2016 Special Emphasis Series at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge

Throughout the summer, we invite specialists to share their expertise daily in the field and through evening presentations.  You may want to time your visit at Camp Denali or North Face Lodge to coincide with one of our Special Emphasis Series sessions.  Our regular program of guided hiking occurs simultaneously.

Preview the 2017 Special Emphasis Series Schedule


Bird Migration and Conservation

Scott Weidensaul

Author, Field Researcher and Bird Enthusiast


June 6-9 at Camp Denali

June 10-12 at Camp Denali


Scott Weidensaul is the author of more than two dozen critically acclaimed books on natural history, including the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Living on the Wind, about migratory birds; Of A Feather: A Brief History of American Birding; and The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery and Endurance in Early America. His writing has appeared in a host of publications, and he is a contributing editor to Audubon magazine. His latest book is forthcoming Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean.

A native of the Pennsylvania Appalachians, where he still lives, Mr. Weidensaul’s passion is birds, especially bird migration. A longtime bird bander, he directs a major research project tracking the migration of saw-whet owls, and is part of a continental effort to learn why more and more western hummingbirds are wintering in the East. He is a cofounder of Project SNOWstorm, an ambitious effort to learn more about snowy owl migration. Mr. Weidensaul is a frequent visitor to Alaska, where his work has taken him into almost every corner of the state, including Denali, where he is collaborating on a study of the park's migrant birds.


Field trips will focus on Denali’s remarkable breeding birds, which will have just returned from wintering areas as far-flung as Asia, Africa and South America. Bird watchers of all skill levels should find these outings rewarding.

Mr. Weidensaul’s two evening presentations will explore the wonders and dynamics of bird migration, and a light-hearted look at his field research – a lifetime spent, as he says, "messing around with birds for fun and science."


Denali Dinosaurs: Revealing Alaska's Ancient Life and Landscapes

Dr. Patrick Druckenmiller

Earth Science Curator, University of Alaska Museum


June 13-16 at Camp Denali

June 17-19 at North Face Lodge


Dr. Patrick Druckenmiller is Associate Professor of Geology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  His research focuses on Mesozoic marine reptiles and dinosaurs, particularly those from high latitudes. Dr. Druckenmiller is currently involved in several field-based research projects in the far north; he collects and studies marine reptiles from Svalbard, Norway, and he leads expeditions to numerous dinosaur sites across Alaska, including Denali National Park and Preserve. In his role as museum curator, he oversees the largest collection of Alaskan fossils, ranging from Ice Age mammals to polar dinosaurs.


Dr. Druckenmiller’s first presentation will introduce the unexpectedly rich and varied record of Alaskan dinosaurs and other animals from the Mesozoic Era, or Age of Dinosaurs. From this huge geographic region - extending from Southeast Alaska to the North Slope - he will put Alaskan dinosaurs into a broader context by providing an overview of the questions concerning the fossils found in the state, recent discoveries that help answer those questions, how we study these remains, and what its like doing fieldwork in remote corners of Alaska.

In his second presentation, Druckenmiller will focus more specifically on dinosaurs and ancient landscapes in Denali National Park and Preserve. He will discuss some of the park’s amazing geological history, long before Denali itself was born. He will also describe how fossilized tracks from the park can provide valuable information about the lives of dinosaurs, the surprising diversity of dinosaurs currently known from the area, and how we use fossil plants to interpret ancient climates of that era. Collectively, he hopes to introduce you to an Alaska you’ve never before seen.


Wildflower Week

David and Barbara Murray



June 20-23 at Camp Denali

June 24-26 at North Face Lodge


Dr. David Murray is Professor of Botany and Curator Emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He specializes in flowering plants.  Dr. Barbara Murray is a research professor at the University of Alaska Museum of the North and specializes in mosses and lichens.  Both served as editors for The Flora of North America, a multi-author effort to produce a full treatment in 30 volumes of the vascular plants and bryophytes of North America. 

David is especially interested in the origin and evolution of arctic and alpine floras, addressing questions such as where did these plants come from, when did they arrive, and what were the means and routes.  His focus is on northeastern Asia and northwestern North America centered on the Bering Strait, a region known as Beringia.  Barbara specializes in taxonomy and distribution of northern Alaskan mosses and lichens. Their activities have taken them to cold areas in both hemispheres.


