Article Overview: Things to Do in Denali National Park
Denali National Park and Preserve, located in the heart of Alaska, is a true wilderness wonderland. With over 6 million acres of stunning landscapes, pristine lakes, towering peaks, and abundant wildlife, it’s no wonder why Denali is considered one of the crown jewels of the National Park System.
Named for its tallest mountain which happens to be the highest peak in North America, Alaska’s flagship national park is on every park-goers bucket list. The breadth of this mountain is hard to appreciate and so is the size of the park itself.
Denali also happens to be one of the most accessible Alaskan national parks with limited driving access, bus access that gets you further, visitor center, campgrounds, and the famous car lottery.
But with so much to see and explore, deciding what to do and where to go can be overwhelming. For this reason, I’ll show you the top twenty best things to do in Denali National Park to help you plan your ultimate Alaskan adventure.
So, keep reading to discover!
Getting to Denali National Park
Great news here, folks! Denali National Park is one of three Alaska national parks that folks can drive to. We recommend flying into Fairbanks and driving to the park.
Train to Denali National Park
Taking the train to Denali National Park is another great and scenic way to get to the park via the Alaska Railroad’s Denali Star line.
From Fairbanks the ride is 4 hours long and runs around $80/adult and $40/child each way. From Anchorage to Denali the ride is roughly 7.5 hours long and the rates are about $180/adult & $90/child each way.
For more fare & schedule information visit the Alaska Railroad’s Denali page.
Can you Drive to Denali National Park?
Yes, you can drive to Denali National Park! From Fairbanks International Airport the drive is 2 hours southeast to the Denali National Park Visitors Center.
From Anchorage, the park entrance to Denali is about 4 hours north.
Driving the Denali National Park Road
While the Denali National Park Road is 92 miles long, most visitors are restricted to the first 15 miles in their own private vehicles (to a point called Savage River).
The park has instituted these restrictions to limit the overall impact of cars on the natural ecosystem. The rest of the drive is accessible via bus & the Denali National Park Road Lottery (see below).
Riding the Denali National Park Bus
Denali National Park offers a host of great bus options to tour Alaska’s flagship national park park including both free and paid options.
The paid options include a narrated tour with guide and are not operated by the National Park Service and range in price from $100 – $240 for adults and $40 – $100 for kids.
The non-narrated transit bus is a cheaper option ($50 – $60 per person / kids ride free) designed to get people around the park and is operated by a park concessionaire.
Reservations may be made online via the park’s website. Bus rides vary in length depending on which kind of tour you select or how far you would like to go into the park.
The shortest tours are around 4.5 hours long and the longest is 12 hours (going to the last stop on the Denali Road and back).
Make sure to pack plenty of food & water for your trip into the park as there are no conveniences available past the visitors center.
When is the Best Time to Visit Denali National Park?
The best season to visit Denali National Park is in the summer when days are longer and weather is more cooperative.
Summer sees more sunny days in the park which is great for those of us keen on seeing that massive mountain’s peak.
With that being said, the vast majority of visitors to this Alaska national park do not get a chance to see the Denali’s peak due to weather conditions.
Best Month to Visit Denali
The best month to visit Denali is August due to the chances for good weather and somewhat less mosquitoes than July. Sunshine is most abundant during the month of August in Denali National Park.
Things to Do at Denali National Park
Top 20 Best Things to Do at Denali National Park
20. Take a tour of the Denali Visitor Center to learn about the park’s history & attractions
The best way to better understand Denali National Park is by visiting the Denali Visitor Center! This informative hub at the park entrance is the perfect introduction to all the incredible things to do in Denali National Park.
Begin your visit by watching the heartbeats of Denali – a captivating 20-minute film that gives you essential tips for safely exploring the Alaskan wilderness. The center’s exhibit area is also a must-see, showcasing an impressive array of animal footprints, fossils, and other fascinating displays.
