Denali National Park and Preserve is a bit of an enigma. With 6 million acres of wild land to explore, the region is so much more than a mountain. Alaska’s Big Five—grizzlies, moose, wolves, caribou and Dall sheep—roam free within low-elevation taiga forest, on snowy slopes and in high alpine tundra.

And yet as mind-blowingly expansive as the region is, adventurous travelers hoping to catch a glimpse of North America’s tallest peak and the resident wildlife often come up short.

While such disappointment is often the result of fickle weather and solitude-seeking animals, a 2021 landslide isn’t making it any easier to access Denali’s grandeur. Now, when guests board the National Park Service bus heading into the park, they’re forced to turn around at Mile 43. And with 49 more miles to go, not continuing down the road leaves a huge swath of the park unreachable.

The good news: Nat Hab groups have access to the Denali backcountry the only way one can currently experience it: by flying. Our updated Ultimate Alaska Wildlife Safari features a helicopter flight into the otherwise inaccessible wilderness, giving travelers a rare opportunity to explore the Last Frontier.

Nat Hab travelers fly into Denali National Park's backcountry via helicopter

Nat Hab travelers fly into Denali National Park’s backcountry via helicopter. © TEMSCO Helicopters Denali

Understanding the Pretty Rocks Landslide

As innocuous as its name sounds, the Pretty Rocks Landslide is causing disappointment for those seeking access into deep Denali country.

The landslide, which is located along Denali Park Road near its midpoint at Mile 45.4, has been active since at least the 1960s, but it accelerated in 2014. At that time, park road maintenance crews noticed more small cracks, more often, in the park’s sole access road. By 2016, a noticeable slump in the road emerged, and a monitoring program was instated.

According to the National Park Service, “The rate of road movement within the landslide evolved from inches per year prior to 2014, to inches per month in 2017, inches per week in 2018, inches per day in 2019, and up to 0.65 inches per hour in 2021.”

In August 2021, after a springtime effort to repair the road was deemed unsustainable, the NPS enacted a road closure west of Pretty Rocks. Today, that section of road—100 yards of the full length of the road—has been carried even farther down the hillside, resulting in a prolonged road closure.

Currently, the NPS expects the full length of the park road to reopen to the public and bus services to resume in 2027, upon completion of the park’s Polychrome Area Plan. The plan includes the construction of a steel truss bridge over the landslide stabilized by a retaining wall and complemented by ground-reinforcing techniques.

Denali: Now You See It, Now You Don’t

At 20,310 feet tall, Denali creates its own weather. When the skies are clear and cooperative, it’s possible to get an unobstructed view of the massif from just about anywhere in the region. Alas, clouds and fog keep it under wraps up to one-third of the time.

Gray wolf in Denali National Park in Alaska

Gray wolf in Denali National Park, Alaska

As for the wildlife, moose are about the only large mammals commonly glimpsed within the first 20 to 30 miles of the park entrance, munching and roaming their way through the dense forest in that portion of the park. But it’s not until one gets well into the farthest reaches of the park (currently inaccessible by road) that visitors are likely to see grizzly bears, wolves, caribou or Dall sheep.

That’s where Nat Hab comes in. Despite nature’s unrelenting power, Nat Hab is making it possible for intrepid travelers to access the large swath of Denali National Park that is currently inaccessible by road. This exclusive access significantly improves one’s Denali experience, particularly with the National Park Service bus access limited for at least the next three years.

How We Access the Denali Backcountry

Knowing how avid Nat Hab wildlife and nature enthusiasts are about exploring our world’s most precious, pristine habitats, we sought a way to access Denali National Park even before the landslide hurdle. Our Ultimate Alaska Wildlife Safari and our photo-focused Brooks Falls Photo Expedition and Alaska Bear Camp Photo Expedition take you deep into Denali via helicopter, to a place where not only can you see the imposing mountain itself (both during your flight and at Wonder Lake), but where you’re highly likely to encounter the unfettered Alaskan wildlife you’ve come for.

> Learn More: Alaksa Wildlife Guide

These peerless wilderness adventures celebrate the remote backcountry of Denali National Park despite the road closure, taking you to where the grizzlies, wolves and caribou roam beneath the Alaska Range. From the park entrance, guests board a chartered helicopter for their spectacular flight over glacier-fed rivers, broad valleys and steep mountainsides to the Denali Backcountry Lodge, located deep within the vast expanse of wilderness currently inaccessible via the 92-mile-long park road.

This Alaska adventure, which includes two nights at the lodge, was already exclusive before the park road was closed, but is now an even rarer opportunity.

Nat Hab guests at Denali Backcountry Lodge in Alaska

Nat Hab guests at Denali Backcountry Lodge in Alaska.© Pursuit / Denali Backcountry Lodge

From the lodge, guests can learn the natural and cultural history of the Denali backcountry, including the Big Five wildlife species, the Athabascan people who lived off the land for 10,000 years, and the goldminers who came to nearby Kantishna at the turn of the 20th century.

Between kayaking on Wonder Lake—which offers captivating views of Denali (which means “The High One” in the Athabascan language)—hiking with an Expedition Leader and naturalist guide, and fishing in Moose Creek, the expedition allows for a wild country experience few people will ever have in their lifetime. (And that’s not even to mention the hearty, seasonal, regional food you’ll feast on each evening, followed by toasty s’mores over the campfire!)

In addition to discovering Denali, our Ultimate Alaska Wildlife Safari includes riding the historic Alaska Railroad over Moose Pass to Seward, looking for whales, otters and puffins in Kenai Fjords, cruising to the face of a tidewater glacier, and overnighting at Fox Island. Following the seasonal patterns of the bears, our itinerary also includes either a stay at our private Alaska Bear Camp in Lake Clark National Park or a visit to Katmai National Park when the salmon are running up the Brooks River.

> Learn More: Visit the National Park Service’s Denali National Park page to learn more about climate change as a causal agent for the Pretty Rocks Landslide, and the scope of the Polychrome Area Plan.

For those who simply can’t wait for the road to reopen—and we don’t blame you!—Nat Hab’s Ultimate Alaska Wildlife Safari allows you to go farther into Denali, right now. Our small-group wildland immersion trips reveal the real Alaska—bigger, wilder and more enthralling than you ever imagined.