Hikes with the Murrays will emphasize identification of flowering plants and common mosses and lichens.

David will make evening presentations. In the first he will show some of the plants seen on his various trips and comment on their taxonomy, distribution, and natural history. The second will show arctic and alpine landscapes and demonstrate the role cold climate geomorphology plays in the creation of plant habitats.  Mix water, freeze-thaw cycles, and gravity and you have the major elements to create distinct landforms, ones common to arctic and alpine areas and thus to Denali.


Wild Music

Stephen Lias



July 4-7 at Camp Denali

July 8-10 at North Face Lodge


An active international composer, Stephen’s passion for wilderness and outdoor pursuits has led to a growing series of compositions about the national parks of the U.S.  He has served as Artist-in-Residence at Glacier, Rocky Mountain, Glacier Bay, Gates of the Arctic, and Denali National Parks, and has written over a dozen park-related pieces that have been premiered in such places as Colorado, Texas, Australia, and Taiwan. His Alaska-inspired compositions have been performed by the Boulder Philharmonic, the East Texas Symphony, and the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin. He is the founder and leader of Denali’s annual "Composing in the Wilderness" field seminar, which is offered jointly with Alaska Geographic and the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.  


Stephen’s multimedia-rich presentations will take you into the composer’s internal process: explaining how wildlife, scenery, culture, and personal experiences can serve as inspiration for musical compositions.  Examples will include excerpts from his own works, as well as those of the great masters.  Although no musical knowledge is required, this week will be especially engaging for anyone who has a musical background or loves classical music.


Alaska, and Why the Arctic Matters

Fran Ulmer

Chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and Former Lieutenant Governor of Alaska


July 18-21 at Camp Denali

July 22-24 at North Face Lodge


Fran Ulmer is chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, where she has served since being appointed by President Obama in March 2011. Secretary John Kerry appointed her Advisor for Arctic Science and Policy in June 2014, to assist the US Chairmanship of the Arctic Council.  In June 2010, President Obama appointed her to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. From 2007 to 2011, Ms. Ulmer was Chancellor of Alaska’s largest public university, the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). She is a member of the Global Board of the Nature Conservancy and on the Board of the National Parks Conservation Association.

Ms. Ulmer served as an elected official for 18 years: as the mayor of Juneau, as a state representative and as Lieutenant Governor of Alaska. Ms. Ulmer served as Director of Policy Development for the State of Alaska, under Governor Jay Hammond. Ms. Ulmer earned a J.D. cum laude from the University of Wisconsin Law School, and has been a Fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska.


Ms. Ulmer will present two evening programs, “Why the Arctic Matters” and “Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Alaska, but Were Afraid to Ask.”


Gold, Cold, and Sourdoughs: In the Footsteps of Denali’s Pioneers

Tom Walker

Writer, Photographer and Historian


July 25-28 at Camp Denali

July 29-31 at North Face Lodge


Tom Walker has resided in Alaska for 50 years. He has been a conservation officer, wilderness guide, wildlife technician, log home builder, documentary film advisor, adjunct professor of journalism, and a freelance writer and photographer specializing in natural history and wildlife. His numerous publication credits include Alaska Magazine, Field and Stream, National Geographic, Newsweek, and Audubon. He has authored over a dozen books, including three books of Denali National Park history. His book Caribou: Wanderer of the Tundra, won the 2000 Benjamin Franklin Book Award in the category of Nature and Environment. In 2006, Walker won the Alaska Conservation Foundation's Daniel Houseberg "Lifetime Achievement Award" for still photography. In 2013, the Alaska Historical Society awarded Walker the title "Historian of the Year" for his book The Seventymile Kid: The Lost Legacy of Harry Karstens and the First Ascent of Mount McKinley, the biography of Harry Karstens, first superintendent of Denali (then McKinley) National Park.


Walker’s first evening program, “Kantishna: The Golden Genesis of Mount McKinley National Park”, will be tales of miners, hunters, explorers, climbers, and adventurers of all stripes, the people that pioneered the wilderness of Denali. How a small, otherwise insignificant gold discovery indirectly led to the establishment of Alaska’s first national park.  Walker’s second presentation will be “The True Story of the First Ascent of Mt. McKinley”.  Building on the pioneer attempts to summit North America’s tallest mountain, also reputedly the “coldest mountain on earth,” in 1913 Harry Karstens led the first undisputed ascent. Prior climbs were marked by deception, conflict, and startling achievement.  Both evening programs will be illustrated with historic photographs.


