Complete Guide to Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska including things to do, camping, history, lodging nearby, and so much more.
Denali National Park
Of all the Alaskan national parks, Denali is perhaps the most iconic. Stretching more than six million acres across the state’s south-central interior, Denali National Park’s vast wilderness is home to some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in the world.
The tranquility of this vast unfenced land and the region’s abundant wildlife are undeniable contributors to its popularity. Take the first step towards your amazing adventure with this epic guide to visiting the Denali NP.
About Denali National Park
From the low elevation taiga forest to the highest peak in North America and everything in between, there’s nowhere on earth quite like Denali. The park features miles of hiking trails, a single scenic road, and animals both large and small.
The park even has its own sled dog team! Denali is as wild as it is wonderful, and planning a trip can be a bit overwhelming. Below you’ll find the complete guide to planning a trip to Denali National Park.
North America’s highest mountain peak, Mount McKinley, is the dominating presence in the Denali National Park & Preserve.
Is Denali National Park worth visiting?
Denali National Park is without a doubt worth adding to your bucket list.
It may not be the most convenient park in the system, but compared to some of Alaska’s other national parks, it’s actually quite accessible!
History of Denali National Park
It may be hard to picture a place as wild as Denali as a hub of civilization, but this area has played host to numerous indigenous tribes over the last 500 years, including the Kuyukon, Tenana, and Dena’ina peoples.
Unfortunately, once these tribes began to have contact with the outside world, many died of smallpox and other infectious diseases.
Denali became a national park in 1917, but it was designated under the name Mount McKinley National Park for William McKinley - a presidential nominee.
There have been many disputes about the park’s name over the years, but in 2015 it was finally changed back to Denali - the original moniker of the mountain for which the park is named.
Things to know before your visit to Denali National Park
7-day individual park pass - $15 (Ages 16 and up)
Visitors under the age of 15 are free
Annual Park Pass - $45
Valid for one year through the month of purchase. Admits one private, non-commercial vehicle or its pass holder.
Planning a National Park vacation? America the Beautiful/National Park Pass covers entrance fees for an entire year to all US National Park Sites and over 2,000 Federal Recreation Fee Sites.
The park pass covers everyone in the car for per vehicle sites and for up to 4 adults for per-person sites.
Buy on REI.com and REI will donate 10% of pass proceeds to the National Forest Foundation, National Park Foundation and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities.
Learn more about National Park Passes for parks that have an entrance fee.
Free Entrance Days -Mark your calendars with the five free entrance days the National Park Service offers annually.
Alaska Time Zone
Pets are allowed in Denali NP but they must be on a leash 6 feet or less in length.
Pets can be walked on the park roads.
Pets are NOT permitted on park trails or off trails in the wilderness. Pets are also not permitted on the buses or tours.
Cell service is intermittent in the park and depends on the area. There is fairly good service at the parks entrance. Beyond mile 3 and the parks headquarters there is no cell service.
The park is open 24 hours a day. Visitor services hours depend on the time of year.
Wi-Fi is available at the Riley Creek Mercantile; the Denali Bus Depot; and the Denali Visitor Center.
Insect repellent is always a great idea when outdoors, especially if you are around any body of water.
We use Permethrin Spray on our clothes before our park trips.
Make sure to bring your own water bottle and plenty of water with you. Plastic water bottles are not sold in the park.
There is a nice size parking lot available for visitors.
The Morino Grill is located next to the Denali Visitor Center. There are also snacks available at the Wilderness ccess Center.
The Mercantile inside Riley Creek Campground sells snacks, sandwiches, and camping food.
There are restaurants right outside of the park on Highway 3.
There are no gas stations within the park.
Drones are not permitted within National Park Sites.
National Park Passport Stamps
National Park Passport stamps can be found in the visitor center.
Make sure to bring your National Park Passport Book with you or we like to pack these circle stickers so we don't have to bring our entire book with us.
Denali NP is part of the 2017 Passport Stamp Set and the 1987 Passport Stamp Set.
Electric Vehicle Charging
There is currently one EV charging station within park boundaries at:
Mile 214.5 Parks Hwy, Denali National Park and Preserve, AK 99755
In addition, there are other charging stations located all along the Parks Highway, which runs along the park’s eastern edge.
Details about Denali National Park
Size - 4,740,911 acres
Denali NP is currently ranked at 3 out of 63 National Parks by Size.
1917 - President Woodrow Wilson established Mount McKinley National Park
1976 - President Jimmy Carter designated the park as an International Biosphere Reserve.
1980 - Mt. McKinley National Park and Denali were combined to establish Denali National Park & Preserve
In 2021, Denali NP had 229,521 park visitors.
In 2020, Denali NP had 54,850 park visitors.
In 2019, Denali NP had 601,152 park visitors.
