Denali National Park and Preserve

Skiers on Denali    

THE SELL: Climbing the tall one; hiking in solitude
Rumor has it that on an Alaska Airlines flyby of 20,320-foot Denali, one Texas passenger asked a flight attendant why the mountain had superhighways leading up to it. The glacial moraines do look a little like an interstate on the massive peak, which dwarfs all others in the 600-mile Alaska Range. But there's a lot more to this six-million-acre park than a big hunk of granite. It's one of the only spots in the world where you can ride a bus, get off, hike a few miles in, and have a 20-square-mile swath of wilderness to yourself. Few cars are allowed on the single 91-mile gravel artery, so campers and mountaineers have to hoof it, bike it, or watch the rutting moose from the comfort of the bus.

OUTFITTED: On Rainier Mountaineering's ten-day, entry-level Alaska Seminar, there's a three-to-one client-to-guide ratio, ensuring that you'll always have an expert on hand to help you with the basics of mountaineering: knot tying, crevasse rescue, ice climbing, route finding, and deciphering big-mountain weather. Complete this mid-May course on Denali's Kahiltna Glacier and you'll be prepared for a guided summit bid ($2,400; rmiguides.com).

DIY: Denali has six designated campgrounds along the park road, most of which you can reserve in advance ($9 per night; reservedenali.com). For backcountry campers, there are no designated sites and no advance reservations. Just show up at the Backcountry Information Center, at the park's north entrance, and a ranger will help you plot your course, give you a free permit, assign you a bear container, and give you the mandatory safety talk about food storage, river crossings, and how to avoid hypothermia ($10 park entrance fee per person; nps.gov/dena). If hot meals and a bed sound better, reserve a cabin at Camp Denali. Built in 1951 and sitting on 67 acres with views to 11 major peaks in the Alaska Range, Camp Denali predates the existing park. The 18 hand-built cabins, with homemade quilts, fireplaces, and meticulously kept outhouses, are like a Hollywood version of frontier life. Hike with one of the expert naturalists, borrow one of the camp's bikes and ride the park road, or wet your fly line in a pretty creek. Wind down with a meal from the camp's organic greenhouse and on-site bakery (three nights, $1,515; campdenali.com).

WILD CARD: It's technically south of the park, but if you want a blowout high-alpine adventure in sight of Denali, head to Tordrillo Mountain Lodge. Customize all sorts of adventure using this luxurious lodge on the shores of Judd Lake as your base camp: Heli-fish for trophy trout, heli-hike near active volcanoes, climb granite crags, or paddleboard among icebergs near Strandline Glacier ($1,300 for two days/one night, including internal air from Anchorage; plus guided activity fees; epicquest.com).

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