But that’s not all! The Denali Visitor Center is also the place to pick up permits and join ranger-led walks. And if you’re in need of a quick bite, the onsite restaurant offers delicious grab-and-go options that are perfect for a picnic lunch. Be sure to also stop by the bookstore and gift shop, where you’ll find unique souvenirs and educational resources.
Keep in mind that the center is only open from May to September when most visitors flock to the park.
19. Enjoy the views of the Savage River Trail
Wondering what to do in Denali National Park? Hiking is an absolute must, and one of the trails you also need to include on your list is the Savage River Trail. Located deeper into the park, this trail takes you on a scenic two-mile loop around the beautiful Savage River.
The trail is surrounded by towering trees and has plenty of opportunities to snap some amazing photos. And if you want a bit more of a challenge, there’s also a short but steep climb to a rock formation with panoramic views of the river and surrounding landscape.
One of the best things about this trail is that it’s great for hikers of all levels. The trail is generally flat with no steep inclines, so you can take a leisurely hike and soak up the breathtaking scenery.
However, be aware that the trail may be closed in early spring due to bears. Therefore, make sure to check ahead of time.
18. Visit the Denali Sled Dogs
Of all the things to see in Denali National Park, there’s nothing quite as interesting as watching the working sled dogs that call this vast wilderness their home. And I’m not just talking about any ordinary canines here. The Alaskan huskies have been the backbone of the park’s winter operations.
For over a century, they’ve been pulling sleds, carrying supplies and rangers, and patrolling the snow-covered terrain for signs of illegal activity.
But even if you happen to visit the park in the summer, you can still meet these incredible animals and learn about their important work. At the Denali Kennels, located just a few miles inside the park, you will hear about what they do, have a chance to pet them, and even watch mushing demonstrations.
So if you’re a dog lover or simply curious about these remarkable creatures, make sure to add visiting the working sled dogs to your list of places to visit in Denali National Park. Trust me; you won’t regret it!
17. Flightseeing & Helicopter Ride to a Glacier
As much as Denali National Park boasts breathtaking vistas from the ground, nothing quite compares to the view from above. Therefore, one of the coolest things to do in Denali is to take a helicopter ride to a glacier, where you can witness the immensity of the million acres of glaciers that cover the park.
Flightseeing tours offer an unprecedented vantage point of the snow-blanketed mountains, and with more window space, you’ll get an unobstructed view of the dense snow-capped mountains.
Some of the glacially carved environments you can admire include Cantwell Glacier, Caldwell Glacier, Buckskin Glacier, Brooks Glacier, and many others.
In addition, the helicopter also lands on the glacier, and you can walk and feel the ice crunch beneath your feet or drink fresh glacier water. This rare opportunity to walk on a glacier is a bucket-list experience you won’t want to miss, especially with many glaciers beginning to melt.
In short, taking a helicopter ride to a glacier is one of the fun things to do in Denali National Park. With unparalleled views, close encounters with wildlife, and a chance to walk on a glacier, this is an adventure you’ll never forget.
16. Go on a Midnight Sun Photo Shoot & See the Aurora Borealis
Imagine being surrounded by snow-covered mountains as the natural wonder of the midnight sun casts an ethereal glow over the landscape. It’s a moment that is hauntingly beautiful and one that you’ll never forget.
For photography enthusiasts, this is an opportunity not to be missed. Whether you’re an experienced pro or just starting out, capturing the beauty of the midnight sun will give you memories that will last a lifetime.
June is the best time to witness this phenomenon, as the winter snows have melted away, leaving the landscape clear and unobstructed. Take your time with the camera, soak up the natural beauty around you, and capture images that will last a lifetime.
A midnight sun photo shoot is a truly unique and memorable activity that should be on every nature lover’s list of the best things to do in Denali National Park.
15. Spend a Night at One of the Denali Hotels & Lodges
While Denali National Park has no official park lodges, there are still some epic lodging options most of which come with pretty epic price tags.
We recommend reserving your accommodations as early in advance of your trip as possible as they tend to fill up quite a ways out.
