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The Ultimate Guide to Denali National Park and Preserve — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

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Amar Hussain
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Denali National Park and Preserve stretches over 6 million acres of vast wilderness, massive glaciers, sparkling lakes, lush forests, and mountain views. Each year, an average of 600,000 tourists explore this incredible remote park. A trip to Denali National Park and Preserve offers a chance to make lifetime memories.

Update: Due to the Pretty Rocks Landslide, access and services may differ from normal operations. Please check the National Park Service conditions website for updates.

How To Get to Denali National Park and Preserve

Where Is Denali National Park and Preserve?

Denali National Park and Preserve is located in the heart of the Alaska Range, a 600-mile mountain range that stretches across the state of Alaska. This national park is 240 miles north of Anchorage and 110 miles south of Fairbanks.

The Airports Nearest to Denali National Park and Preserve

There are 2 airports that are most commonly used for visitors to Denali National Park and Preserve. These airports range from 125 miles to 240 miles from the park.

Fairbanks International Airport (FAI)

Fairbanks International Airport is located 125 miles from Denali National Park and Preserve. This is the nearest airport to this national park. 

This airport offers a variety of flights domestically and internationally. FAI serves many well-known airlines, including Alaska, Delta, and United, as well as many local airlines.

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC)

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is 240 miles from Denali National Park and Preserve. This airport is Alaska’s most important and busiest airport in the state.

This airport offers an impressive list of flights to many domestic and international locations. ANC services many airlines, including Alaska, Fiji Airways, and Singapore Airlines.

Driving to Denali National Park and Preserve

Driving to Denali National Park and Preserve
Image Credit: Max Di Capua via Unsplash

Denali National Park and Preserve has only 1 road entrance for visitors to access when arriving at the park. Travelers will use Alaska Highway 3, the George Parks Highway.

The entrance to the park is at mile 237. This national park is 240 miles north of Anchorage, 120 miles South of Fairbanks, and 12 miles south of Healy, which many people utilize as a gateway town to Denali National Park and Preserve.

A road trip to Denali National Park and Preserve is an exciting experience creating special memories for years.

Taking the Train to Denali National Park and Preserve

Guests who enjoy a national park vacation by railway are in luck when visiting Denali National Park and Preserve. Alaska Railroad connects Anchorage to Fairbanks and brings guests directly through the entrance of Denali National Park and Preserve.

Bottom Line: The train station is just a 5-minute walk from the visitor center in the park, which makes traveling by rail an excellent option for this national park.

Getting Around Denali National Park and Preserve

Private vehicle travel is a great way to explore Denali National Park and Preserve. A main road leads into the park, and several side roads lead to major points of interest. The National Park Service provides many interactive and printable maps so visitors can plan their outings during their stay.

The summer months bring heavier crowds, so the park recommends visitors take advantage of the free transit or one of the tour bus services for a fee. Several roads are restricted during summer, so utilizing the shuttle or bus services is a great way to explore the park. These modes of transportation are detailed on the park’s website.

What To See and Do in Denali National Park and Preserve

Bus Trips

Exploring Denali National Park and Preserve is always a fantastic experience, but exploring this immense park by bus tour makes the experience even more memorable. There are 2 main types of bus trips available at this park; narrated and non-narrated. Some of these buses are free of charge, while others have a fee.

Non-narrated Transit Buses

The non-narrated transit buses are lower in price and offer more flexibility for tourists. These buses allow visitors to get on or off the bus anywhere they please along the road. The non-narrated buses make stops for restroom breaks, wildlife viewing, and for views of stunning scenery.

Narrated Tour Buses

Narrated tour buses offer a great way to learn more about the history and culture of the park. The bus driver narrates the tour, sharing detailed and captivating information about Denali National Park and Preserve. These tours similarly stop several times throughout the journey for restroom breaks, wildlife viewing, and beautiful scenery. Narrated tours also include snacks or full lunches.

Denali Park Road

Denali Park Road
Image Credit: NPS

Denali Park Road runs parallel to the Alaska range. This scenic drive travels through the valleys and mountain passes and is the only road in the park. While driving this road, tourists are treated to amazing views of the landscapes, incredible mountain views, and the ability to see the wildlife that makes its home in the park.

