A visit to Denali National Park & Preserve is a bucket-list adventure to add to your list of things to do in Alaska. Denali National Park is Alaska’s most well known national park and home to North America’s tallest peak, Denali.
Only one road goes through the national park and leads you to one of your best chances to see moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves and grizzly bears!
Most of the year, personal vehicles are only allowed on the road up to mile 15, but the park hosts a road lottery every year, allowing winners to drive as much of the road Denali Park Road as they wish.
In this post, I’m going to share everything you need to know to visit Denali National Park.
- 2024 Park Notices
- Denali National Park Facts & Basic Info
- Denali National Park Road Map
- How to Get to Denali National Park
- How to Visit Denali National Park For Free
- Getting Around Denali National Park
- Denali National Park: Where to Stay
- Best Things to See and Do in Denali National Park
- Top Tour in Denali National Park
- Other Things to See and Do in Denali National Park
- Answering Your Questions
2024 Park Notices
⚠️ Denali National Park Road Closure at Mile 43
Summer 2024 operations will be affected by the ongoing Pretty Rocks Landslide and the associated closure of the Denali Park Road at Mile 43. Check the latest conditions here.
⚠️ COVID-19 Restrictions
Current COVID-19 community level for the Denali Borough (Denali Visitor Center, Kennels, Park Road, etc) : LOW – Masks are optional
Current COVID-19 community level for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough (Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station) : LOW – Masks are optional
Denali National Park Facts & Basic Info
Traditional Land: Tanana, Dënéndeh, Dena’ina (Visit Native-Land.ca to identify whose land you live, work, and play on.)
Size: 6,075,030 acres
Annual Visitors: 650,000 in 2017
Established: 1917 as Mount McKinley National Park, Renamed in 1980
Visitor Centers: Denali Visitor Center, Eielson Visitor Center
Entrance Fee: $15 per person, $45 annual pass
Pets: Yes, must be on leash at all times. Not allowed on park buses or in the backcountry.
Planning a trip to Alaska? Start with my Alaska Travel Guide
You can find the Denali Visitor Center at Mile 1.5 on the park road. It’s the main source of visitor information. Since the road is closed at Mile 43 due to the landslide, theEielson Visitor Center is closed for 2024.
Entrance Fee and Station
The entrance fee is $15 USD for adults and free for anyone 15 and younger. If you are a US military veteran, check out the new program providing free access that took effect in 2020.
Denali does not have an entrance station, so keep your receipt on you. If you have a pass that allows you to drive further into the park, your pass will be checked at Mile 15 and exchanged for a vehicle permit.
It’s more convenient to buy your pass online, especially if you have an early start, but you can also buy it in person at the Denali Visitor Center during summer, or the Murie Science & Learning Center the rest of the year. You can also purchase passes at the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station, which is open year-round in Talkeetna.
Weather in Denali is increasingly changing and unpredictable. During summer, average temps range from 33F to 75F. And don’t be surprised if it snows or hails! June through August are the rainiest months.
During winter, expect extremely cold temps from -40F to high 20F on “warm” days. Since forecasts can be incorrect, make sure to check the weather multiple times and be prepared to experience a variety of conditions.
What is the best time of year to visit Denali National Park?
Spring brings daylight and plowing of the park road usually starts mid-March. This means the road is open to Mile 30 and you can drive as much of it as conditions allow. This is a popular time to plan biking trips when the road is snow-free and summer buses aren’t running yet.
Summer is the most popular time of the year to visit Denali National Park. This is when busses and other operations are running. You’ll also get to experience better weather and lots of opportunities to see wildlife.
Fall is a great time to visit the park if you want to see the beautiful fall foliage accompanied by wildlife. You can drive up to 30 miles of the road unless there is heavy snowfall.
Winter is quiet in the park as most of the park is closed. However, this makes it a great time for winter activities, including Northern Lights viewing, winter camping, fat biking, xc skiing, and snowshoeing. The road is usually closed from Mile 3.
Denali National Park Road Map
The Denali Park Road is 92 miles long and it’s the only way to access the national park in a vehicle. The road begins at the George Parks Highway and ends at Kantishna.