Learn more about the most visited and least visited National Parks in the US
National Park Address
Mile 237 Highway 3
Denali Park, AK 99755
GPS - 63.728443, -148.886572.
Denali National Park Map
For a detailed map we really like the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps available on Amazon.
Where is Denali National Park?
Denali NP is located in the interior of the state of Alaska approximately 3 hours from Fairbanks.
Estimated distance from major cities nearby
Fairbanks, AK - 120 miles
Anchorage, AK - 240 miles
Talkeetna, AK - 140 miles
Wasilla, AK - 195 miles
Palmer, AK - 207 miles
Kenai, AK - 394 miles
Homer, AK - 458 miles
Soldotna, AK - 382 miles
Healy, AK - 12 miles
Estimated Distance from nearby National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park - 361 miles
Wrangell St Elias National Park - 239 miles
These parks would need to be flown into:
Gates of the Arctic National Park
Where is the National Park Visitor Center?
Denali Visitor Center
Mile 1.5 Denali Park Road, Denali Park, AK 99755
This visitor center provides natural and cultural history exhibits, ranger programs and you can screen the film Heartbeats of Denali. Open May through mid-September (closes the second Tuesday after Labor Day each year). Daily hours: 8 am - 6 pm
Eielson Visitor Center
Mile 66, Denali Park Road Denali Park, AK 99755
This visitor center is only accessible via park shuttle bus. They offer a great view of Denali, on clear days. Rangers are on hand to answer questions.
Open June 1 through mid-September (closing the second Tuesday after Labor Day each year). Daily hours: 9 am - 7 pm. (The restroom portion of the facility remains unlocked 24 hours a day)
Murie Science and Learning Center
Mile 1.4 Denali Park Rd. Denali Park, AK 99755
The Murie Science and Learning Center is run by the National Park Service in partnership with Alaska Geographic. They showcase the research being done in Denali. Open year-round. Daily hours: 9 am - 4:30 pm.
Wilderness Access Center and Backcountry Information Center
Mile 1 Denali Park Rd. Denali Park, AK 99755
This center provides information, reservations, and permits for park campgrounds, tour and shuttle buses, and overnight backcountry trips. Open: May 15 through mid-September each year (closing date varies). Daily hours: 5 am - 7 pm for coffee service, bus loading; 7 am - 7 pm for reservation desk
Getting to Denali National Park
McKinley National Park Airport (MCL)
Healy River Airport (HRR)
Fairbanks International Airport (FAI)
Anchorage International Airport (ANC)
Most visitors drive to the park from the Fairbanks and Anchorage areas. No matter where you’re coming from, you’ll travel the Alaska Highway 3, also known as George Parks Highway.
There is only one road entrance to the park, located at Mile 237 of Alaska Highway 3.
Free shuttles are also available in the summer months. Shuttles travel between the Denali Bus Depot (Mile .5 of Alaska Highway 3) and the Denali Visitor Center.
There are also a few shuttles that transport visitors to various locations around the park, including campgrounds, trailheads, and the sled dog kennels.
Best time to visit Denali National Park
The best time to visit Denali is any time that there isn’t a lot of snowfall. This gives visitors a short, five-month window for exploring - usually between mid-May and mid-September.
Weather and Seasons
Spring is a fairly short season at Denali National Park, and oftentimes it’s just an extension of winter. But come late May the park begins to come alive again.
Wildflowers start to bloom, green foliage starts to peek through along the mountainsides, and the wildlife becomes more active after the long winter.
Summer is by far the most popular time to visit Denali, and this is when you’ll find the most services and amenities available.
Bus tours take visitors along the 92-mile Denali Park Road, the visitor centers are all open, and there are lots of fun ranger programs available during this season.
This is also the only truly good time for hiking and camping, and the days stretch much longer during this time of year.
Like the spring, autumn at the park is a very short season. It is a scenic one, however, and if you plan it right, you can enjoy the sensational reds, oranges, and yellows of the fall foliage against the backdrop of the snow-dusted mountains.
The colors usually peak around mid-August, so plan your trip around this time for your best chance of enjoying the colors at their most vibrant.
Although the park is open year-round, planning a trip in the winter is challenging. Temperatures usually dip well below zero, and heavy snowfall makes much of the park unreachable.
Denali Park Road is mostly shut down, and you’ll likely need snowshoes or skis to utilize the trails.
You can rent snowshoes and ice grippers for free from the Murie Science and Learning Center (which serves as the park’s main visitor center in the winter).
Aside from playing in the snow, the only other noteworthy activity available in the winter is watching the northern lights - though there is no guarantee you will see them during your visit.
You CAN count on it being very dark for most of the days during winter, as the park’s northern location equates to fewer hours of daylight.
Best Things to do in Denali National Park
Denali National Park was originally established to protect the wide variety of wildlife that call this area home, so it’s no surprise that the area is brimming with critters today.