Most folks stay outside of the park but there are four options inside the park boundaries but on privately owned land. All of these options are located at the end of the main park road.
14. Visit the Eielson Visitor Center
Located at mile 66 on the Denali Park Road is a spectacular visitor center that blends in with its natural environment. The Eielson Visitor Center is a great (necessary) waypoint along the Denali Park Road where you can stretch your legs and learn more about the surrounding area.
On a clear days the views from visitor center are astounding. Three short day-hiking trails start from the Eilson Visitor Center: Tundra Loop, Thorofare Ridge Loop, Gorge Creek Trail.
13. Enjoy fishing & boating at Wonder Lake
Wonder Lake is a true gem and one of the best tourist spots in Denali National Park that every nature lover should add to their bucket list. This breathtaking lake is the largest body of water in the park, spanning over 7 miles long and 1 mile wide.
With a maximum depth of just over 400 feet, it’s also one of the deepest high-altitude lakes in North America.
What makes Wonder Lake truly special is its stunning surroundings. As you gaze out over the lake, you’ll be treated to unmatched views of Denali and the surrounding mountains, which reflect in the lake’s calm waters, creating a picture-perfect scene.
This lake is a popular spot for fishing and boating, and its average surface temperature of 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit makes it ideal for these activities year-round.
And while the lake is a popular spot for fishing and boating during all seasons, its beauty is especially amplified during winter when the lake is covered in ice. Although shoreline activities cease during this time, you can still enjoy the view from nearby sled dog kennels.
12. Go Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River
White water rafting on the Nenana River is definitely one of the most exciting things to do in Denali National Park! Get ready for an adrenaline-pumping adventure as you tackle class II and III rapids with Denali Raft Adventures, one of the best rafting companies in the area.
Their expert guides will lead you through the most thrilling sections of the river, and you’ll have the opportunity to choose from a variety of different packages that suit your level of experience. Plus, you can feel good about supporting an eco-minded company that prioritizes sustainability.
For beginners and intermediate rafters, a day trip is a perfect way to spend 3-4 hours on the river. Experienced rafters can opt for an overnight trip that takes 2-3 days navigating class II/III rapids.
During your trip, you’ll feel the rush of excitement as you navigate the river and dodge obstacles, all while surrounded by the breathtaking wilderness of Denali National Park.
Check out Denali Raft Adventures for more information on pricing and availability.
11. Join a Denali Ranger Program
For a truly immersive experience in Denali National Park, make sure to take part in one of the ranger-led programs available throughout the summer. These special programs offer free guided hikes that provide fascinating insights into the park’s natural wonders.
If you’re an early bird, the morning nature walks that depart from the Denali Visitor Center are a must-see. Led by knowledgeable rangers, these hikes cover up to 3 miles of nearby forests and are a great way to start your day in the park. And if you’re lucky enough to snag a ticket on a transit bus, you can also join noon hikes from the Eielson Visitor Center.
In the evenings, join a ranger at one of the park’s campgrounds for a nature and wildlife talk, where you’ll learn about the creatures that call Denali home and how the park is working to protect them.
No matter which ranger program you choose, you’re sure to come away with a deeper appreciation for all the amazing things to see in Denali National Park. So why not join a ranger today and start exploring this incredible wilderness yourself?
10. Spend a Night Camping in Denali
Camping under the starry night sky of Denali National Park is one of the coolest things to do in this wilderness wonderland. I promise, there’s no better way to fully immerse yourself in the great outdoors and truly experience the beauty of this national park.
With six campgrounds to choose from, there’s an option for everyone. They include Riley Creek Campground, Savage River Campground, Sanctuary River Campground, Teklanika River Campground, Igloo Creek Campground, and Wonder Lake Campground.
It’s important to note is that while most campgrounds only operate from May to September, Riley Creek is open year-round and free outside the summer season.