Visitors can drive their vehicles to explore Denali Park Road or utilize the bus service that runs through the park. This road has many excellent points of interest, including Stony Hill Overlook, Wonder Lake, and Savage Alpine Trail.

Flightseeing

Scheduling a flight scene tour is an incredible way to tour Denali National Park and Preserve. This is the best way for visitors to see how large and diverse the park’s landscape is.

From gentle foothills to glaciers to the peaks of the Alaska Range, visitors can get an up close and personal view of these stunning features of the park. If you’re interested in planning a flightseeing tour, several concessionaires partner with Denali National Park and Preserve, such as Fly Denali and Sheldon Air Service, to provide park visitor services.

Hiking

Hiking at Denali National Park and Preserve
Image Credit: Jacob Vizek via Unsplash

Avid hikers love the opportunities for hiking at Denali National Park and Preserve. Visitors can hike in Denali in 2 different ways: on a marked trail or off-trail.

Trail hiking is available near the entrance of the park. The marked trails are very short and quick outings. There are also a few marked hiking trails throughout the park, such as the Savage River area and the Wonder Lake area.

Off-trail hiking is great for adventurers who seek a unique hiking experience. Hiking in the wilderness is a great way to see the beauty of this national park.

Hot Tip: The National Park Service offers detailed information on the hiking opportunities available in Denali National Park on its website.

Mountaineering

For adventurers who love the thrill of mountaineering, Denali National Park and Preserve is a great way to discover the beauty and magnificence of this park.

Those who want to mountaineer can choose from climbing the highest peak in North America or trying the vertical rock and ice walls lining Ruth’s Gorge. There are top-notch opportunities for mountaineering and climbing all around Denali National Park and Preserve.

Sled Dog Kennels

Visiting the sled dog kennels at Denali National Park and Preserve is an experience you’ll never forget. Denali has canine rangers and sled dogs that work with each other to protect the park’s wilderness. These dogs have helped the park since the 1920s.

The sled dog kennel is a great place to visit when exploring this national park. Visitors can meet the sled dogs, participate in sled dog demonstrations, and learn about the history of the kennels and how a dog spends its time helping the park.

Visiting this park area is always a lot of fun and highly informative. This activity is always one of the top-rated activities for Denali National Park and Preserve visitors.

Visitor Centers

There are 2 visitor centers in Denali National Park and a science and learning center that is also used as a visitor center.

The main visitor center near the park entrance is the Denali Visitor Center. Stopping by a visitor center is an excellent way for guests to learn from exhibits, pay park fees, watch park films, and speak with park rangers. This visitor center is only open during the summer.

The Murie Science and Learning Center is near the entrance of Denali National Park and Preserve at mile 1.3. This center is open year-round. In the summer from June 1st to late August, the Murie Science and Learning Center hosts many educational and scientific activities when it is open daily. In the winter months, from mid-October to mid-May, the Murie Science and Learning Center is the main visitor center of Denali National Park.

The Eielsin Visitor Center is found at mile 66 on Denali Park Road. This visitor center has park rangers, information kiosks, a picnic area, and a bus stop. Due to a landslide, this visitor center is closed until the summer of 2024.

The visitor centers at Denali National Park and Preserve are great places to learn about the park’s history, have questions answered by knowledgeable park rangers, and pick up pamphlets, brochures, and maps.

Wonder Lake

Wonder Lake
Image Credit: David Mark via Pixabay

The Wonder Lake area of Denali National Park and Preserve is at mile 85. This iconic park area offers spectacular views of the Alaska Range and the gorgeous lake. The Wonder Lake area has many activities for visitors, including ranger programs during the day and at night, Fannie Quigley’s historic cabin, hiking trails, and reflection ponds.

This area also has a campground specifically for tent campers, many backpacking options, and lodges just 7 miles northwest of the lake. Visiting Wonder Lake is a bucket list item that creates lasting memories of Denali National Park and Preserve.

The Best Times To Visit Denali National Park and Preserve

No matter when you can visit Denali National Park and Preserve, you can rest assured that you will have the experience of a lifetime. However, if there are certain events or activities you want to participate in, there may be better times than others to visit.