As you explore, you’ll likely see arctic ground squirrels, Dall sheep, bears, moose, beavers, and caribou.
Junior Ranger Program
The Junior Ranger Program is a great way for visitors to learn all about the park’s history, wildlife, and more in a fun, hands-on way. It’s not just for the young visitors, either!
There are plenty of adults who complete these programs as well, and at the end, you’ll receive a cool park badge to commemorate your time here.
Taking a bus tour while in Denali is perhaps the best way to experience the park.
Private vehicles can only travel about 15 miles along the park road, but a bus tour can take you the full distance along the park’s single road - about 89 miles!
There are a few different bus tours to choose from.
Some are simply transits that pick you up and drop you off at various locations around the park, while others are narrated and offer insider knowledge of different aspects of the park. Bus tours only operate during the summer and reservations are highly recommended.
Do I need a reservation to take a tour in Denali?
YES! Denali is super busy in the summer, and your best bet is to have a reservation ahead of time. This way you know that you are going to be able to tour into the park.
There are three ways to buy bus tickets:
- Make bus and campground reservations online
1 800 622-7275 (U.S. and Canada)
1 907 272-7275 (international and Anchorage local)
- In person at the Wilderness Access Center
Reservations for bus trips and campground stays in a given summer are possible as early as December 1 of the year before your trip.
What to bring for your Denali Tour
-Refillable Water Bottle
-Camera, extra cards, extra batteries. You will take WAY MORE photos than you plan on.
-Small amount of cash
-Rain gear, umbrella, jacket, coat, dress in layers so you are prepared for the weather, this is Alaska
-Hiking boots, shoes you can get muddy
- a bag/backpack that will fit everything.
We also like these plastic Denali Wildlife spotting guides. They are great for kids and adults. You can mark off with a marker the animals you have seen.
There are a few cycling trails within the park, and biking along Denali Park Road is also possible.
This is one of the most scenic areas in the world to take a two-wheeled cruise, but cyclists will need to be aware of their surroundings as they bike.
Trails are rugged, and the presence of bears and other unpredictable wildlife means that you will need to exercise caution while biking within the park.
One of the coolest experiences at Denali National Park is seeing the sled dogs. Most equate sled dogs to the famous Iditarod Race, but their purpose at the park is much different.
The best way to get the full sled dog experience is by attending a demonstration. During the demonstration, you’ll get to see pups in action, and a park ranger will describe the purpose of working with them.
Hiking in Denali National Park
Always carry the 10 essentials for outdoor survival when exploring.
Of all the park’s six million acres, there are just 35 miles of established hiking trails. Backcountry hiking is also allowed with a permit, though visitors will need to have good way-finding skills. No matter where you wander in the park, make sure you have some bear spray with you!
Horseshoe Lake Trail
Distance - 2.1 miles
Trail Difficulty - Easy
Time Required - 1 hour
Trailhead - Denali Visitor Center
With the exception of one steep hill, Horseshoe Lake Trail is one of the easiest routes in the park. It’s also located near the entrance and visitor center, which makes it a popular hike.
This trail loops around a horseshoe-shaped lake and is great for wildlife watching and casual strolling.
Savage River Loop
Distance - 2.1 miles
Trail Difficulty - Easy
Time Required - 1 hour
Trailhead - Savage River
This short and easy trek leads along the flat shoreline of Savage River. It also features a footbridge and plenty of scenic views. If you want to extend this hike, you can continue walking along the canyon created by the river.
Mount Healy Overlook Trail
Distance - 6.9 miles
Trail Difficulty - Moderate
Time Required - 4.5 hours
Trailhead - Denali Visitor Center
Thanks to its convenient location near the park entrance, Mount Healy Overlook Trail is one of the most popular treks in Denali. The panoramic views from the lookout point are epic, though you will have to work for them!
Savage Alpine Trail
Distance - 4.1 miles
Trail Difficulty - Hard
Time Required - 3 hours
Trailhead - Mountain Vista or Savage River
Although quite strenuous, on a clear day hiking Savage Alpine Trail rewards visitors with some of the most commanding views of Denali and the Alaskan Range.
Note that this is a point-to-point trail, so you will need to take the shuttle or hitch hike back to where you started.
Triple Lakes Trail
Distance - 18.5 miles
Trail Difficulty - Hard
Time Required - 9 hours
Trailhead - Denali Visitor Center or Denali Park Village
As the name suggests, this long trail winds past three different lakes with incredible mountain views along the way. If you can, try to hike the Triple Lakes Trail in the autumn when the fall foliage is at its peak.
How to beat the crowds in Denali National Park?
If you want to avoid the crowds while still enjoying the nice weather and park services that are available during the summer months, plan your trip at the beginning or the end of the summer months - specifically late May or early September.