All the campsites can be reached by shuttle, and special camper buses even have space for equipment. Reservations should be made well in advance. So pack your tent, sleeping bag, and sense of adventure, and get ready to experience one of the coolest things to do in Denali National Park.
Campground fees range from $12 – $27 per night. Camping is free in winter for those who dare.
Denali National Park Campgrounds
- Riley Creek Campground (located at mile .25)
- Savage River Campground (located at mile 14)
- Sanctuary River Campground (located at mile 22)
- Teklanika River Campground (located at mile 29)
- Igloo Creek Campground (located at mile 35)
- Wonder Lake Campground (located at mile 85)
Denali is home to some epic backcountry camping adventures for those with For more Denali National Park camping information visit the park service’s website.
9. Hike the Savage Alpine Trail
If you’re feeling adventurous then we highly recommend you hike the Savage Alpine Trail (8miles RT / 1500ft elevation gain). This hike is widely considered one of the best hikes in the park and is accessible via the Savage River area.
The trail is steep and rocky, but the views along the way are absolutely stunning. The best part of the hike, though, is the view from the top. Once you reach the summit, you’re rewarded with panoramic views of the Alaska Range, the Savage River Valley, and the surrounding mountains.
It’s truly a sight to behold and worth every step of the challenging ascent. Just make sure you come prepared – wear sturdy hiking boots, bring plenty of water and snacks, and dress in layers as weather conditions can change quickly.
And of course, make sure you carry bear spray and know how to use it, as the park is home to grizzly bears.
8. Backpacking in Denali
One of the most adventurous things you can do in America these days has to be going backpacking in Denali National Park. Here amongst the mountains, glaciers, and grizzlies you are truly out in the wild.
Backpacking is certainly one of the most challenging things to do in Denali National Park and such an undertaking takes quite a bit of preparation. Folks typically spend a year (or years) planning this trip of a lifetime.
Among the most popular options is taking the bus down the main park road to a particular entry point of interest and making a go of it from there.
The NPS website has lots of great information and resources including the sort of equipment you should pack, permits, seasons, and more for backpacking in Denali National Park.
7. Snap a Photo at Stony Hill Overlook
If snapping the iconic photo is on your list of things to do in Denali National Park then Stony Hill Overlook is the place to do it. On a clear day (more on that in a moment), you are treated to the most magnificent and sweeping views of Denali (the mountain) itself, the highest mountain peak in North America.
The catch, as you may have already caught on, is that bit about it being a clear day. Eight in ten visitors do not see Denali on their trip into the park, so it truly is a roll of the dice and just being honest, the odds are not in your favor.
Getting to Stony Hill Overlook requires a ride on the Denali Bus or for lucky lottery winners a ride down the park road to mile 62.
6. Take a Scenic Hike Along the Horseshoe Lake Trail
One of the best ways to enjoy the natural beauty of Denali National Park is to hit the trails, and the Horseshoe Lake Trail is a fun activity not to be missed. This 2-mile path offers stunning views of Horseshoe Lake and the Nenana River, and the chance to spot some of the park’s diverse wildlife.
The route includes a short climb up to a breathtaking lake vista, followed by a descent to the shoreline, where you can explore a beaver dam and take in the serene surroundings.
The loop trail is easy to navigate and provides plenty of opportunities to capture stunning photos, particularly on the west side of the lake, where the path hugs the water’s edge and winds through towering trees against a backdrop of majestic mountains.
5. Enjoy a Bike Ride on Denali Park Road
Looking for a unique and active way to explore Denali National Park? Grab a bike and hit the road! Biking down the 92-mile Denali Park Road will give you an idea of the true beauty of the park.
And while bikes are allowed on the entire road, keep in mind that you’ll need a transit ticket if you want to use a bus along certain parts of the road.
But why rush through the park when you can take your time to soak in the breathtaking views and fresh air? Consider camping along the way or stopping at one of the designated camping sites.
You can even plan a multi-day cycling trip and explore the park at your own pace. Just be aware that camping sites are sparse between mile 35 and mile 85, so plan your trip accordingly.
