Can You Spot Denali National Park's Big 5 Animals?

Grizzly bears are a thrilling sight for an Alaskan cruise tour through Denali National Park.
Grizzly bears are a thrilling sight for an Alaskan cruise tour through Denali National Park.

Stretching 91 miles into the vast wilderness of middle Alaska, Denali National Park's rugged road hosts rolling beige tour buses. When a bus pulls to a stop, passengers know what that means: a wildlife sighting. They dash toward the windows as the tour guide points out two sandy grizzly bears traversing the open tundra.

This is the thrill of exploring Denali National Park on an Alaska land and sea vacation.

Among the many animals that roam Denali National Park, the "big five" are a sightseer's prize: moose, bears, Dall sheep, caribou, and wolves. Prepare to scan the tundra and brush with a keen eye — and perhaps a pair of binoculars, too.

Moose

Moose can stand six and a half feet at the shoulder, but that doesn't mean they're easy to spot. The dark earth tones of moose hide blend wonderfully with their surroundings of high brush. A good way to find moose is to look for things they like to eat: bushes and tree needles or leaves. A lucky few will see a female cow with twin calves. Moose enjoy swimming, too, so search for antlers poking out of the park's shimmering lakes.

Bears

Black bears live in Denali National Park, but they inhabit the park's forested areas. Focus instead on catching sight of a grizzly bear wandering the open tundra. Their color can range from sandy or beige to dark brown or black. Bears usually roam alone, but the fortunate will spot a mother bear with her cubs, who stay by her side for up to three and a half years.

Dall Sheep

While it's best to look across the tundra to locate moose and bears, to find a Dall sheep, look up. They travel in bands among high-altitude ridges and mountain flora, their favorite snack. Rams are distinguished by their stately curled horns. Because of Dall sheep's tendency to be in plain sight, uncamouflaged, it's likely visitors will see a band of sheep or two on a Denali tour, maybe even as you travel the route of the historic Alaska Railroad with our exclusive Direct-to-the-Wilderness rail service.

Caribou

Watch the tundra for a herd of caribou on the roam. Caribou generally have brown fur with a white tail and white tuft under the neck, but their most majestic distinguishing characteristic is their antlers. While both male bulls and female cows grow antlers, bulls' antlers can grow to a length of 53 inches.

Gray Wolves

Probably the rarest animal sighting among the big five is Alaska's gray wolf. Wolf pack numbers vary in Denali National Park, but the best bet for a wolf sighting is near a wolf den. Tour guides will be aware of any wildlife closure set in place to protect a wolf den, so ask your guide for the location of previous wolf sightings. Even if you don't actually see any wolves, you can still listen for a wolf's haunting howl, heard most often in the early morning or evening.

Ready to see some wildlife for yourself? Check out Denali land and sea vacations, with different options for their length of time and how far they extend into the park. Space is limited and assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, so it's best to book early. Reserve your Denali tour today — your wildnerness adventure awaits.