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Alaska Wildfires Stymy Visitor Plans

It’s peak season for Denali National Park.

Wildfires have closed the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve since Sunday, June 30. Officials at the park, one of Alaska’s top visitor attractions, have said that no private vehicles, permit holders, or tour buses can be admitted access to the park because of the fires, which also closed the park’s visitor’s center, trails, and campgrounds. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has called the blaze the Riley Wildfire and has tracked its progress since it was reported on June 30, burning up the hillside from the Nenana River, away from the Parks Highway and most structures. The BLM has reported the wildfire as human-caused, rather than naturally occurring. As of Tuesday afternoon, the fire is estimated to cover 388 acres.

Tourist facilities in nearby Glitter Gulch have also been impacted by the fires, which reportedly cut off some electricity and running water. Some resorts have brought in portable toilets or directed guests to use restroom facilities on motorcoaches parked nearby. 

The Alaska Railroad has canceled scheduled passenger service at the Denali rail depot for two days, but has contracted motorcoaches to move passengers through the portions of the rail belt that are not operating. For Wednesday, train services are operating between Anchorage and Talkeetna, and between Healy and Fairbanks. Motorcoaches are providing service from Talkeetna to Denali and Healy. Motorcoaches will embark passengers at the Denali Princess Lodge instead of the Denali rail depot.

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By Tuesday, the fire had been 10% contained, and firefighters had been flown to Alaska from other parts of the United States to assist in suppression. Park officials were unable to say when they park was expected to reopen, noting that some employee housing has been evacuated as a safety measure, although no structures are currently under immediate threat. 

Park officials noted that there are 35 permitholders currently in the park who are not thus far required to evacuate. Park officials will continue to operate shuttle transportation to transport those permitholders to the park entrance when their reservations end, most of them scheduled to depart by Wednesday. 

The Anchorage Daily News reports that most tours and services in surrounding areas not affected by the Riley Fire and not requiring entrance to the National Park were continuing to operate. 

It’s peak season for Denali National Park, which can welcome up to 4,000 visitors per day during the summer season, many of them arriving by train or motorcoach as part of land tours operated by major cruise lines. 

Lodges operated by Princess Cruises have closed to new arrivals for hotel-only and land-only bookings in Denali, Talkeetna, and Fairbanks through July 5. Holland America Line, which owns the McKinley Chalet Resort and Westmark Fairbanks has canceled hotel-only bookings at the two properties through July 5. Passengers traveling as part of a cruise tour will continue to be accommodated, but facilities at the Denali Princess Lodge and McKinley Chalet Resort may remain limited as long as power and water services are suspended. 

Many travelers scrambled to rebook excursions to other parts of the state after finding their Denali plans scuttled by the fire. Alaska Railroad reported normal operations on the Coastal Classic and Glacier Discovery trains, which operate from Anchorage south to the Kenai Peninsula. Cruise line rail and motorcoach transfers from the ports at Whittier and Seward to Anchorage were also unaffected by the fires. 

Travelers finding themselves spending extra nights in either Fairbanks or Anchorage will have no shortage of activities in lieu of a visit to Denali National Park. In Anchorage, Denali is visible from the city on a clear day, and flightseeing tours may still operate. Alternately, travelers might consider excursions to Katmai National Park or Knik Glacier, or visits to the Alaska Native Heritage Center or Anchorage Museum

Fire managers are reporting good containment activities of the Riley Fire as of Tuesday afternoon. The fire has already burned through the majority of the fast-burning black spruce in the area and is now fueled by slower-burning hardwoods and low brush, making containment efforts easier. Calm winds and nearby lakes and rivers help facilitate airborne fire suppression efforts. 

While containment efforts are underway, estimates on recovering electric and water services in Glitter Gulch, or reopening the park’s entrance remained uncertain as of late Tuesday. Visitors with plans to visit Denali can check the park’s status on the Denali NPS website.


New Wave Adventures is still operating as normal for rafting trips. Definitely a fun filled experience and a great way to see the surrounding area.