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Denali Park Alaska Couple
Photo Credit: ATIA
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Denali Park

Denali Park

The community known as Denali Park is a collection of mostly seasonal businesses and accommodations providing services for visitors to Denali National Park, located next to the park's entrance and stretching along the George Parks Highway.

Denali National Park itself is nestled in the heart of Alaska and is home to the towering peaks of the Alaska Range, stunning glaciers, and diverse wildlife. Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America, standing at a breathtaking 20,310 feet. With hiking trails and backcountry exploration, opportunities for rafting and flightseeing, educational opportunities near the park's entrance, and so much more, Denali offers visitors much more than an impressive peak. Opportunities to spot grizzly bears and caribou and marvel at the vast tundra landscape make Denali a must-see destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

A note for visitors in 2023 and 2024:
The Denali Park Road will be open until mile 43 in 2023 and 2024 due to road improvements. Narrated bus tours and transit buses will continue to be available for guests visiting the park and will travel as far as mile 43. The main visitor center will remain open along with four campgrounds and numerous trails accessible via the park road. Please check with Kantishna-area businesses about their operational plans for lodging and excursions in 2023 and 2024. Free shuttle bus service will run every 15 minutes during peak visitation times between the Denali Bus Depot / Denali Visitor Center to the Mountain Vista and Savage River Trailheads. 

Hiking the Mt. Healy Overlook Trail in near the entrance to Denali National Park
Hiking the Mt. Healy Overlook Trail in near the entrance to Denali National Park

About Denali Park

Denali Park is located in Interior Alaska right outside the entrance to Denali National Park. It is accessible via the George Parks Highway, which connects Anchorage and Fairbanks, and on the Alaska Railroad, whose tracks roughly parallel the highway. The area provides services mainly to visitors exploring Denali National Park, one of Alaska’s most visited parks. Visitor services  include restaurants, shopping, a brewery, a gas station, entertainment, and multiple accommodation options including lodges, cabins, and hotels. 

Aerial view of Denali Park shops and lodging.
Aerial view of Denali Park shops and lodging. Photo credit: istockphoto.com, Jacob Boomsma

The History of Denali

Denali has a long and rich history dating back thousands of years. The name Denali comes from the Athabascan language and means the high one. For centuries, the Koyukon Athabascan people, who lived in the region, called the mountain Denali and revered it as a sacred place.

In the late 1800s, the mountain was renamed by gold prospectors to honor William McKinley, who was running for president at the time. However, this name change was met with much opposition from the Athabascan people and other Alaskans, who believed that the mountain should be called by its original name.

After a decades-long campaign by Alaska Natives and others, in 2015, the mountain was officially renamed Denali, reclaiming its original Athabascan name. This was a significant moment in recognizing the cultural heritage of the Alaska Native peoples who call the region home.

Today, Denali National Park and Preserve is not only a popular destination for visitors, but also an important site for preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the region. The park serves as a testament to the resilience of Indigenous cultures and the importance of preserving their heritage for future generations.

Denali summit
Denali, "the Great One." Photo Credit: @lauren_k_photo

Things to do Denali Park

Most people who visit Denali Park will spend a good amount of time in Denali National Park and Preserve, embarking on a wide variety of adventures within the park’s six million acres, including bus tours, hiking, backpacking, and wildlife viewing. However, a world of other activities is available in the area just outside the national park. From Denali Park, tour operators run a variety of day trips including fishing, rafting, hiking, ATV tours, ziplines, Jeep safaris, flightseeing, and dog sledding tours.

Bus Tours into Denali National Park

Denali National Park offers a variety of bus tours that depart from the park entrance, providing visitors with a unique and immersive way to experience the park's natural beauty and wildlife. Bus tours are the primary excursions into the park, many of which last 5-6 hours and journey deep into the park's backcountry. Visitors on these tours have the chance to see stunning mountain views and the expansive wilderness, as well as the opportunity to spot moose, bears, and other wildlife. Tours include rest stops for sightseeing, stretching your legs, and of course taking advantage of the many photo opportunities. Some tours will also include a boxed lunch. Advanced reservations are recommended.

