If one park is symbolic of Alaska, that’s Denali, thank to Mount Denali, the highest mountain in Alaska. But the park is more than its famous peak, so check our Top Things To Do in Denali National Park for a full experience of that iconic area.
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We loved our time in Denali, but the trip took some active and deep research for us to make the best of our time there. Here we share our experience and tips, and we hope you will have the same amazing Denali trip we had.
Denali Travel Guide Table of Content
- How to Plan Your Denali Trip: How many days, guided tours, independent travel by car or RV
- Top Things to Do in Denali
- Denali Hiking and Wilderness Backpacking
- Denali Wildlife
- Climbing Denali
- Denali Bus System
- Denali Lodging: Inside and outside the park
- Wheather in Denali
- Denali Facts and Tips
How to Plan a Trip To Denali National Park
Visiting Denali should be on anyone’s travel list when in Alaska. The Denali National Park and Preserve is indeed a must-see and deserves the time it takes to reach it.
How Many Days in Denali
As to how many days Denali are required for the best experience, it’s difficult as everyone has different expectations. Now, we personally think that a Denali national park itinerary should be at least 2 days, as it already takes one full day for bus exploration. Given the long ride from Anchorage, 3 to 4 days would be ideal, as it gives you time to indulge in other activities.
Guided Denali National Park Tours
If you don’t want to worry about planning your own Denali trip, consider joining one of the several guided Denali tours. Most of them come from Anchorage, some from Fairbanks. You gain peace of mind by limiting the preparation efforts, saving on research times, and gaining on local knowledge, though you might lose the freedom to travel at your own pace or stop at more viewpoints along the road. Regardless of how you travel to Denali, some tours will be unique and more activity-based, which you can join whether you drive your own car or not.
Car or RV Rental
The best way to explore Alaska is by renting a car, which will give you flexibility and independence to reach the park. Even though you won’t be able to use your car to actually visit Denali, the drive up and back with your personal vehicle will be worth it. Important elements to consider when renting your car are:
- Unlimited mileage
- Insurance: Most car rental insurances won’t cover driving on dirt roads. Check your insurance or plan your itinerary accordingly to avoid them, or lastly, be prepared for potential out-of-pocket costs on blown tires and cracked windshields.
Since staying in the park is mostly on campgrounds, renting an RV can be a good alternative here as well, as it would allow you to also enjoy the comfort of the RV. An RV will also let you save on accommodation costs since campgrounds are usually more budget-friendly than lodges. Click here to find the Best RV Rental Specials.
Anchorage to Denali National Park
If you are driving independently, the 250-mile (400-km) drive from Anchorage to Denali takes about 4 hours. However, we recommend you plan on adding a few more hours for breaks and visits.
If you wonder what to see along the scenic road, check these different points of interests:
- The 200-foot (60 m) Thunderbird Falls near Old Glenn Highway north of Anchorage
- One of the oldest Athabaskan Indian settlement in Eklutna Village
- Talkeetna and Susitna River Bridge
- Denali Viewpoints
- Chulitna River
Top Things to Do in Denali National Park
As mentioned, you have the option to join one of the several Denali National Park bus tours, which range from a simple shuttle to fully-guided Denali excursions. In the high season, buses and tours might fill quickly, so if you are short on time, we recommend you plan a trip to Denali in detail to reserve ahead of time the type of activities in which you are interested. Here are some of the top Denali National Park activities:
- Hiking and multi-day trekking options throughout the park. Endless trails through the backcountry, either as day hikes or multi-day backpacking and trekking adventures. See below for more details on Denali hiking.
- Wildlife watching – be “bear” ready!
- Visit the sled dog kennels located about 3 miles (4.5 km) inside the park (summer: 9 am—4:30 pm), where you can see the working sled dogs Denali uses.
- Join one of the Denali national park tours or ranger-guided activities that will take you to explore the backcountry safely.
- Want to chill in the wilderness? Click here to check this horse-drawn carriage ride with backcountry dining.
- Need to get your adrenaline level up? Click here to reserve a Ziplining adventure or go whitewater rafting, two Denali National Park tours that are sure to get your adventurous spirit excited.
Most of the top things to do in Denali National Park can be done independently. However, some activities are better done through an outfitter as they might have specific equipment and local knowledge. Or you don’t want to worry or have the time to organize, and in this case, going on a guided tour might be the best way for you to approach what to do in Denali national park.
Denali National Park Hiking
Hiking is by far the must-do of all available Denali National Park things to do. The choice of Denali trails is almost infinite, but time and physical preparation will help you define your top trails. From easy hikes around the Savage River to challenging Denali National Park backpacking in the more remote areas of the park, Denali has it all.
Denali Day Hikes
You can go on some of these hikes by yourself or join one of the ranger-led hikes with specific focuses depending on the park location and season.
Denali National Park Backpacking
For ideas on multiday trekking opportunities with the famous Alaskan national park, check one of the longer Denali trails. Getting into the wilderness should be best reserved for experienced trekkers who know how to be self-sufficient and have the proper gear for challenging conditions.
Regardless of the hikes, book your Denali National Park shuttle to ensure availability in the high season.
Denali National Park Animals
Regardless of where you are in the park, you will get a chance to see one of its numerous fantastic wildlife. So be prepared to observe caribou, moose, and Dall sheep along the road. Bears are also spotted regularly from the safety of the buses, both grizzly and black bears. You might see wolves, but they are less frequent to find.
Wild animals are, well, wild. Check the Denali wildlife safety guidelines before heading into the park. Keep your distance, do not feed the animals.
