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Top 10 Things To Do In Denali National Park

Why Was Alaskas Denali National Park Established

Top 10 Things to Know When Visiting Denali National Park

McKinley in 1896 by a gold prospector who wanted to pay homage to the presidential candidate William McKinley. When the Mount McKinley National Park Act was signed into law in 1917, the name was made official, thanks in part to bolstered public sentiment for McKinleys legacy after his 1901 assassination.

Bring Binoculars Or A Spotting Scope

Denali is home to 39 species of mammals and 169 species of birds, but that doesnt mean seeing them will necessarily be easy.

Wildlife can be found anywhere in the park between the entrance and Savage River. A favorite activity in spring and fall is to watch Mount Margaret, rangers explain. Watch for small patches of snow that appear to be moving. With binoculars or a scope, you could find some Dall Sheep. This is also a great way to search for willow ptarmigan, moose, white-winged crossbills, bears, and golden eagles at a distance.

You can learn more about wildlife at Denali as well as viewing tips here.

Where To Eat In And Around Denali National Park

There is a small grocery store at the park entrance , but other than that there are no food or drinks available in the park. Its important that you bring your own food and drinks for the day or multiple days if youre camping. This is especially important if you are on the all day bus trip, as there is no food available for purchase anywhere during the day.

All of these local favorites near Denali are near the park entrance. All except 229 Parks are in Healy, located about 10 miles north of the park. These are all seasonal except for Roses, which has limited winter hours. There are other options in the area around the park entrance, but these are local favorites:

  • 229 Parks: A favorite locals stop on the drive between Fairbanks and Anchorage, its located just south of the Denali park entrance. Owned by Laura Cole , this is the place for local and seasonal ingredients made into amazing food.
  • 49th State Brewing: Great pub food and beer, located in Healy. There is also a location in downtown Anchorage that is open all year.
  • Black Diamond Golf course and grill: Great food and affordable prices make this a good stop in Healy even if youre not a golfer!
  • Roses cafe: Bakery with good breakfasts and burgers too

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Take A Helicopter Ride To A Glacier

Glaciers cover about one million acres of Denali National Park and Preserve. Crazy right?

So if you get the chance to visit the Park, dont miss out on the opportunity to have a sweeping view of these seemingly never-ending glaciers.

What are flightseeing tours?

Flightseeing in a helicopter offers about five times the window space of an airplane, which allows you to absorb the snow-blanketed mountains. Besides that, it is also a bump-free ride, and you get to have a smooth aerial view of the dense snow-capped mountains.

The helicopter makes its way over various snowy mountains and frozen lakes. The glacially carved environment consists of Brooks Glacier, Buckskin Glacier, Caldwell Glacier, Cantwell Glacier, and much more.

Get a first hand perspective of this experience by watching our video on landing on a glacier via helicopter.

If you come from a crowded city like Chicago or New York, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a complete opposite of life in a bustling metropolis.

You can catch glimpses of bears, Dall sheep, moose, and caribou through the helicopter ride. This ride offers about twenty minutes of an aerial view of the glaciers and frozen lakes, allowing visitors to capture perfect pictures.

With more window space than youd get in any other sightseeing tour, you get to enjoy the cloudy sky sweeping over the Alaskan range.

Youll find yourself mesmerized by the springs and water bodies in these glaciers as they are an unforgettable view.

Sample Itineraries For Denali National Park

10 Best Things to Do in Denali National Park, Alaska ...

I recommend spending two to three days in Denali for most visitors. If you only have one day, youll spend most of it driving, for example if youre making a quick stop at Denali on the drive between Anchorage and Fairbanks. You need at least two days to take the bus tour into the park because it leaves early in the morning and takes the whole day. There are still things you can do if you dont have that much time! Ill also include what to do if you have more time.

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Planning Guide And Things To Do In Denali National Park

Denali National Park in Alaska is a place many people dream of visiting and it is an incredible place! Its a different experience from many other National Parks, but after reading this article youll know everything you need to plan your own trip to Denali as well as all the best things to do in Denali National Park and a recommended itinerary!

I lived in Alaska for 7 years and worked in tourism much of that time. For four years I lived in Fairbanks which is just two hours away from the park, so Ive spent a lot of time there! I even got the chance to do the Denali Road Lottery once . Check out this post if youre looking for an Alaska itinerary that includes Denali and this article if youre looking to visit other Alaska National Parks.

2022 Note: The Denali Park Road closed at Milepost 42 in August 2021. The park service has announced that the road will remain closed at this point through the 2022 season. A permanent fix to this section of road is currently being built. Bus tours will still operate up to that point. Eielson Visitor Center and Wonder Lake will not be accessible.

