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*Note as of 5/20/22: You cannot access facilities and services past Mile 43 (including Wonder Lake) due to the destruction and closure of Denali Park Road, caused by the Pretty Rocks Landslide. The road is expected to remain closed through summer 2023.
Want a glimpse of life in one of the most remote, rugged, and scenic places? Get your butt to Denali National Park in Alaska!
Located between Anchorage and Fairbanks in Alaska, Denali spans over an insane 6 million acres of tranquil, rugged wilderness. Denali National Park & Preserve is home to not only the world’s most resilient wildlife but also the tallest peak in North America - Mount Denali. If you are one of the lucky ones, you might be able to catch a glimpse of Denali towering in the sky (20,310 feet to be exact).
In July 2022, I spent 3 days and 2 nights hiking and exploring Denali's summer landscape, admiring the elusive wildlife, with the hopes of just a glimpse of Mount Denali. Even after spending my nights camping inside Denali, I feel like I barely scratched the surface of what makes Denali National Park so magical.
I created this Denali National Park travel guide so that you can make the most of your time in one of the most beautiful places in Alaska. In this trip planning guide, I’ll show you:
Deciding when to visit Denali National Park depends on the kind of experience you want to have. Are you looking to travel deep into the park and enjoy endless daylight? Or are you looking for a more remote, snowy experience?
Planning your trip will also depend on the Denali National Park weather you’re prepared to handle.
I traveled to Denali National Park in mid-July of 2022, when hiking and camping weather was the best, I had 20+ hours of daylight for adventuring, and public buses were available. However, the park was busy and rain did make an appearance.
Although it is open all year round, the best time to visit Denali National Park is during the summer months, from mid-May to mid-September when the park’s facilities and bus services are fully operational. Visiting Denali National Park in mid-July not only means comfortable temperatures (highs in the mid-70s, lows in the mid-40s) but also 20 hours of sunlight…imagine how much exploring you can do with that amount of daylight!
However, the downside of visiting Denali during the summer is that June, July, and August are the rainiest months of the year. It’s insane how things work out, but fortunately, the only time it rained on me was when we were traveling into and out of the park! Which made hiking and camping in Denali that much more comfortable and productive.
If you’re looking for a quieter, more unique Denali experience, visit the park during spring and fall when there is no public transportation available and services are limited. This means you will need to have your own car to explore Denali.
During spring and fall, enjoy shimmering, snow-capped mountains and wildlife activity as animals either emerge from winter or prepare for the deep freeze.
Even with freezing temperatures, layers of thick snow, and only 4 hours of daylight, Denali is still open during winter! However, you can still make the most of your Denali adventure during these short days by snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, or even winter biking.
Since Denali Park Road typically closes at Mile 3 (the park’s headquarters), you cannot explore deep into the heart of Denali.
Since Denali is insanely massive, you’ll never feel like you’ve truly experienced the ins and outs of the entire park. Luckily, there are so many things to do and ways to explore to help you get the most out of your visit to Denali.
You’ll find many visitors hiking along the front-country trails or backpacking through the backcountry. Hiking is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the serene landscape of Denali and look for wildlife!
Fortunately, there is a trail for every hiking level. The majority of the hiking trailheads are either located by the visitor’s center or at Mile 15 by the Savage River area.
My favorite hikes in Denali National Park were along the rushing Savage River on the Savage River Loop and the 4-mile (round trip) hike from Mile 43 to the Pretty Rock Landslide and views of the vibrant colors of Polychrome Mountain. Both of these Denali day hikes are family-friendly!
Feeling active or craving a challenge? Tour Denali by cycling along Denali Park Road! Although vehicles are not allowed past Mile 15, bikes are.
Just make sure to be familiar with biking safety guidelines and Denali wildlife safety before your cycling adventure.
Explore Denali National Park past Mile 15, where only buses, bikes, and hikers are allowed access. Beyond Mile 15, there are more chances of wildlife sightings, including bears, sheep, and moose, due to less vehicle and noise congestion.
My bus driver provided excellent historical and wildlife knowledge about the park and gave us time to gawk at the wildlife we found along the way! Although I saw plenty of Dall sheep, I apparently missed out on the moose and her baby that was spotted before I hopped on the bus. Next time I guess?!
Many visitors come to Denali National Park for a chance to spot the elusive Mount Denali. Since the weather is constantly changing, only about 30% of park visitors are lucky enough to see Denali. However, if the skies clear up, even just for a few minutes, head to one of the viewpoints for a chance to see Denali in all her glory. Below are some places you can head to for your best chances of seeing Mount Denali:
Unfortunately, you cannot see Denali from the park entrance, since that area is too low for any kind of visibility.
This one was the most fun and cutest thing I did in Denali…I was barely able to contain myself the whole time!
The park offers daily sled dog demonstrations at the kennels located at the park’s headquarters. Not only do you get to learn about the historical and current-day importance of sled dogs, but you can visit and pet the sled dogs themselves!