Ground Truth Trekking

Erin McKittrick and Bretwood Higman

Scientists and Conservationists


August 1-4 at Camp Denali


Erin McKittrick and Bretwood Higman combine adventure, science, and conservation in their work as directors of the small nonprofit Ground Truth Trekking.  They are veterans of over 10,000 miles of wilderness expeditions, primarily in Alaska.  For fifteen years, this married couple has walked and rafted all over the state, from the panhandle to the arctic, including a year-long, human-powered journey along the Pacific Coast.  Erin has a M.S. in molecular biology, while Hig has a Ph.D. in geology.  They combine their scientific training with on-the-ground stories, photos, and experiences, to inform the public about natural resource issues across Alaska.  Erin is also the author of A Long Trek Home: 4,000 Miles by Boot, Raft, and Ski

Hig and Erin have devoted their time to exploring, researching, and educating the public about what they see as some of the biggest environmental issues in Alaska, including the potential for large scale coal development, large metal mines, and the impacts of climate change.  They live and work in a yurt in the 300-person village of Seldovia, Alaska, on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, with their two young children ages 4 and 6.  With little ones in tow, they have completed a 300-mile, month-long expedition along Alaska's Chukchi Sea; a two-month journey on the Malaspina Glacier; a three and a half month, 800-mile walking and packrafting trip around Cook Inlet; and a three-month ski along the coast of the Seward Peninsula in Northwest Alaska.


Drawing from the stories and experiences of their wilderness journeys, Erin and Hig will put on two slideshow presentations.  Details to come after they complete their Seward Peninsula expedition in June and adventure out the Aleutian Islands in August 2015!


Centennial Celebration of the National Park System

Ken Burns



August 6 at Camp Denali


Ken Burns has been making documentary films for more than 35 years.  Since the Academy Award nominated Brooklyn Bridge in 1981, Ken has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made, including The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, filmed in part while staying at Camp Denali.

Ken’s films have been honored with dozens of major awards, including thirteen Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards and two Oscar nominations; and in September of 2008, at the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences honored Ken with a Lifetime Achievement Award.


Ken’s evening presentation will be in celebration of the 2016 Centennial of the National Park System.


Owls: Natural History and Conservation

Denver Holt

Wildlife Biologist


August 8-11 at Camp Denali

August 12-14 at North Face Lodge


Denver Holt is founder of the Owl Research Institute and the Ninepipes Wildlife Research Center in Montana. As a dedicated, year-round field researcher, Holt believes that long-term field studies are the primary means to understanding trends in natural history. Since 1978, Holt’s focus has been owls and their ecology. He has published more than 90 papers and technical documents, and in collaboration with elementary school teachers, has co-authored two children’s science books on owls. He was a chapter author on owls for the book, Arctic Wings, highlighting the birds of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska.  He spends summers in Barrow, Alaska where his study of snowy owls is in its 24th year—the second longest study worldwide.

In 2000, Holt was named Montana's “Wildlife Biologist of the Year“ by the Wildlife Society of North America. His research has been featured in numerous publications and media including National Geographic, the New York Times, PBS and BBC.  When not researching owls, Holt is involved in wildlife watching tourism as a natural history tour guide.


Holt’s evening programs will focus on adaptations in owls and the breeding ecology of snowy owls.  Though it is possible to see owls during the day in Denali, hikes will cover the identification and ecology of birds and mammals in general, and how they’re all connected in this subarctic landscape.


Painting in the North

Kesler Woodward

Artist, Professor of Art Emeritus, University of Alaska, Fairbanks


August 19-21 at North Face Lodge

August 22-25 at Camp Denali


One of Alaska’s best-known artists, Kesler Woodward is equally well known for his work as an art historian and curator.  Mr. Woodward served as Curator of Visual Arts at the Alaska State Museum and as Artistic Director of the Visual Arts Center of Alaska before moving to Fairbanks in 1981.  He taught for two decades at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks before retiring in 2000 to paint full time.

