Denali National Park expects a busy holiday weekend as visitor numbers swell

DENALI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE –– As a green transit bus rounded Stony Hill Overlook in Denali National Park and Preserve on a recent weekend, visitors gawked at the sight of Denali, towering 20,310 feet into Earth’s troposphere.

Some 60 miles east, near the park’s entrance, tourists gathered at the kennels and posed for photos with members of Denali’s sled dog team.

The hustle and bustle of summer has returned to Denali National Park as visitors, campers and day-trippers continue to roll in this season.

“It’s exciting to see visitors returning,” said Paul Ollig, director of interpretation and education in Denali. “We’ve been seeing a steady increase in visitation throughout June and we do expect this holiday weekend … will be our busiest weekend of the year.”

Park staff are continuing to adapt to changing pandemic guidelines, but they remain short-handed, Ollig said: The park’s interpretive division is operating at about one-third of its normal staffing levels. Officials are encouraging visitors to remain flexible as they plan trips into the park this summer.

While restrictions have eased, the pandemic is still affecting normal park operations.

Ranger contact stations have been set up outside the Denali Visitor Center and Eielson Visitor Center, which both remain closed to the public. There are no food services being offered in the park this summer. Wait times for buses are longer than normal, with fewer buses running compared to a typical season. Face masks are mandatory for all visitors on the park’s buses.

For Cara Seymour and her husband, Max Padden, their trip into Denali’s backcountry with Seymour’s dad, Greg, provided them with a much-needed break from life in Brooklyn, New York, where they spent the pandemic hunkered down and isolated.

“It’s nice to feel openness and the ability to wander,” Padden said.

Check out the scene at Denali National Park during this year’s summer solstice weekend: