What You Need to Know When Planning a Trip to Denali

Extraordinary landscape, amazing scenery and a variety of wildlife await visitors to Denali National Park.

At 20,310 feet, Denali dominates the already colossal landscape of the Alaska Range, rising above the horizon of Alaska’s two largest cities, Fairbanks and Anchorage.

Seeing Denali, the mountain formerly known as Mount McKinley and the highest peak on the continent, remains at the top of travelers’ bucket lists.

Known around the world for its amazing scenery and wildlife, Denali National Park is a place of excitement, inspiration and exploration for travelers. One of the most popular activities is exploring Denali by bus along the 92-mile Denali Park Road. Take in the extraordinary landscape and the opportunity to see Denali (weather permitting).

Tour bus drivers narrate and pause for views of wildlife and scenery. Less expensive, non-narrated shuttle buses, called Visitor Transportation Shuttles (VTS), provide more flexibility to explore the park at your leisure. These buses also stop for wildlife and scenery viewing and picture taking. Lucky visitors will see grizzly and black bears, wolves, caribou, moose and Dall sheep. Buses depart the Wilderness Access Center every half hour between 6 am and 10 pm in the summer.

Denali Park Sled Dog Demonstration
The Sled Dog Demonstration at Denali Park Kennel is free to visitors and offered daily in summer. (©Kris Valencia)

A must-see in Denali Park is the sled-dog demonstrations. The sled dogs of Denali are an important part of the park, as they are the only sled dogs in the U.S. that help to protect a national park. Park rangers give dog-sled demonstrations at the Park Kennels three times a day during peak season. Visitors can photograph and pet the sled dogs before the formal demonstration.

We highly recommend you take advantage of the informative park ranger programs. Park rangers are available for hikes, talks and rides on certain bus tours. Attend an educational program at the Murie Science and Learning Center. Programs include field seminars, teacher training and youth camps. (This doubles as the winter visitor center when other services in the park close for the season.)

When planning a visit to Denali National Park, make time for one of the flightseeing tours by plane or helicopter that offer a view of Denali and the Alaska Range that is impossible to get from the ground. Many flight tour operators offer optional glacier landings on ski planes. 

Scenic and whitewater river trips are a very popular activity here. Denali rafting companies offer daily departures for Nenana Gorge whitewater trips, Upper Nenana River scenic floats and trips that combine both scenic and whitewater. Multi-day overnight raft trips are also available. Rafts are paddle or oar. Operators provide drysuits for whitewater, free transportation from local hotels, and safety briefings by experienced guides. Kayak trips using inflatable kayaks are also available.Rafting and kayaking are very affordable ways to enjoy the wilderness, with or without the thrill of whitewater. 

Consider seeing Denali from the treetops on a zipline tour. These cable-ride attractions have become increasingly popular in Alaska. 

If you'd prefer to stay on the ground, an ATV tour through Denali park offers many thrills as you bounce across dirt tracks and experience the park's wilderness from a single or multi-rider ATV.  

Staying in Denali? There are many hotels from which to choose just north of the park entrance on the Parks Highway. Camping in the park is also an option for a fee.

Visitors can access Denali National Park and Preserve by vehicle and by the Alaska Railroad. The park entrance is 237 miles north of Anchorage and 125 miles south of Fairbanks via the Parks Highway. Typical summer weather in the park is cool, wet and windy. Visitors should pack clothes for temperatures that range from 40-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain gear, a light coat and bug spray are essential.

The park entrance fee is $10 fee per person and additional fees are charged for the shuttle bus, tour buses and campgrounds (there is also a reservation fee). Free attractions in the park include the Sled Dog Demonstrations, guided ranger hikes and the Denali Visitor Center/Karstens Theatre. Season openings for park services and the park road are found at www.nps.gov/dena and at www.reservedenali.com.

Denali Park commercial area on the Parks Highway
Food, lodging and other services are concentrated along the Parks Highway just north of the entrance to Denali National Park. (©Kris Valencia)