There are 39 species of mammals in Denali National Park. From tiny to towering, they're all spectacular. But five of them really stand out.
It's rare for visitors to see what's become known as "the Big Five" on a single trip to Denali, but it is possible. What can you do to up your chances?
Denali Backcountry Adventure driver Martin Brewer has a whole lot of passion for his job and for this remarkable place. He has been driving the spectacular Denali Park Road for nearly 25 years! Each day, he brings a fortunate group of travelers 92 miles deep into a massive wilderness that's unmatched in the world. Martin says he knows people are looking for their bucket-list experiences—things like spotting a grizzly bear in the wild, for example—and he takes pride in helping make that happen.
"You can show people something they've waited their whole lives to see," he says. "Sometimes people have tears in their eyes."
A lifelong learner, Martin spends much of the off season studying wildlife biology and connecting with Park scientists and researchers to keep up to date with his passions. When you ride his bus, it seems almost uncanny how he can spot wildlife. It could be a result of so many years on the road, but it could also be his simple and authentic alertness and connection to the natural world.
"I try to live a healthy lifestyle, and I think that really helps," he says.
They do happen once or twice a summer—those really rare days when you spot a grizzly, moose, Dall sheep, caribou and wolf, plus the summit of Denali. But they're not the norm, Martin says. Even seeing two from that list is a stellar outing—count yourself lucky!
In summer, the skies are generally clear over the Alaska Range only about 33 percent of the time—that makes your odds tricky. So while seeing the big peaks and the "Big Five" is a highlight, the park is about so much more.
"If you go on the road specifically looking for a grizzly, you probably won't find one," Martin says. "It's an incredible experience just to get out on this road, and it's the same as it's been for decades. I feel very fortunate to have this job."
Join Martin or one of his colleagues and see if you can spot the Big Five this summer.