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Rainbow over mountains with a caribou in the foreground in Denali Park
Photo Credit: ATIA, Michael DeYoung
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7 Things to Do in Denali Park

7 Things to Do in Denali Park

Denali Park is the gateway to Denali National Park and Preserve, and visitors can use it as a jumping-off point for wildlife watching, dog sled rides, ATV trips, and northern lights viewing.

1. Experience Next-Level Adventure

Embarking on a wild adventure can be convenient at Denali National Park and Preserve. Tour operators take travelers into the park for photography, hiking, camping, rafting, and more. Visitors who want to get out on their own have plenty of options as well. Take off into the backcountry, but make sure to get the proper permits and brush up on bear safety beforehand.

Looking for a different way to see the park? Experience beautiful views from the seat of a raft on the Nenana River, one of the most popular whitewater rafting areas in the state. Take off with a whitewater guide near the entrance of the park and travel through class III rapids, standing waves, and sheer-sided canyons. Milder trips are available, too.

For a whole day of fun, rent mountain bikes, hike the trails, ride ATVs, and even plan an overnight at one of the park’s campgrounds.

2. Meet Denali's Sled Dogs

In Denali National Park and Preserve, rangers conduct winter patrols via dog team. It is the only national park in the country where dog teams are used for such an important task.

During the summer, when the pups are off duty, they can be visited during free daily tours of the kennels. The tour ends with the dog teams taking guests on a spirited sprint down a trail via wheeled carts. The dogs love to run, and they need to stay in shape, even when there is no snow on the ground.

The kennels are also open during the winter, but since the teams are hard at work, visitors should check to see if the teams are in before heading out to the kennels.

Located about 3 miles inside the park, the kennels can be accessed by car, transit bus, or foot. Visiting the kennels isn’t the only way to love on the Denali dogs, though. They have their own blog for people to follow along with every pupdate.

3. Get into the Park

During the summer, private cars may travel the first 15 miles of the 92-mile road that goes into the park. To keep the park wild and reduce congestion on the road, visitors can choose from other travel options to go farther. Some of the most common methods are by bus or flightseeing tour.

Several bus tours are available to park visitors. These are great for people who want to travel deeper into the park and have the best chances of viewing wildlife. Some bus tours go all the way to Kantishna, where interpretive programs, gold panning, or lunch awaits. Visitors can choose from narrated and non-narrated bus tours.

Those who want to see even more might consider a flightseeing tour. Charter flight companies in and around the park offer tours that usually include flying around Denali and possibly landing on one of its glaciers. Choose between small plane tours or a ride in a helicopter. Flightseeing tours of the mountain and the park can also be arranged from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Healy, or Talkeetna.

4. Experience Denali's Glaciers

Covering about one-sixth of the park, there is no shortage of glacial ice, and evidence of its long history can be seen in the very formation of the surrounding landscape. Many of the park’s glaciers are far from the road system and difficult to see up close without either a long hike or a flightseeing tour.

Viewing glaciers from the sky is a special experience in Denali. Many flightseeing tours circle the mountain for views of the most popular glaciers, and in the spring and summer, it is not uncommon for flight operators to land directly on top of the glacial ice. Once there, travelers can get out and explore. Walk over ancient ice and even take part in a mid-summer snowball fight. It is a magical experience for many to be perched on top of such incredible ice formations surrounded by nothing but wilderness.

5. Gaze at the Northern Lights

From mid-August to mid-April, park skies are dark enough for travelers to gaze upon the northern lights, or aurora borealis, in all their glory, dancing across the sky in green and purple waves.

A few things have to happen for them to be visible, however. To catch the lights, first, the aurora needs to happen. It can be predicted, so start by checking the aurora forecast. Next, the sky must be dark enough. It will be hard to spot the lights in the summer, but during the darker fall and winter months, visitors can spot them. Finally, the sky must be clear.

Travelers who hope to see the lights should plan to camp or stay in a nearby lodge. The lights appear at all times of the night, so bring a thermos of hot chocolate and prepare to stay up late. Or, if you’re staying in a lodge, see if you can set up a wake-up call—many lodges will call up to travelers’ rooms if the lights come out so no one misses the show.

6. See Denali's Wildlife

The park was created specifically to protect the wildlife living in the area, and the opportunity to spot each unique creature is one of the top reasons that people visit. Home to 39 species of mammals and 169 varieties of birds, there is no shortage to look out for. Many of those species can be spotted from bus tours, and people who want to get off the road system can hike the trails for the opportunity to view even more wildlife.

Some of the wildlife that can be spotted in the park includes moose, caribou, mountain goats, wolves, and bears. Travelers should talk to park rangers about the best spots for viewing wildlife. It is important for visitors on the bus and on foot to remember that these animals are wild, and the park is their home. They must be respected and given space.

7. Experience Denali’s Winter

Many people don’t know that the park stays open during the winter, and visitors who travel to the park outside of the summer season will be treated with views of a park blanketed in snow and plenty of winter sports to try. Time it right and plan a trip during February’s Denali Winterfest to celebrate Alaska’s longest season through art, games, races, and more.

Visitors should plan to start their adventure at the Murie Science and Learning Center to talk with park rangers about trail conditions, get a backcountry permit, and even borrow free snowshoes and other gear. A few favorite winter activities include cross country skiing, fat tire biking, dog mushing, and winter camping. Those setting out in the winter should take a look at the winter trails map and check conditions often.

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. 

Learn more about Denali Park >>

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