The Best Time To Visit Denali National Park and Preserve in Winter

If you want to experience Denali National Park and Preserve in all its winter glory, you should plan a trip in December. The snow tends to be at its deepest in December, especially late in the month. This makes an excellent time for skiing, dog mushing, and seeing this vast park blanketed in shimmering snow.

Best Time To Visit Denali National Park and Preserve To Avoid the Crowds

Visitors who want to visit Denali National Park and Preserve with fewer crowds should plan a trip in November. There are very few tourists who visit the park during this month. Because there is the least number of guests during this month, visitors may also find it’s cheaper to visit in November.

The Best Time To Visit Denali National Park and Preserve for Wildlife

Bull Moose in Denali National Park
Image Credit: Mier Chen via Unsplash

Early June is a great time to visit Denali National Park and Preserve. There is an excellent chance of seeing the wildlife that makes their home in the park. Early June is one of the less crowded times to visit, which means the possibility of spotting wildlife is higher than in other months.

The Cheapest Time To Visit Denali National Park and Preserve

Any time you can save money while traveling is a bonus. If you hope to save while visiting Denali National Park and Preserve, the best month to visit is mid to late September. There are better rates for flights and accommodations during this month. These savings can help you have an affordable national park vacation.

Annual Events in Denali National Park and Preserve

Denali National Park and Preserve hosts many annual events in the park that visitors enjoy participating in. There are events celebrating nature, music, and more.

Winterfest

Winterfest is a family-friendly free event that takes place each February in the park. This event has activities for every age, including youth cross-country ski races, ranger-led snowshoe walks, stargazing, snow sculpting competitions, and more. This is an exciting event that visitors look forward to each year.

Winter Solstice Ski and Stroll

The Winter Solstice Ski and Stroll takes place each year in December. This event is a day when guests can celebrate the winter solstice. Visitors can snowshoe, ski, and walk snow-covered trails lit by luminaries. Once the cold outdoor activities conclude, guests can enjoy hot drinks and warm up at the Winter Visitor Center or Indoor Picnic Area.

Where To Stay in Denali National Park and Preserve

Whether you decide to stay in Denali National Park and Preserve or in one of the nearby towns, there’s no shortage of accommodations. The park has 6 campgrounds and 4 lodges inside its boundaries, and several communities close to the park have abundant options for your stay.

Inside the Park

There are 6 campgrounds and 4 privately-owned lodges inside Denali National Park and Preserve. Whether you prefer camping or staying in a more traditional lodge, you can find the perfect option at this national park. Look at the many options for your home away from home in Denali National Park and Preserve.

Camp Denali

Camp Denali
Image Credit: Camp Denali

Camp Denali is a fabulous option for lodging inside Denali National Park and Preserve. This camp is located in the heart of the park, just 2 miles past Wonder Lake and near the end of Denali Park Road. This lodging option is the only one with direct views of the Alaska Range and Denali.

This wilderness lodge is composed of 19 guest cabins. Each hand-crafted cabin features handmade quilts, a wood stove, and propane lamps for lighting. There are pristine outhouses with sink basins right outside the cabins and a spigot for drinking water. This is the ideal lodging option for those who seek a solitary stay in nature with primitive amenities.

While staying at Camp Denali, take the short hike up the hill from your cabin to the historic log lodge where meals are served in the dining room. This lodge also features modern bathrooms with showers, a warm wood stove, a library, and breathtaking views.

You will surely glimpse the wildlife that makes its home in the park during your stay at Camp Denali. Guests enjoy sitting on their cabin porches and watching moose, caribou, grizzly bears, and birds while enjoying the fresh air.

Denali Backcountry Lodge

Denali Backcountry Lodge is an all-inclusive resort-style lodge in a remote river valley at the base of America’s highest mountain. It offers an exceptional experience focusing on connecting with nature in its purest form. This exclusive option for lodging is only accessible by flight.

This lodge comprises many private cedar cabins that allow you to enjoy Denali at your preferred pace. There are 2 types of cabins guests can choose from when staying at Denali Backcountry Lodge, including the homestead cabins or creekside cabins. No matter the cabin type you prefer, you can rest assured that you will have the essential gear needed for your stay.

