Discover the majestic when you visit North America’s tallest mountain 🏔, Denali, affectionally named “the Great One.” Encompassing 2 million acres of untamed wilderness, this iconic park features abundant wildlife, stunning landscapes and exhilarating activities. There are so many incredible things to do in Denali National Park.
Although many people drive up just to see the alluring Denali mountain, this park has so much more to offer. Immerse yourself in a weekend exploring the rugged terrain.
I have been to 56 national parks and Denali is one of the most distinct. Similar to most visitors, we never saw Denali clearly from the ground, but we still had an epic time 🤗. It was exhilarating!
For those planning on traveling to Denali, read my complete guide to Denali below. Find out how to get to Denali, what to pack, where to stay 🏨, and what to do. Get ready for the Alaskan trip of a lifetime!
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Table of Contents
How to See Denali National Park
Things to Know Before You Go
💵 Denali costs $15 for a private vehicle that covers 7 days. However, if you have the America the Beautiful Pass or other Interagency passes that will work too.
☀️ Weather changes quickly in Denali. It is very common for days to be rainy and covered in clouds. Plus, temperatures are usually in the 50s or 60s in summer, so make sure to wear warm clothings.
⛺️You will need to get reservations to camp at the campgrounds in Denali. These campgrounds can fill up during the summer on weekends, so try to book these in advance.
🐻 Denali is the wilderness of Alaska, which means it is bear country. So, make sure to stay bear aware and make loud noises when hiking in the backcountry. Use the rule of thumb when viewing any wildlife, so that you stay the correct distance away.
🦮 Pets are not allowed in the majority of the park. They are allowed on roads and in parking lots, but they must be leashed.
⚠️ Denali Park Road is closed after mile 43 from the Pretty Rocks Landslide. It will likely be a few years until it is open again.
🍃 Remember to follow the Leave No Trace Principles. As always, you want to leave nature looking better than you found it.
How to Visit Denali
Denali encompasses 2 million acres of wilderness, which means there are many areas that humans have never even touched 🌳. There is only one main road through the park called Denali Park Road.
The best way to actually see Denali is to take one of the buses (which you can read in the best things to do In Denali section). The road is only open to mile 15 🚧 for personal vehicles, so the buses can take you deeper into the park.
Another great way to see Denali is to take a flight over the mountain. Denali weather fickle and you can rarely see it from the ground 😔. So, you can take flights and go above it instead. There are further details about flights in the “Fly Over Denali” section.
Best Spots to See Denali or The Great One
Denali is the tallest mountain in North America at 20,000 feet. It’s so high that it creates its own weather, which means often the peak is shrouded in clouds ☁️. In fact people say only 30 percent of visitors see the mountain.
But, if you get lucky with good weather ☀️ then you have a great chance to see it. Surprisingly, it’s not visible from everywhere in the park park, despite it being so prominent. Instead stop at the spots below.
Best Spots to see the Great One 🏔
- From the town of Talkeetna
- At Denali Viewpoint South at Mile 135 on the Parks Highway
- Denali Viewpoint North at Mile 163 on the Parks Highway
- Mile 9 on the Park Road
- Reflection Pond at Wonder Lake at Mile 85 on the Park Road (currently closed)
- Stony Hill Overlook at Mile 62 on the Park Road (currently closed)
How to Get to Denali
Luckily, there are a few great options to get to Denali. Each of them will be an incredibly scenic experience. You can drive, fly, or take the train.
Drive to Denali 🚗
If you’re driving to Denali, then you will take the Parks Highway or AK-3 ➡️.
Along the way, you can stop at cute small towns like Talkeetna, Willow, or Cantwell. Plus, you’ll be greeted with incredible views of mountains and even Denali if you get lucky! I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Milepost if you plan to drive.
This road continues North ⬆️ from Anchorage where you’ll drive for 202 miles until getting to Denali. Make sure to stop at Mile 135 for a great view of Denali at Denali View South. If you’re coming from Fairbanks, then you’ll take the Parks Highway for 118 miles South.
Alaska Railroad 🚞
If you’d prefer to sit back, relax and take in the views then you can take the scenic Alaska Railroad. This railroad runs South to the Kenai Peninsula and North to Fairbanks.
Many people say that taking the Alaska Railroad is one of the most unique things you can do. They love stopping along the way at the cute towns and viewing wildlife and scenery as the train moves. However, the train is rather pricey, with tickets from Anchorage to Denali costing $650 or more 💸.
Flying to Denali ✈️
Visitors that are short on time, can take flights to Denali for a flightseeing trip 🚁. There are great tour operators that leave from Talkeetna, Anchorage, or Denali. These trips are usually a few hours, but run around $500 or more per person.
You can read about the best tour operators in the “Fly Over Denali” section ⬇️.
Best Time to Visit Denali
The best time to visit Denali is in the summer 😎.
From the months of May-August the weather is milder, most facilities are open, and wildlife sightings are common 🦌. It’s a great time to get into the backcountry and see what Denali is about.
During the rest of the year, it can be extremely cold 🥶 with harsh weather conditions. You should be prepared for the tough Alaska conditions and do your research before you visit this awe-inspiring destination outside of summer.
What to Pack for Denali
Even in the summer, Denali is fairly cold and rainy 🌧. So, make sure to pack layers and gear that is waterproof for your trip.
Also, if you plan on hiking in the backcountry at all, then you will need to have a map on you. That way you don’t get lost as you wander into thick Denali wilderness.