Mr. Woodward’s paintings, depicting scenes from Hudson Bay in Arctic Canada to the Bering Strait region of Russian Siberia, are included in all major public art collections in Alaska and in museum, corporate, and private collections.  In 2002, he served as Denali National Park’s first Artist-in-Residence.  He has published six books on Alaskan art, including the first comprehensive survey of the fine arts in Alaska, Painting in the North. In 2004, Woodward received the Alaska Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, and in 2012 received the Rasmuson Foundation Distinguished Alaskan Artist Fellowship.


Evening programs will explore the key role artists played in the rise of the conservation movement in America and the establishment of virtually all of America’s first national parks; artists’ depictions of Alaska and the circumpolar North; and contemporary artists’ images of Denali and environs. He will be available to work with any guests interested in working on their own paintings and drawings of the Denali region.


Autumn Nature Photography Workshop*

Mark Kelley



August 26-28 at Camp Denali

August 29-September 1 at Camp Denali


Award-winning photographer Mark Kelley has built his career around the place he calls home-- Alaska. Mark graduated from the University of Alaska with a double degree in Photojournalism and Northern Studies and worked for the Juneau Empire as a photojournalist for thirteen years before dedicating himself full-time to nature and wildlife photography in 1993. His images illustrate twelve Alaska photo books. Three of his photo books have been awarded a Benjamin Franklin Award. Mark Kelley is a North American Nature Photography Association Showcase winner and a recipient of the Daniel Housberg Wilderness Image Award for Excellence in Still Photography from the Alaska Conservation Foundation. Mark placed first in the 2013 Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice Photography Awards—Outdoor Adventure Category and his winning image is now part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. Mark lives in Juneau, Alaska. 


Mark’s first evening program celebrates the wild wonders of Alaska, from the Arctic to Southeast Alaska, and of course Denali. The second program will discuss simple tips and techniques for improving your travel and wildlife images. Our daily field trips will explore the wonders of Denali-- from the grand landscape, to wildlife encounters and the intimate details of the fall tundra environs. We will focus on exploring the artistic elements of composition, finding the decisive moment in each image, and discovering your own creative vision.

*Please note that an additional program fee of $225 for the three-night stay, and $300 for the four-night stay is charged to each Autumn Nature Photography Workshop participant. The workshop is limited to 10 participants.


Curtains of Light: The Aurora Borealis

Neal Brown

Former Director of Alaska Space Grant Program and Poker Flat Research Range


September 2-4 at Camp Denali

September 5-8 at Camp Denali


Ronn Murray

Photographer, Filmmaker, Aurora Guide


September 2-4 at Camp Denali


Dr. Neal Brown worked for NASA in the 1960s, where his interest in auroral phenomena was first sparked. At the time, the aurora was linked to understanding the earth’s atmospheric makeup, a key factor in spacecraft travel.  Brown went on to direct the University of Alaska’s Poker Flat Research Range in Fairbanks, one of the nation’s busiest space research facilities and the world’s only university-owned rocket range. In 2008, he retired from his faculty position in the Physics Department and Geophysical Institute at the University.  Brown is a consummate teacher and has been featured on PBS, the Discovery Channel, and Good Morning America.  2016 marks his 30th year as a Special Emphasis Series speaker at Camp Denali.

Ronn moved to Alaska in 2007.  In 2008, he moved to Fairbanks where he fell in love with the magic of the Northern Lights and has built his life and business around them. His goal is to share the magic and the beauty of Alaska with as many others as possible to inspire more people to fall in love with this amazing world.  Ronn has been featured in various media from the Huffington Post to CBS Sunday Morning.


Brown’s evening lectures will explore the aurora, its myths and science, sun dogs, noctilucent clouds, and other atmospheric phenomena. Hands-on instructional aids and displays will illustrate many of the discussed scientific concepts.  Murray’s programs will provide spectacular visuals with photos and video of the aurora borealis.

By early September, clear nights are finally dark enough to view the aurora. Join Neal and Ronn in their enthusiasm for the north country’s mystical night skies!


(907) 683-2290

for availability and reservation information

Reservation Information

Update on the Park Road: We are business as usual! The mud slide in the Park has impacted the road, but the Park Service is doing a great job repairing the damange and letting our buses through.