Every cabin has daypacks, trail maps, hiking poles, and water bottles. The staff at Denali Backcountry Lodge works hard to ensure you have everything you need for a perfect stay.

There’s something for every guest that stays at this backcountry lodge, including biking, fishing, guided exploration by local experts, gold panning, and taking in the fantastic scenery of Wonder Lake’s waters and stunning mountain views.

The amenities are endless at Denali Backcountry Lodge, with a woodfired sauna on-site and a magnificent dining room where incredible, hearty dishes are served daily for your inclusive stay.

Bottom Line: No matter the type of experience you choose, you are guaranteed to have the trip of a lifetime when staying at Denali Backcountry Lodge.

Kantishna Roadhouse

Kantishna Roadhouse is found in the heart of Denali National Park and Preserve and is an all-inclusive backcountry lodge that is only accessible by air. Arriving at Kantishna Roadhouse is half the fun as you will experience a 55-minute flight that gives you a close view of Mt. Denali, the Alaska Range, and the open wilderness of Denali National Park and Preserve.

Kantishna Roadhouse comprises rustic log cabins that are primitively decorated and have a front porch perfect for watching the sun rise or set each day. Guests can completely unplug and unwind when staying at Kantishna Roadhouse as there is no cell phone reception, internet service, or televisions or radios in the rooms.

Meals are customized by a talented chef and are provided as a part of the inclusive stay. The on-site chef can prepare one-of-a-kind meals as a custom request and accommodate any dietary need. All meals are made with fresh ingredients, many of which are grown or sourced locally. Alaskan beer and wine are an extra complimentary amenity that many guests take advantage of after a day of exploring.

There are abundant exciting recreation opportunities while staying at Kantishna Roadhouse. Many guests enjoy hiking, taking the Wonder Lake Shuttle to discover the crown jewel of Denali, participating in cultural presentations featuring the Alaskan Native presenters, gold panning at Moose Creek, fly fishing, and much more.

Skyline Lodge

Skyline Lodge
Image Credit: Kantishna Air Taxi

Skyline Lodge is an incredible backcountry lodge that is the ideal option for independent Denali National Park and Preserve explorers. Skyline Lodge is located in the Kantishna region of the park, 20 miles from the north face of Denali.

This small lodge is powered by solar power. It offers a cozy retreat to visitors seeking respite and serenity from the daily grind. This lodge has only 5 guest rooms, allowing for a peaceful stay with no crowds.

Dining at Skyline Lodge is a culinary experience. The kitchen serves dishes made with local, organic produce, Alaskan meats, and fish. Meals are served around a big table family style to allow for socializing with the other guests of the lodge. A continental breakfast and create-your-own lunch are served daily in the main lodge. Snacks and drinks are readily available in the man lodge if you are hungry between meals.

Several activities can be enjoyed while staying at Skyline Lodge. Most visitors at this lodge are avid hikers, and there are several exceptional hiking trails near the lodge. Some favorite activities and hikes include exploring historic cabins like Fannie Quigley’s Cabin, checking out mining roads of the past on Skyline Drive, hiking to Wickersham Dome, and taking in the mesmerizing views at Wonder Lake.

Camping

Denali National Park has 6 campgrounds for those who want to sleep under the stars. Most campgrounds are open only in the summer, with varying dates, but there is one that is open year-round.

Riley Creek Campground

Riley Creek Campground is the only campground open year-round. This campground is located near the front entrance of the park. Riley Creek has tent and RV camping accommodations, but no electrical or water hookups. One of the best draws of Riley Creek is that it is close to a mercantile and general store for any need you may have while camping.

Sanctuary River Campground

Sanctuary River Campground is located at mile marker 22 and is only accessible by bus. It is exclusively open to tent campers. This campground is open from May 20th to the middle of September. Sanctuary River Campground is heavily wooded and offers many hiking trails and spectacular views of Denali.