Even though the timing of my trip wasn’t lucky in terms of seeing Denali itself, I was pretty lucky to be able to see (and maybe even cry over) the 3-week-old sled dog puppies.
Visiting the sled dog kennels is not only one of those Denali things to do that’s great for the family, but it’s a must-see for everyone. Even my brother, who is admittedly not a “dog person” (I know, I don’t understand either), absolutely loved playing with the sled dogs!
I spent my first day in Denali strolling through the extremely interactive exhibit, located in the park’s visitor center.
Not only is there a complete section dedicated to the various and unique wildlife and ecosystems that make Denali so special, but there’s also a section for you to jump back in time and learn about the Denali natives and the historical evolution of the park.
Visiting the exhibits on my first day in Denali provided me with some excellent context to the park before fully immersing myself in hikes and bus rides.
Denali National Park is incredibly family-friendly. Not only are there several hiking trails that are great to do with kids, but families can enjoy exploring the interactive exhibits together at the visitor center.
If you want to explore the park beyond Mile 15, the bus ride is great for the entire family to search for wildlife together.
I spent 3 days and 2 nights exploring Denali National Park’s must-see spots and more, which I personally felt was the perfect amount of time to fully explore without rushing.
Here’s an overview of how I spent 3 days, and 2 nights adventuring in Denali:
Even though one day in Denali National Park is not enough (I mean, the park is 6 million acres big!), it’s still worth a visit if that’s all the time you have. There are plenty of activities and things to do that will fit your itinerary.
You are charged an entrance fee year-round to visit Denali National Park. The fee to enter Denali is $15 per person and is valid for 7 days. Anybody 15 years of age or younger does not have to pay the entrance fee. You can pay the entrance fee online or at the park’s visitor center or bus depot.
The America the Beautiful annual national park pass is accepted.
However, if you’re looking to enter Denali National Park for free, visit on one of these days:
In addition to the entrance fee, there may be other costs you have to pay to visit Denali National Park. To explore the park past Mile 15, you will need to ride one of the park’s buses (see the "Getting Around Denali" section) since the road past this point is closed to private vehicles. Depending on which bus you decide to ride (non-narrated transit bus or narrated tour bus), Denali bus tickets will cost you between $30 - $128 per person. Purchasing bus tickets in advance is highly recommended and can be made online, by phone (1-800-622-7275), or in person at the Denali Bus Depot.
To camp inside Denali National Park during summer (mid-May through mid-September), you can expect to pay $19.25 - $49 per night. To camp in Savage River Campground, I paid $16 per night…I must’ve made the reservation before the price increase!
Although permits are required for anybody backpacking or mountaineering in Denali, permits are free. You can get your backcountry permits from the Denali Bus Depot or the Backcountry Information Center.
Getting to Denali National Park is extremely easy since there are multiple ways to get there, even if you don’t have a car! Although I rented a car from the Anchorage airport, you do not need to have a car to get to Denali National Park. For a more unique (and oftentimes a more affordable) experience, you can ride the scenic train or bus into the park!
There are two large cities that you can fly into to get to Denali National Park: Anchorage (located 240 miles south of the park) and Fairbanks (located 120 miles north of the park). This means you’ll have more options for finding more affordable flights to fit your budget!
If you’re looking for the fastest way to get to Denali National Park, driving will be your best bet.
The drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park is a very easy and scenic 4-hour drive from Anchorage and 2 hours 15-minute drive from Fairbanks.
Since my family and I were traveling camping gear and food, my family and I decided to rent a car from the Anchorage airport and drive to Denali National Park. That scenery along that drive was not only so captivating the whole way, but it was action-packed! Within the first hour of the drive, we saw a moose trotting alongside the highway!
If you’re road tripping, Talkeetna is a charming, historic town that’s worth stopping at along your drive from Anchorage to Denali. Although we didn’t initially plan on stopping, we made a game-time decision to stop in Talkeetna on our drive…and I’m so glad we did!
We strolled through the two blocks of Talkeetna to pop through souvenir shops, admire historical homes, and enjoy a drink at one of the breweries before fangirling over Denali, Talkeetna’s unofficial cat mayor!
There are plenty of gas stations along the drive from Anchorage to Denali, so don’t forget to fuel up before entering the park.
Don’t have a car to drive to Denali National Park? No worries! The cheapest way to travel from Anchorage to Denali is by bus.
Two bus trips run daily from Anchorage to Denali and make quick stops to the tiny, charming town of Talkeetna. Once in Denali, buses have multiple drop-off locations available to you, including the Denali Cabins, Village, and Train Depot.
Tickets to ride the bus from Anchorage to Denali cost $100/adult and $50/child (0-11 years old). During the summer months, I’d recommend purchasing tickets in advance.
Unfortunately, there is no direct bus from Fairbanks to Denali National Park.
Another way you can get to Denali National Park without a car is to ride the Denali Star Train.
