couples seeking a cozy B&B, or posh patrons in pursuit of pillows and pampering. Fairbanks, roughly 120 miles north of Denali National Park, also has a great variety of lodging options available, including a number of B&Bs and more luxurious spots.

More adventurous types can charter an air-taxi to Talkeetna, roughly halfway between Anchorage and Denali National Park. Travelers interested in a more leisurely wilderness journey have many train and cruise-ship options available. Juneau, the state's capital, may be 10 times less-populated than Anchorage, but it's the 2nd-largest city by area in the US, and its location in the islands of the Alaskan panhandle makes it a popular destination for cruise ships.


Venture Into The Last Frontier

While known for its native culture, most visitors flock to the state for one thing: pristine, unimpeded wilderness.
  • Denali National Park Only the most intrepid and experienced mountain climbers tackle the namesake summit at the heart of this National Park, but more casual visitors can experience the grandeur of the park from the (mostly unpaved) road system, either by bike, car, bus, or (bravely) on foot.
  • The Midnight Sun Nearly a third of Alaska lies above the Arctic circle, so during summer months, daylight hours extend nearly round the clock. A winter visit will be much less crowded, cheaper (and much colder), and opportunities to see the Northern Lights abound. Visit in March, and witness the start of the Iditarod, the 1,000-mile dogsled race unlike anything else in the United States.
  • The raw beauty and awe-inspiring spread of Alaska is unparalleled below the 49th Parallel. It has drawn in recluses, dreamers, adventurers, and sitting Presidents. Names could never do it justice, but it's easier than ever to make a visit!