Denali Packing Guide 🎒
- Comfortable Hiking Boots
- Microspikes (if there is snow on the ground)
- Day Pack
- Hiking poles
- Water Reservoir
- Plenty of Water
- Snacks and Food (there are no facilities past the Bus Depot)
- First Aid Kit
- Bug Spray
- Bear Spray
- Rain jacket
- Winter Hat
- Light winter jacket
- Satellite phone
- Map of Denali
Where to Stay in Denali
There are a number of campgrounds in Denali National Park that you can book ahead of time. If you want to stay in a hotel, then you will have to stay outside of the park. There are options in Healy, Mckinley Park, or Cantwell (35 min drive).
Lodging and campgrounds book up quickly during the peak months so make sure to plan ahead of time!
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Things to Do in Denali National Park
It can feel overwhelming to visit Denali and see this austere mountain in person. But, there are so many great things to do in Denali even when the mountain is not out and about. Here’s a list of all the best adventures in the area.
1) Go Hiking or Bushwacking
One of the most unique things about Denali is that most of the park is completely untouched and undeveloped. There are 2 million acres of designated wilderness 😮 in the park, which means endless opportunities to explore.
Unlike most of the other parks, you are encouraged to get off the trail and set off into the backcountry. My friends and I took the opportunity to get off of the maintained trails 🥾 and we found a pocket of the park that we had to ourself. It was rugged and picturesque.
Denali has a lot of wildlife, so you have to make sure that you have bear spray and stay aware!
You can take the buses 🚌 into the park and then get off wherever you want. If you’d prefer to do a maintained trail the best options are below. We did both the Savage River and Horseshoe Lakes trail and really enjoyed them!
Established Hikes in Denali:
- Horseshoe Lake Trail – 2 miles, 445 feet, moderate
- Triple Lakes Trail – 9 miles, 1900 feet, hard
- Savage River Loop – 2 miles, 360 feet, moderate
- Savage Alpine – 4 miles, 1400 feet, hard
- McKinley Station – 3.2 miles, 400 feet, easy
- Mount Healy Overlook – 5 miles, 1700 feet, hard
2) Ride on the Bus
Denali Park Road is only open to mile 43, with personal vehicles allowed until mile 15 🛑. This means if you want to get further into the park, you’ll have to take the bus.
Whichever bus you choose, you guaranteed to have a scenic ride. Along the way, you may see caribou, moose, or bears. Most buses will try to stop for a second to see the wildlife, but if you do a wilderness tour, then they’ll stop and narrate the scene.
🚎 Denali Bus Options:
Narrated Bus Tours
Reserve Denali runs various bus tours throughout the park that will teach you about the park and stop to see animals. These bus tours have wonderful tour guides and cameras to zoom in on the wildlife. But, they are also more pricey and tours start at $115.
Transit buses are used to take visitors throughout Denali. Visitors can start at the bus depot, get off whenever they want, and flag down other buses as they pass. These buses still stop for wildlife, but are not narrated. They cost $33.25 per person. If I were going again, I would take this bus over the tour bus.
Camper buses are similar to the other forms of transit, but they are meant for individuals that are camping in the backcountry or at campgrounds ⛺️. There is more storage space in the bus, but you must have a campground reservation or backcountry permit to ride these. The camper bus is also $33.25 for adults.
3) Fly over Denali
One of the best ways to see Denali is from the air. While the mountain may be covered in clouds from the ground, helicopters and planes can get above the clouds and provide fantastic views 👀.
Many visitors say that this is one of their favorite things they have done in Alaska. We didn’t get a chance to do a specific Denali flight due to weather cancellations, but we did get to see the mountain from another plane ride.
Best Denali Flights:
- Regal Air – These flights leave from Anchorage. I highly recommend this company, we were supposed to fly with them and they were incredible communicators. We didn’t have time to reschedule our flight and they gave us a free refund.
- Denali Air – Denali Air is the original flightseeing company of Denali. It’s located just South of the park and is a fantastic operation.
- K2 Aviation – K2 Flights will take you from Talkeetna over Denali. I have had numerous friends do their tours and they all raved about the experience!
4) Visit the Adorable Town of Talkeetna
Talkeetna is known as the gateway to Denali and is one of the cutest towns in Alaska! In fact, whenever we asked people what we couldn’t miss, they undeniably said visiting Talkeetna.
As soon as you arrive, you’ll be met by adorable quaint shops feels like the small town Alaska you’ve always imagined. Wander through town, see Denali from the river shore, or take a helicopter from Talkeetna over to the mountain.
Talkeetna is actually 150 miles from Denali and 47 miles from Denali State Park, but it’s definitely worth a detour! You’ll fall in love with it 💕.
5) Try Rafting
Another popular activity in the Denali Area is to go whitewater rafting 🛶. The Nenana River winds its way right near Denali National Park.
This is a great way to try something new or feel like you’re immersed in the Alaskan wilderness. There are multiple outfitters with tours that range from a couple hours to full day excursions, Also, don’t worry there are trips for all rafting levels!
6) Take a Dog Sledding Tour
Dog Sledding or Dog mushing is the state sport of Alaska. So, what better place to try it out than by Denali National Park?
Take a tour near the park and go mushing during the winter or summer. These tours are incredibly fun as you learn the craft of dog sledding and learn about these sled dogs!
Denali is also the only national park to have its own dog kennels! 🐾 So, you can go meet the dogs that are part of the mushing teams. Plus, you may see them go on their daily walks on the side of the Denali Park Road.
Final Tips for Visiting Denali
Denali is one of those parks that will leave you in complete awe. But, it’s important to remember that you’re visiting an area that is natural and rugged 🌿. You’ll need to prepare by doing research, bringing the necessities, and setting your expectations. I hope you have a fantastic trip to Denali.
Let me know if you enjoyed this guide in the comments.
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