Igloo Creek Campground

Igloo Creek Campground
Image Credit: Emily Mesner via NPS

Igloo Creek Campground is located at mile marker 35 and is open for tent campers from May 20th to mid-September. The campground is between Cathedral Mount and Igloo Mountain, with the beautiful Igloo Creek flowing alongside it. This wooded campground offers many hiking opportunities and stunning views of the Cathedral, Igloo, and Sable Mountains.

You’re likely to have plenty of wildlife sightings at this campground and catch a glimpse of animals such as grizzly bears, wolves, and Dall’s sheep. This is a great place to look for raptors like golden eagles.

Wonder Lake Campground

Wonder Lake Campground is open only from June 8th to the middle of September for tent campers only. This campground is located at mile marker 85. This campground is the closest campground to Denali. This area provides guests with mesmerizing views of Wonder Lake and the majestic mountains.

Savage River Campground

Savage River Campground is located at mile marker 14 and is open for RVs and tents. It is open from the middle of May to the middle of September. The Savage River Shuttle is available for visitors Who want to stay here and don’t have access to a vehicle.

Teklanika River Campground

Teklanika River Campground is the second largest at Denali National Park and Preserve, open for RVs and tents. It is located at mile marker 29. This campground requires a minimum of a 3-night stay if you are driving to the campground.

Towns Near Denali National Park and Preserve

Most Denali National Park and Preserve visitors stay outside the park’s boundaries. There are 2 communities located near the park that offer many options for lodging, dining, and recreation.

Cantwell, Alaska

Cantwell is a small community 28 miles south of Denali National Park and Preserve. This town has plenty of services for visitors to the Denali area and convenient access to the Denali Highway.

There are dozens of resorts, cabin rentals, and vacation homes for accommodations in Cantwell. Visitors can choose from lakeside rentals or cabins in the woods. No matter what you are looking for during your National Park vacation, you will find the perfect accommodation in Cantwell.

Cantwell also has several options for dining in the area. From small cafes and bakeries to gourmet restaurants and rustic saloons, there’s something for every palate in Cantwell. This town is in an ideal location for visitors who enjoy outdoor recreation. Cantwell has countless opportunities for fishing, mushing, hiking, and cycling.

Bottom Line: If you hope to set up a home base outside of Denali National Park and Preserve, Cantwell is an excellent option.

Healy, Alaska

Healy, Alaska, is a community that provides year-round service, lodging, and activities for guests visiting Denali National Park and Preserve. This town is 11 miles north of Denali National Park and Preserve.

This town was established for coal mining in the early 1900s, but today its second-largest industry is tourism. Healy has many restaurants, accommodations, and activities for guests to enjoy while visiting Denali National Park and Preserve.

Healy has incredible lodges, budget-friendly motels, luxury hotels, and private rentals for those who want to make this town a home away from home during their national park vacation.

Fun activities in Healy include hiking, camping, sled dog demonstrations, rafting, and park bus tours. Visitors also enjoy viewing the area’s incredible wildlife and booking flight tours to get a bird’s eye view of this beautiful area.

The dining scene is a treat for travelers when staying in Healy. Most lodges, resorts, and hotels have excellent dining facilities for those seeking a delicious, upscale meal. There are also other options for dining, including breweries, local cafes, food trucks, and saloons.

With many lodging, recreation, and dining options, Healy offers an incredible accommodation option outside Denali National Park and Preserve.

Where To Eat Near Denali National Park and Preserve

Due to the remote location of Denali National Park and Preserve, there are limited options for dining inside the park boundaries. One restaurant is in the park, but most visitors plan to picnic at one of the many beautiful picnic areas. If a picnic isn’t calling your name, look at the only option for dining in a restaurant setting at Denali National Park and Preserve.

Morino Grill

Morino Grill is 30 yards from the visitor center in Denali National Park and Preserve. This fantastic restaurant serves coffee, boxed lunches, and made-to-order lunch and dinner.

The restaurant features an impressive menu of classic dishes like chicken tenders, waffle-cut fries, specialty sandwiches, and warm soups. Customer favorites include freshly made seafood chowder, toasted panini sandwiches, and burgers. Stopping by Morino Grill is an excellent choice before, during, or after your Denali National Park and Preserve excursions.