Denali Facts & Travel Tips

Here are some quick facts, some fun, other important Denali travel tips for your trip planning:

Any other Denali experiences we should add? Please let us a comment – we love to hear your feedback!

Interested in more Alaska travels? Check our Alaska Itinerary 7 days road trip or 10-day itinerary, see Katmai grizzlies, explore the Kenai Peninsula, visit Anchorage, or chill in Homer. Did we miss something on our Alaska travel blog posts?

For other remote experiences, visit our Canada pages that include driving over the MacKenzie River’s ice road to Tuk or mushing our own team of sled dogs camping on the frozen tundra of the Arctic Circle.

Stay tuned for more adventures

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How To Plan A Trip To Denali National Park

Visiting Denali should be on anyones travel list when in Alaska. The Denali National Park and Preserve is indeed a must-see and deserves the time it takes to reach it.

How Many Days in Denali

As to how many days Denali are required for the best experience, its difficult as everyone has different expectations. Now, we personally think that a Denali national park itinerary should be at least 2 days, as it already takes one full day for bus exploration. Given the long ride from Anchorage, 3 to 4 days would be ideal, as it gives you time to indulge in other activities.

Guided Denali National Park Tours

If you dont want to worry about planning your own Denali trip, consider joining one of the several guided Denali tours. Most of them come from Anchorage, some from Fairbanks. You gain peace of mind by limiting the preparation efforts, saving on research times, and gaining on local knowledge, though you might lose the freedom to travel at your own pace or stop at more viewpoints along the road. Regardless of how you travel to Denali, some tours will be unique and more activity-based, which you can join whether you drive your own car or not.

Car or RV Rental

The best way to explore Alaska is by renting a car, which will give you flexibility and independence to reach the park. Even though you wont be able to use your car to actually visit Denali, the drive up and back with your personal vehicle will be worth it. Important elements to consider when renting your car are:

Plan Your Trip To Denali National Park Soon

10 Things to Know When Visiting Denali National Park

Denali National Park draws over 600,000 visitors each year for many reasons. Seeing the highest mountain peak in North America is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Luckily there are plenty of other Denali attractions, such as seeing wildlife or taking advantage of their vast hiking trails. There is something for everyone when searching for things to do in Denali National Park.

Spend your day exploring the Alaskan wilderness before cozying up in your wooden cabin. Denali National Park is waiting to share its magic with you!

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Hike The Horseshoe Lake Trail

The Horseshoe Lake Trail is located at Mile 1 in Denali Park Road. It is where the Alaska Railroad crosses the road of the Park where the course starts.

The trail offers a clear view of the crystal clear Horseshoe Lake and the surrounding mountains. There is a bridge that allows visitors to cross the lake.

The Horseshoe Lake Trail has to be one of the best trails present in Denali as the serene water body mirrors the sky and presents an incredible glassy view.

The mountains around the trail are covered with spruce trees that are home to the red squirrel, Clarks nutcracker, three-toed woodpecker, and other species.

There is one steep decline as the trail drops 250 down to the lake level. The path divides into two and forms a loop around the lake. This trail attracts many tourists because of how accessible it is and because it offers a panoramic view of the river and the mountains.

The lake edges are smooth with a few rock deposits, and these edges form the body of the trek. You can closely watch the still water and capture the mesmerizing tranquillity that this lake offers.

If you are lucky, you can see beavers working on their beaver dams. It is remarkable to watch beavers in action, felling lumber and slapping dams together!

Besides that, the weather in Denali is mostly pleasant, despite the sky being largely covered with clouds.

On hot summer days, it offers a soothing view when the water reflects the sky.

The Stampede Trail And The Magic Bus

The Stampede Trail was an overgrown, semi-abandoned mining road in April 1992 when an idealistic 24-year-old wanderer called Chris McCandless made camp in an abandoned bus west of Healy, equipped with little more than a rifle, 10lb of rice and a copy of Louis LAmours Education of a Wandering Man in his bag. His quest: to attempt to survive on his own in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness.

McCandless death a few months later, in August 1992, was famously chronicled in the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer in 1996. But it was Sean Penns cinematic rendering of the book in 2007 that brought the story to international attention and turned the Stampede Trail and the so-called “Magic Bus” into a pilgrimage site for a stream of romantic young backpackers.

The deluge of hikers has led to problems. Thanks to two dangerous river crossings along the Stampede Trails muddy if relatively flat route, some of the more amateurish hikers have found they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. As a result, search-and-rescue teams are called out five or six times a year to aid stranded or disorientated travelers and, in 2010, a Swiss woman tragically drowned while trying to cross the Teklanika River.

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Hike The Savage River Trail

The Savage River Trail is a popular hike that is deeper into the Park. Trees line this trail, and its an excellent place for taking pictures. The trail ends at mile 12, but theres ample scenery to enjoy on the hike because you are far from the entrance.

Before going on the trail and looping around the river, you can climb up to the top of a rock formation to see panoramic views of the river and surrounding landscape. This mini-hike only takes about 15 minutes, although it is all uphill.

The trail circles for two miles around the scenic Savage River. This trail might be closed in early spring because of bears, but otherwise, it is a great trail to hike.

The Savage River Trail is great for new hikers and people who like to hike without breaking a sweat. The trail is generally flat and does not have steep inclines at all so you can leisurely hike and take in the views.

You can hike off the trail, but you need to be very careful. The footing is rough, and larger wildlife frequents the area. People have fallen and encountered bears when going off-trail, so make sure to bring good shoes and bear spray!

You can access the Apex Mountain Trail by foot , by bus or shuttle, but you need a permit if you want to get there by car.

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Drive Denali Park Road

Top 10 Things To Do In Denali National Park

The only passage into the national park, Denali Park Road spans 92 miles. The majority of this is unpaved and closed to private vehicles, but those traveling with a car can still explore the first 15 miles. Free park shuttles also tread this route, but self-driving means you can stop for photos and wildlife watching at the pull-out spots whenever you wish.The route goes as far as Savage River, where there is a small parking lot and a couple of trail options by the waterside. Along the paved way, scenery includes trickling creeks, vast fields dotted with trees, and mountains in every which direction, including the namesake peak.

Aching to cruise further into the park? At the end of summer, a lucky few picked by lottery system get the chance to drive the entirety of Denali Park Road. You can look up how to apply here. Otherwise, youll need to book a ticket for a Denali National Park tour or transit bus to see the rest of the preserve .

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Traveling Past Mile 15

As I mentioned above, you can only drive or take the complimentary park shuttles 15 miles into the park to Savage River. To access the park past mile 15, you need to have a Denali bus reservation either on a shuttle bus or a tour bus.

I was told by a few other travelers I met before getting to Denali to book the shuttle rather than a tour as it is much cheaper and you go to the same places as the tour bus.

The main difference between the two is that on a tour you are not allowed to get off the bus other than short scheduled stops and that you have a registered guide telling you about the history of the park as well as the wildlife you see along the way.

For the shuttles you can get off to hike along the way, catching the next shuttle that comes along .

If you are lucky you will get a shuttle driver that acts as a guide like I did but there is no guarantee as they are not required to do this. The shuttle drivers will generally stop to let you take photos if you see wildlife though, whether they act as guides or not.

You also have stops at scenic viewpoints and other points of interest along the way.

I chose to do the shuttle to the Eielson Visitor Center located at mile 66 of the park as it takes eight hours round trip to reach Eielson, have the half-hour stop there then get back to the entrance area and that was more than enough time on a bus for me.

Camp In Denali National Park

Camping in Denali offers a great way to experience this spectacular park. If you like camping, you have six rustic campgrounds available in Denali Park. They are:1. Riley Creek Campground at Mile 0.252. Savage River Campground at Mile 143. Sanctuary River Campground at Mile 224. Teklanika River Campground at Mile 295. Igloo Creek Campground at Mile 356. Wonder Lake Campground at Mile 85There are no showers, no electricity, or coverage. But its a fantastic experience to stay in a tent in Denali.You may make campground reservations online, through a third-party reservation system here. Book it in advance, because during peak season its difficult to get a campsite.There is no water available or shops, so you have to bring everything with you in your backpack. Denalis weather is variable, summer nights and mornings are chilly, so take a warm sleeping bag and clothes.Campgrounds are accessible by the Transit or the Camper Bus.

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What You Need To Know About Visiting Denali National Park

Upon entering Denali, be prepared to have your definition of large expand by leaps and bounds. Physical distance here feels almost immeasurable, and the tendency to see yourself from Gods vantage point as a speck upon the landscape will become 2nd nature in a matter of minutes. This 6 million-acre park has room for everyone to get lost in their own rendition of outer space

What To Pack For Denali National Park

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Denali National Park is in a remote location and its important to bring what you need with you! For things you cant fly with I highly recommend picking those up in Anchorage or Fairbanks, whichever town you fly into. You will also want to pick up your groceries for your trip in one of those towns.

Here is my advice about what to pack for Denali National Park:

  • If camping, everything you need for camping
  • Everything you need for a day hike
  • You need to bring your own food and water into the park. Inside the park it is very remote and you cant buy food beyond the entrance area. There are water bottle filling stations in several locations, but not at all the bus stops
  • If you are backpacking, make sure to have a bear canister to secure your food and any other scented items in. You all need to secure all food and scented items at all times if car camping . You can borrow a bear canister free from the park service when you get your backcountry permit.

Now youve got the things to do in Denali National Park and you have everything you need to plan your own Denali adventure!

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