However, it will take twice as long to get to Denali by train than by driving. From Anchorage, the train ride takes about 7.5 hours to get to Denali (tickets starting at $144 per adult). If you’re coming from Fairbanks, the train takes about 4 hours to get to Denali (tickets starting at $64 per adult). I’d recommend booking train tickets in advance, especially during the summer months.
If you aren’t rushed for time (or don’t have a car), the train is an exciting, more intimate way to travel to Denali. The train ride to the park is incredibly scenic as it snakes through the tundra landscape and is another great opportunity to actively search for wildlife. Throughout the trip, enjoy the narration from the onboard host and learn more about what makes Alaska one of the most breathtaking places in the world!
Although I didn’t take the train from Anchorage to Denali, riding this scenic train from Seward to Anchorage was one of the highlights of my Alaska trip!
One of the most unique things about Denali National Park is the fact that there is only one road to travel along! With only a single road, you get to intimately experience the park’s unaltered scenery and protected wildlife with fewer crowds and noise congestion. Pure magic!
Of the 92 miles of Denali Park Road, private (non-commercial) vehicles are only allowed to drive the first 15 miles from the park entrance to Savage River, where the road is paved. Along this part of the road, you’ll have the opportunity to scope for wildlife and stop at one of the vehicle pull-outs for a glimpse of Mount Denali if the clouds clear.
If you are visiting Denali in spring or fall, check for road closures due to heavy snow before arriving at the park.
Don’t have a car in Denali? You can ride the Savage River Shuttle, the park’s free shuttle that travels along the first 15 miles from Denali’s entrance to Savage River. Denali’s free shuttle stops at campgrounds and trails along the way.
*Note as of 5/20/22: due to the Pretty Rocks Landslide, a section of Denali Park Road was destroyed and will remain closed through summer 2023. Buses currently cannot drive past Mile 43.
Since the road becomes one-way and unpaved beyond Mile 15, you can only travel past Savage River on a bus, bike, or by hiking. There is a ranger station at Savage River to regulate access beyond Mile 15.
Bus service runs from mid-May through mid-September.
There are two types of transit buses you can ride on past Mile 15:
Due to limited capacities during timeslots, it's highly recommended to purchase your bus tickets in advance online. You can also reserve your bus ticket at the Denali Bus Depot.
If you are trying to decide if it’s worth booking a bus ticket to travel past Mile 15 (Savage River), I think it’s absolutely worth it! Since this part of the park has less vehicle congestion, wildlife seemed to be more active in these areas. Although we didn’t see any bears, our bus saw a moose, baby ptarmigans, marmots, and tons of Dall sheep!
Hiking to the Pretty Rock Landslide and getting lost in the swirling colors of Polychrome Mountain at Mile 45 reminded me of mother nature’s power and beauty, making this one of the highlights of my Denali trip.
*Note as of 5/20/22: Wonder Lake Campground is closed for 2022.
You already know how much I love to camp. Not only is camping a cheap way to travel if you’re on a budget, but there’s truly nothing more mentally freeing than being able to disconnect, camp under the trees, and fall asleep to the sound of the billowing winds.
I camped at Savage River Campground, one of the 6 campgrounds inside Denali National Park. With only 32 campsites in Savage River Campground, exploring the park around the campground after hours was an intimate and memorable experience. When the crowds leave the park for the day, Denali seems to truly come to life! The moose take advantage of the calmness and emerge from the woods. The babbling of Savage River seemed louder in the stillness and the skies turned into a swirling sorbet masterpiece during midnight sunset. But the cherry on top of an already epic day was falling asleep in my tent to the loud hooting of owls.
Instead of flying all of my camping gear from Las Vegas to Alaska, I rented camping gear, including a tent, sleeping pads, and sleep bags, from the REI in Anchorage. The only thing I brought from home was my Jetboil for making morning coffee and ramen for dinner.
Although I brought all of the food I needed for the 3 days I spent inside Denali, you don’t have to. You can buy food and other supplies (fuel, firewood, etc.) at the Riley Creek Mercantile or eat at the Morino Grill.
If you want that unique, one-on-one experience with the park, camp inside Denali. Just make sure to book your campsite as early as possible (I booked my campsite 6 months in advance). It costs anywhere from $19.25 - $49.00 per night ($9.75 - $20.00 per night with the annual national park pass) to camp at any of the campgrounds in Denali.
If you prefer not to camp, there are plenty of lodging and hotels to stay at both inside and outside of Denali National Park. There are a handful of hotels right outside the entrance of the park. Otherwise, the closest town to stay in near Denali is Healy, Alaska, about a 20-minute drive from the Denali Visitor Center.
What to bring for your trip to Denali depends on when you plan on visiting, your activities, and how long you’re going. However, here is a general list of what I recommend you bring on your trip to Denali:
So what are you waiting for? Haven’t I convinced you enough to add Denali National Park to your adventure bucket list?!
Whether you’re trying to see all of the national parks or planning a trip to Alaska, Denali is worth the visit.
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