Denali National Park and Preserve Facts

Denali National Park Alaska U.S.
Image Credit: Joris Beugels via Unsplash

1. Denali Was Established in 1917

Denali National Park was initially established on February 26, 1917. The park’s original name was Mt. McKinley National Park, but it was later changed to Denali National Park and Preserve in honor of North America’s highest peak found in the park.

2. The Name Denali Comes From the Native Language

Denali comes from one of the native groups that originated in the park area. Denali comes from the Koyukon word “deenaalee,” meaning “the tall one.”

3. Mount McKinley is Denali’s Highest Peak

The highest peak in Denali National Park and Preserve is Denali, also known as Mount McKinley. This mountain stands at 20,310 feet in elevation. This is the highest point in the park and the highest peak in North America.

4. The Park’s First Climb Was in 1913

The first people to climb to the top of Denali were Walter Harper, Harry Karstens, Hudson Stuck, and Robert Tatum. They achieved this incredible feat on June 7, 1913.

5. Denali’s First Superintendent Was Infamous

The first superintendent of Denali National Park and Preserve was Harry Karstens, one of the first to climb to the top of this magnificent mountain.

6. You Can View the Aurora Borealis in Denali

Denali National Park and Preserve is an incredible place for stargazing. Another night sky feature, the aurora borealis, is a fantastic sight when visiting this park. This beautiful sight is easily seen from any park area in wide open spaces.

7. Canine Rangers Protect the Wilderness

Denali National Park and Preserve welcomes a new litter of sled dogs yearly. These sled dogs become canine rangers that help the park protect the wilderness. The sled dog tradition has been taking place for over 100 years.

8. Denali Is an Immense Park

Denali National Park and Preserve is a massive park that stretches over 6 million acres. This park encompasses rolling hills, mountains and valleys, and gorgeous lakes.

9. Denali Has an Abundance of Animals

Lots of large mammals live in Denali National Park and Preserve. This is the perfect park to explore if you want to see these animals in their natural habitats. Large mammals in the park include bears, Dall’s sheep, caribous, moose, and caribou.

10. The Area Has a Rich Cultural History

Alaska Natives have lived in this area for years. The original people were a nomadic tribe that followed game. Eventually, a Native American tribe settled in this area and relied on the available resources in the area. Several exhibits and ranger talks help visitors learn more about the incredible history of Denali National Park and Preserve.

11. The First Attempted Climb Was in 1963

Judge James Wickersham was the first to attempt to climb to the summit of Denali. However, due to an avalanche, he was unsuccessful. The route he used for this was unfinished, which is why he was unsuccessful. The route he was using was eventually established in 1963.

12. Denali Has a Native Amphibian

There is a unique frog that makes its home in the park. This amphibian is called the wood frog. This frog freezes itself into a cryogenic state where it doesn’t have a beating heart. The frog thaws out in the spring and continues in its life cycle.

13. Dinosaur Bones Are in Denali

The first fossilized dinosaur bones were found in Denali National Park and Preserve in 2016. Paleontologists believe the bones show a marine dinosaur and predict that it dates back to 65 to 72 million years ago.

Final Thoughts

Denali National Park and Preserve is a land filled with wonder and inspiration. This national park offers much to tourists, from thrilling mountain climbing excursions and flightseeing to ultimate peace and relaxation in the backcountry lodges. Book your trip to Denali National Park and Preserve and discover the magic that awaits you.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter Denali National Park and Preserve?

For an individual to enter Denali National Park and Preserve, an entry pass costs $15. This pass allows for 7 days of visitation. Youths ages 15 and under enter for free.

Can I bring my dog to Denali National Park and Preserve?

Dogs are allowed at Denali National Park and Preserve with some restrictions. Dogs must be on a leash and supervised at all times. Pets are prohibited in many areas, such as hiking trails and buses, but can be walked on park or campground roads.

How long should I plan to visit Denali National Park and Preserve?

Since this park is so immense, a 5- to 7-day trip will allow you to sightsee, hike the trails, explore the park, and participate in several tours and special programs.

What is the temperature like in Denali National Park and Preserve?

The temperature ranges from a high of 9 degrees in January and 67 degrees in July.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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