Where to stay when visiting Denali National Park
There are no National Park Lodges within the park.
There are a few privately owned and operated lodges within the park. These lodges include Camp Denali / Denali North Face Lodge; the Kantishna Roadhouse; Denali Backcountry Lodge; and Skyline Lodge.
Denali Crow's Nest Cabins - At Denali Crow's Nest Cabins, you can look forward to a free daily manager's reception, a terrace, and a library. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi, and guests can find other amenities such as a bar.
Denali Park Hotel - Denali Park Hotel provides a snack bar/deli and more. Guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
Aurora Denali Lodge - At Aurora Denali Lodge, you can look forward to 9 holes of golf, a terrace, and a library. Get out on the links at this motel and enjoy amenities such as a golf clubhouse and golf caddies. In addition to a business center and a snack bar/deli, guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
Click on the map below to see current rates for vacation rentals and lodging near Denali NP!
Denali National Park Camping
If you are camping in Denali you can rent Bear Resistant Food Containers (BRFC) which are made of plastic and seal your food inside keeping any odors from leaking out.
The bear cans can be checked out from the Backcountry Information Center or you can buy them in the park or ahead of time on Amazon.
There are six designated campgrounds within the park, three of which allow vehicles and small RVs. The other three are only accessible via transit bus.
For these, you will need to book a spot on the camper bus, which is specifically configured with space for camping gear.
Riley Creek Campground
This is the most accessible campground thanks to its location near the park entrance and Denali Visitor Center. There are 142 sites, most of which are open to both tent camping and vehicles/RVs.
The campground is open year-round, though sites are limited during the off-season. Reservations for the summer are highly recommended.
Savage River Campground
This is another one of the other campgrounds where vehicles are allowed.
The campground is located at Mile 13 of the Denali Park road, and there are 32 sites available for tents and small RVs. The campground is open seasonally and reservations are highly recommended.
Teklanika River Campground
Although Teklanika River Campground is located past the 15 miles of road where vehicles are allowed, if you are staying for more than three nights, you are allowed to drive your vehicle/RV.
However, you must leave your vehicle at the campground for the duration of your stay and take the shuttle/tour buses to sightsee.
There are 53 sites at Teklanika River Campground, and reservations are highly recommended. The campground is open seasonally from mid-May to mid-September.
Sanctuary River Campground
Sanctuary River Campground is equipped with seven sites for tent camping.
No vehicles or RVs are allowed here, so campers will need to take the camper bus shuttle.
Sanctuary River Campground is open seasonally from mid-May to mid-September, and reservations are highly recommended.
Igloo Creek Campground
Igloo Creek is a tent-only campground with seven sites.
No vehicles or RVs are allowed here and campers will need to take the camper bus shuttle.
Igloo Creek Campground is open seasonally from mid-May to mid-September, and reservations are highly recommended.
Wonder Lake Campground
Wonder Lake is one of the most scenic campgrounds in the park, so reservations are highly recommended.
This is a tent-only campground with 28 sites. Wonder Lake is open seasonally, but it is currently closed for restorations for the foreseeable future.
Backcountry Wilderness Camping
Backcountry camping is also allowed within Denali National Park, though you will need to obtain a permit and complete an orientation at the Denali Visitor Center (in the summer) or the Murie Science and Learning Center (in the winter).
There are 87 designated units where backcountry camping is allowed, so you may want to do some research about the different areas before you arrive.
Camping near Denali NP
Cantwell RV Park - Cantwell, AK (24 miles from the park)
This campground offers RV and Tent Sites, a general store, and more.
Talkeetna Camper Park - Talkeetna, AK (105 miles from the park)
This campground offers RV sites, a general store, laundry and more.
Tolsona Wilderness Campground - Glennallen, AK (146 miles from the park)
This campground offers Lodging, RV and Tent Sites, a beach, waterfront, and more.
Check out additional campgrounds near Denali on CampSpot.
Denali National Park gives sled dog demonstrations three times a day in the summer/peak season. The kennels are open from 8 am - 5 pm daily and are free to visit.
Be prepared for cell phone service to be minimal if any during your visit. Set up your out of office that you are on the lookout for bears, caribou, and moose oh my and enjoy your time in the park.
Have your camera/cell phone ready to take pics at all times. You never know what is around the next bend in the road.
Can I drive my car into Denali National Park?
During the summer you can drive to mile 15 of the Park Road. After this point, you will need to be on a park shuttle bus. There is a lottery that you can enter to drive your car into the park in September.
The lottery is open to entering from May 1st to the 31st. You can find out more information on the lottery here.
Parks Near Denali National Park
Alagnak Wild River
Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve
Cape Krusenstern National Monument
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Sitka National Historical Park
Check out all of the Alaska National Parks along with National Parks in Washington, California National Parks, and National Parks in Hawaii