How to Get to Denali National Park
How to get to Denali from Anchorage
1) Drive a car
Denali National Park is a 5-hour drive north from Anchorage. If you have a vehicle, driving is a great option to visit the park and stop at other amazing Alaskan destinations along the way.
2) Take the train
Alaska Railroad has service from Anchorage to Denali and the rail depot is next to the Denali National Park Visitor Center. The train ride takes less than 8 hours, departing Anchorage at 8:20 a.m. and arriving in Denali just before 4 p.m. The train costs $181 USD for adults during the regular summer season.
3) Ride a bus
If you’re in downtown Anchorage, you can hop on The Park Connection bus line from the Dena’ina Center. Passengers can choose between two departures daily and can get dropped off at the Denali Depot or hotels in the area. The bus costs $100 USD and takes 6 hours.
4) Direct Flight
The quickest way to get to Denali is by taking a direct flight. Kantishna Air Taxi offers a 1.5-hour scenic flight directly from downtown Anchorage to the Denali National Park Entrance.
How to get to Denali from Fairbanks
5) Fly to Fairbanks + Option 1 or 2
Sometimes it makes sense to continue directly to Fairbanks and then make your way south. If you fly to Fairbanks, you can then drive or take the train south to Denali. Denali National Park is a 3-hour drive south from Fairbanks. The train costs $81 USD for adults and takes about 4 hours.
How to Visit Denali National Park For Free
All National Park Service sites that charge an entrance fee will offer free admission to everyone on five days this year. If you want to visit for free in 2024, go on the following entrance fee-free days:
- January 15: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- April 16: First day of National Park Week
- August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- September 24: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
Getting Around Denali National Park
Most of the year, personal vehicles are only allowed on the road up to Mile 15, but the park hosts a road lottery every year, allowing winners to drive as much of the road Denali Park Road as they wish. The event happens over a 5-day period and it’s difficult to win the lottery as it’s very competitive.
Unfortunately, the landslide happened just before the 2021 road lottery which canceled the event and future road lotteries have been canceled until further notice.
Hopping on a bus is one way to explore more of the park but it’s also common to use the hop-on, hop-off shuttles to hike sections of the park or ride a bike. Buses only run from mid-May through mid-September. Reserve your bus online here.
Note that bus and campground reservations can be made as early as December 1, for the following summer.
Non-Narrated Transit Buses
- Camper Bus – accommodates people with backpacks or bicycles
- The Tek Pass – only available to people staying in Teklanika Campground at Mile 29
- Mile 43 East Fork Transit
- Mile 53 Toklat River
- Mile 66 Eielson Visitor Center (Unavailable in 2024)
- Mile 85 Wonder Lake (Unavailable in 2024)
- Mile 92 Kantishna (Unavailable in 2024)
Narrated Tour Buses – price includes park entrance fee
- Natural History Tour – $104 USD/adults, $44.50/youth
- Tundra Wilderness Tour – $128 USD/adults, $56.50/youth
- Kantishna Experience – $240.75 USD/adults, $113/youth (Unavailable in 2024)
- Savage River Shuttle
- Riley Loop Shuttle
- Sled Dog Demonstration Shuttle
On Foot or Bike
Since the road is closed to private vehicles from Savage River, walking and biking are great options to get farther into the park. Visitors are allowed to hike and cycle all 92 miles of Denali Park Road. The road changes from pavement to graded gravel beyond Mile 15.
Denali National Park: Where to Stay
Campgrounds within the park are operated by the National Park Service. Most of the campgrounds are only open in summer. This is a great way to experience multiple days in the park and it’s also a budget-friendly option.
Mile 0.25 Riley Creek Campground – Open year-round, no fees in winter. RVs and tents.
Mile 14 Savage RiverCampground – Open in summer only. RVs and tents.
Mile 22 Sanctuary RiverCampground – Open in summer only. Tents only, access by bus.
Mile 29 TeklanikaCampground – Open in summer only. RVs and tents. Minimum 3-night stay if you are driving to the campground.