Denali National Park bus tour.
Photo Credit: istockphoto.com

Whitewater Rafting Tours

The Nenana River is one of the most popular whitewater rafting areas in Alaska. The river's main whitewater begins near the entrance of Denali National Park and extends ten miles north to Healy. Outfitters offer raft trips that include Class III rapids, standing waves, and holes in sheer-sided canyons. Milder raft trips are run in the river south of the park entrance.

Rafting on the Nenana River
Rafting on the Nenana River.

Activities Near the Park's Entrance

Shopping, Dining, & Entertainment

If you’ve had your fill of adventure, you can spend a leisurely afternoon exploring gift shops, galleries, and restaurants in the Denali Park area. Some lodges and restaurants offer evening entertainment, such as live music and dinner theater. The area is also a good spot for grabbing supplies for your excursions into the park, with a couple of grocery stores and a gas station.

Dining at a restaurant in Denali Park.
Dining at a restaurant in Denali Park.

Hiking Trails Near Denali’s Entrance

Denali offers a variety of hikes for people of all abilities. Below are two trails that are found near the entrance of the park. For those wishing to hike further into the park, check with park rangers at the visitor center or find more information here

  • Horseshoe Lake Trail - A 2.8-mile loop trail through the boreal forest, leading to a scenic lake. Trailhead is located at Mile 1.3 on Park Road.
  • Mt. Healy Overlook Trail - A 2.7 mile out and back trail that climbs partway up Mt. Healy. Trailhead is located at Mile 1.5 on the Park Road. Start at Denali Visitor Center and hike .5 miles on the Taiga Trail to connect to Mt. Healy Overlook Trail.

Horseshoe Lake Trail
Horseshoe Lake Trail

Denali National Park Sled Dog Kennels

Denali National Park is home to the only sled dog team in the United States used to patrol a national park. Visitors can meet these canine rangers at their kennels and see demonstrations to learn about their unique history and role at the park. The kennels are open year-round near the park entrance.  

Denali Sled Dog Kennels
Visiting the canine rangers at the Denali Sled Dog Kennels. Photo credit: istockphoto.com, Ruxandra Arustei

Denali Visitor Center & Murie Science and Learning Center

The Denali Visitor Center and Murie Science and Learning Center are the park's hubs of information and offer many resources for visitors. Located just inside the park entrance, these centers offer a variety of exhibits, programs, and educational materials designed to enhance visitors' understanding of the park's natural and cultural history. Here, visitors can learn about the ecology and wildlife of Denali, as well as the history and traditions of the Indigenous peoples who have lived in the region for thousands of years. The centers also offer ranger-led programs, guided hikes, and other activities for visitors of all ages.

Staying in Denali Park

Denali Park is the top spot for Denali National Park lodging. The main Denali Park area is home to several large lodges, resorts, and cabin rentals. Additional lodges, cabin rentals, bed & breakfasts, and a hostel are located within the 15 miles south of Denali Park along the Parks Highway. There is also a campground located at the entrance of Denali National Park.    

Lodging in Denali Park
Lodging in Denali Park. Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, @travelingnewlyweds

Towns Near Denali National Park

Denali Park is near several small communities that provide services and support for visitors to the park. The nearest community is the town of Healy, which is located about 11 miles north of the park entrance. Healy is home to a number of lodging options, restaurants, and outdoor adventure companies that offer guided tours and activities.

Another nearby community is the historic town of Talkeetna, which is located about 250 miles south of the park entrance, which equates to around a 2.5-hour drive. Talkeetna is a popular destination for visitors to Denali, offering a variety of lodging, dining, and recreational opportunities – including flightseeing trips into the park. Other nearby communities include Nenana, Cantwell, and Fairbanks, each of which offers its own unique charm and amenities.

Winter views of Denali from the Cantwell area
Winter views of Denali from the Cantwell area.

Getting to Denali

Both Fairbanks or Anchorage offer motorcoach and train transportation options to get visitors to Denali National Park. The drive from Anchorage to Denali is about 230 miles which averages just over 4 hours by car, while the trip from Fairbanks to Denali is around 120 miles and takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes. 

Looking for more? Read 7 Things to Do in Denali Park and explore more things to do in Denali National Park and Preserve.

Motorhome on the Parks Highway on the way to Denali.

 

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