All in all, biking is one of the amazing things to do in Denali National Park. You’ll have the chance to see wildlife, enjoy the beautiful landscape, and get some exercise in the process.
4. Hike the Triple Lakes Trail
Next on this list of the best things to do in Denali National Park is the Triple Lakes Trail. This 9.25-mile point-to-point hike runs along the park’s eastern border, just south of the entrance. As you hike along this trail, you’ll be treated to picturesque views of three tranquil lakes, each with its own unique charm.
While the Triple Lakes Trail isn’t recommended for those short on time, it’s the perfect choice if you’re looking for solitude and a chance to immerse yourself in nature. With fewer hikers on the trail than on other popular hikes, you’ll have more opportunities to enjoy the scenery and wildlife without distractions.
However, if you’re looking for a shorter, easier hike with similarly breathtaking views, check out the other trails mentioned.
3. See Wildlife on the Grandest Scale
For many a visitor the best thing to do at Denali National Park is see the epic wildlife lucky enough to call this place home. Some of the iconic mammals everyone wants to see include grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, caribou, moose, and Dall’s sheep.
The smaller, more common mammals include arctic ground squirrels, red squirrels, foxes, and marmots.
Birders can rejoice in the Denali’s more than 169 avian species including golden eagles, bald eagles, ravens, mew gulls, gray jays, ptarmigan, and more.
Check out the NPS page for more information on Denali’s wildlife.
2. Hike up Mount Healy
Mount Healy is one of the top attractions in Denali National Park for adventurous hikers seeking a challenging climb. This epic trek takes you up the Mount Healy Overlook Trail, which is conveniently located near the park entrance.
The 2.7-mile out-and-back trail is not for the faint of heart, ascending 1,700 feet to a jaw-dropping viewpoint on the mountainside.
As you hike through forests of spruce, you’ll wind your way above the tree line on a series of switchbacks. The highlight at the end of your ascent is the breathtaking view from the mountainside viewpoint, which may even include a glimpse of Denali on a clear day.
For the daring, a 1.5-mile extension from the overlook trail leads to the summit of Mount Healy, a perilous path that should be approached with caution.
1. Take a Scenic Drive (or Ride) Along the Denali Park Road
You can’t say you’ve experienced Denali National Park without driving the iconic Denali Park Road! After all, it’s the only way to access the heart of the park and witness the breathtaking scenery that makes it one of the most beautiful national parks in America.
This 92-mile stretch takes you through stunning landscapes and offers plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife.
Although private vehicles can only access the first 15 miles, if you’re lucky enough to win a road lottery ticket to the rest of the road, self-driving allows you to stop and appreciate the beauty of the park whenever you please.
If you’re not one of the lucky few, free park shuttles are available to transport you along the same route.
Map of Things to Do in Denali National Park
List of Things to Do in Denali National Park
- The Denali National Park Road
- Mount Healy
- Triple Lakes Trail
- Horshoe Lake Trail
- Stony Hill Overlook
- Backcountry Adventures
- Savage Alpine Trail
- Denali Ranger Program
- Whitewater Rafting
- Wonder Lake
- Marmot Basin Trail
- Denali Hotels & Lodges
- Helicopter Ride
- Denali Sled Dogs
- Savage River Trail
- Denali Visitor Center
Pin Things to Do in Denali National Park
Helpful Related Articles
Alaska National Parks: 8 Amazing Alaska National Parks (Tips for Visiting)
How Big is Alaska? This is How Big Alaska Is!
Glacier Bay National Park Facts: 11 Amazing Glacier Bay National Park Facts
Denali National Park Facts: 10 Fascinating Facts About Denali National Park
National Parks Ranked: All 63 Best US National Parks Ranked from Best to Worst
National Parks List: Official List of US National Parks (Alphabetical & by State)
National Parks Map: Printable Maps of the National Parks
Leave a Reply