Mile 35 Igloo Creek Campground – Open in summer only. Tents only, access by bus. (Closed in 2024)
Mile 85 Wonder Lake Campground – Open in summer only. Tents only, access by bus. (Closed in 2024)
Lodging within the park is limited and most park visitors stay outside of the park, usually between Cantell and Healy. You’ll find plenty of hotel and Airbnb options along the George Parks Highway. Here are some accommodations to check out:
Backcountry camping is a beautiful way to explore the park. Since there are no trails and no designated routes or campsites, you get to plan your own unique adventure. Permits are required for backpacking in most of Denali and they are free to obtain.
If you plan to climb Denali or Mt. Foraker, you must register and pay for a permit 60 days in advance of your climb. Kudos to all of you mountaineers!
Best Things to See and Do in Denali National Park
Popular Hikes in Denali National Park
One of the best ways to explore Denali National Park is on foot. You can choose to hike on or off the trail. If you’re not comfortable hiking on your own, you can find a hike guided by a park ranger. Here are some popular self-guided day hike options within the park:
Denali is home to the iconic “big 5” animals, which makes it an incredible place for wildlife viewing. You can see grizzly and black bears, wolves, caribou, moose and Dall sheep.
Some of the smaller animals include arctic ground squirrels, red squirrels, foxes and marmots. Birds include Golden eagles, bald eagles, ravens, mew gulls, gray jays and ptarmigan.
Moose can usually be found wandering around the visitor center, but for your first chances of seeing bears and caribou, you’ll want to drive to Savage River at Mile 15. Wildlife viewing in winter is much less common than in summer.
Bring extra batteries and SD cards for your camera because there is no shortage of things to photograph in Denali National Park. You can choose to capture Denali and other mountains in the Alaska Range. One of the most iconic and often-photographed images of the mountain is from Reflection Pond, just beyond mile 85. You can also take photos of the incredible wildlife, panoramic images of the stunning landscapes, and close-ups of native wildflowers.
Top Tour in Denali National Park
My absolute favorite tour in Denali National Park is a Denali flightseeing tour. Seeing North America’s tallest peak from above is an unforgettable experience. You’ll witness arctic alpine tundra, endless glaciers, and majestic mountains.
Talkeetna Air Taxi offers plenty of flight-seeing experiences and I highly suggest adding a glacier landing to your tour. You won’t be disappointed! Glacier landing tours start at $320 USD per person.
Other Things to See and Do in Denali National Park
Denali has something to offer everyone! Some other ideas of things to do are to meet the sled dogs, enjoy the beautiful fall colors in September, listen to a Ranger Talk, go fishing, join a multi-day field course, plan a bikepacking trip, or ride an ATV through the wilderness. During winter, chase the aurora borealis, try winter camping, xc skiing, winter biking, skiing, snowboarding, snowmachining, and snowshoeing.
49th State Brewing Co and Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse are a couple of nearby restaurant recommendations.
Answering Your Questions
What is Denali National Park known for?
Denali National Park is known for being home to Denali, the tallest mountain in North America, incredible wildlife viewing, and pristine backcountry terrain.
How many days do you need in Denali?
It’s possible to visit Denali National Park in one day, but it’s better to explore the park over 3 days.
What is the best way to see Denali?
The best way to see Denali is in your own vehicle, which is usually only possible during the road lottery event that takes place annually.
Where is the best view of Denali?
Stony Dome at mile 62 and the Eielson Visitor Center at mile 66 offer the best view of Denali from the park road. From the Eielson Visitor Center, the Denali summit is visible for the next 15 miles.
Can you see the Northern Lights in Denali?
You can see the Northern Lights in Denali since there is limited light pollution and it’s located at a far northern latitude in Alaska.
Is it safe to hike in Denali?
It’s safe to hike in Denali, but be prepared for possible encounters with wildlife, including bears, moose, especially if hiking off trail.
Can you fish in Denali National Park?
Yes, fishing is allowed in Denali National Park but most streams and lakes have a lot of glacial silt, resulting in poor fishing. Lake trout and grayling are occasionally caught in areas around the park.
Pin For Later
Are you planning to visit Denali National Park? Ask your questions below!