How tall is Denali? Well, tall! Indeed, Mt Denali is the tallest mountain in Alaska and even the highest peak in North America. Indeed, Denali elevation sits at 20,310 feet (6,190 m).
There are different Denali climbing routes to consider. How to climb Denali and how long to climb Denali are the most common questions people ask, but no single answer exists. It depends on your experience, fitness, season, and several other criteria equally important. Given the challenges associated with climbing any mountain, make sure to prepare your expedition with experienced guides and outfitters.
If you wonder how long does it take to climb Denali, the average climber will allocate two weeks on the mountain to reach the famous Denali summit. However, adding a few days to get to and from the mountain, you might want to plan for three weeks, or even four weeks, due to the notoriously bad Denali National Park weather.
If climbing is not your thing, you might want to check one of the different flightseeing tours that companies outside the park offers. A few of these trips will take you so close to the glaciers that you will actually land on them!
- Denali National Park Flightseeing Tour from Talkeetna
- Price: $237.60
- Denali Heli-Hiking Tour
- Price: $570.00
- Denali Experience Flightseeing Tour
- Price: $238.70
- Denali Peak Flight
- Price: $399.00
Denali National Park Shuttle
Choose between several types of buses, depending on your interests: guided bus tours or regular shuttle that drop you off at campgrounds and trailheads.
The Denali National Park buses are available from mid-May to mid-September. You don't need to book ahead, but we suggest you do so in the high season, and if you have a limited time to visit the park. Since no cars are allowed in the park, these buses are the only way to visit.
One option to visit Denali is to take the bus up to Wonder Lake Campground or Kantishna, where the park road ends. These bus rides take the whole day, with a 13-hour round trip to and from Kantishna and an 11-hour to and from Wonder Lake). While they don't allow for much hiking time, they will enable you to travel deep into the park.
Try to stop at the Eielson Visitor Center for a chance to see Mt. Denali if the weather provides for clear visibility. If not, check when driving on the road to Savage River.
Within the Park
- Campgrounds: Book your campsite in one of the six Denali National Park campgrounds. If you are planning on exploring the Denali wilderness, consider staying at the Savage River campground for your first night. Most of the campsites are further into the park, and you will need to work around the bus schedule to reach them.
- Lodges: Treat yourself at one of the Denali lodged, all privately-owned and located on private lands within the park.
Outside the Park
Most people stay in hotels near Denali National Park, either around Healy, 11 miles north of the park entrance, or Cantwell, 30 miles south of the park entrance. There you can find motels, B&Bs, and other lodgings for all budgets.
In the peak summer months, the accommodation tends to fill quickly. Make sure to book your Denali accommodation early. Check the latest availability and deals here:
Denali National Park Weather
The high season to visit Denali National Park runs from mid-May to mid-September, when temperatures vary from 60°F to 80°F (15°C to 25°C). However, Alaska weather is notorious for changing rapidly, sometimes experiencing the four seasons in one day.
We woke up one morning with frost on our tents during the few days we spent in the park. Another day, we were wearing short-sleeved t-shirts! So trying to see what Denali temperature variation looks like can be confusing. Just think that there is not one temperature in Denali national park but expect for all-year-round weather change!
'Into The Wild'
The bus where Christopher McCandless spent his last days in the Alaskan wilderness in the 1990s, and whose story came to world knowledge as told by Jon Krakauer had become such an infamous attraction that every year, hikers in search of the experience had to be rescued due to the remoteness of the site, lack of preparation, and weather extremes. To stop what was becoming an increasingly problematic situation, the "Magic Bus" has been removed from its location. Not sure what we are talking about? Check the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.
Denali Facts & Travel Tips
Here are some quick facts, some fun, other important Denali travel tips for your trip planning:
- Before exploring the park, make sure to stop at the Denali Visitor Center for information ranging from bear safety, bus schedule, trail ideas, and weather forecasts. A Denali itinerary is best planned ahead of time as availability can be limited in the high summer months. The Denali National Park shuttle is one of the options available for traveling in the park. At the visitor center, take a copy of the Denali National Park map to identify the several bus stops ahead of your trip.
- Private cars are not allowed in the park, and you must board one of the official busses to explore the park.
- Mosquitoes are no joke. Consider bringing a head mosquito net to keep you sane. You might think you will look silly, but running around slapping your face trying to get rid of them is equally silly and hurts more!
- Weather change is also real. Come dress in layers and be prepared for an all-season-temperatures variation in a day. For good waterproof jackets perfect for the outdoor, check out our jacket comparison review.
- The road from Anchorage to Denali is long but stunning. Schedule rest stops to both break the long drive but also enjoy the landscape.
- Wild animals are exactly that - wild. The park is not an attraction park. Animals are not stuffed, nor is this is a petting zoo where the wildlife awaits selfies. Safety measures are in place for humans and animals alike.
- On that note, the Leave No Trace guidelines apply here as well. No trash left behind makes it more enjoyable for whoever comes next, and no trash means the animals are less likely to be attracted to human food.
- Consider grabbing a copy of a Denali National Park wildlife pocket guide
- Wondering about what happened in the Alaska wilderness? Read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.
Any other Denali experiences we should add? Please let us a comment - we love to hear your feedback!
Interested in more Alaska travels? Check our Alaska Itinerary 7 days road trip or 10-day itinerary, see Katmai grizzlies, explore the Kenai Peninsula, visit Anchorage, or chill in Homer. Did we miss something on our Alaska travel blog posts?
For other remote experiences, visit our Canada pages that include driving over the MacKenzie River's ice road to Tuk or mushing our own team of sled dogs camping on the frozen tundra of the Arctic Circle.
Stay tuned for more adventures
from our travel around the world!
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