Without a doubt Denali National Park is one of the most difficult national parks in the country to photograph wildlife and the iconic landscapes.
First, the controlled access bus system does not lend itself to serious wildlife and nature photography. The best photographs are almost always made in the "sweet light" of dawn and dusk. It is very difficult to be in position and photographing if you depend on a bus, with scheduled and unscheduled stops, for access. Next, and significantly, many drivers have an inherent anti-photographer bias that thwarts many opportunities. Some drivers make up there own rules as they go, sometimes hampering visitors, especially photographers, enjoyment of the park. In another blog entry I cite the actual rules for drivers. What's more, the park service encourages drivers to be "eyes and ears" and report violations. Often, because some drivers don't really know or understand the photography distance rules, they report people who are doing anything wrong. A ranger this past summer told me he doesn't believe a third of these reports and said that most drivers would be better off minding their own business, instead of playing ranger, a direct quote. The aggregate of these circumstances makes for some stressful times in a place that should otherwise be peaceful and inspiring. If I had space I could tell the story of a bus driver cursing at one of the world's foremost conservationists for being too close to a caribou, but there isn't space. Boorish behavior is often too common in this marvelous park, a great diservice to park.
Yes, Denali has a rule concerning the close approach of animals to within 75' of most animals. This is a reasonable and workable rule. But still the question remains, how to get to subjects, if limited to bus acces? The truth of the matter is this: Denali is not for everyone. If the majority of your photogrpahy is done from a car window, forget it. Go some place else. If you are in reasonable shape and willing to hike and camp in a tent, then you can get good images, all the while complying with regulations. Here's two possibilites: camp at Teklanika Campground and get a bus pass for the whole time your are in the park. Over the course of riding the bus for a day or two you will get some OK opportunities to see bears, maybe a wolf or fox, but you will learn where to go and hang out for the photos that you desire. Take a bike and bike the park road and look for nice light and landscapes. The very best opportunity for the iconic Mt. McKinley photos involves camping at Wonder Lake. The mountain often comes out late at night, even on cloudy days and there is nothing like being there. Again, a bike with panniers is excellent for getting to Reflection Pond or the north end of Wonder Lake. There are also moose and caribou in this area and opportunities present thmeselves when least expected. If tent camping and hard work is not your forte, Denali is not a place for your style of photography.