18 Best Things To Do In Denali National Park

Denali National Park encompasses six million acres of the Alaskan wilderness. While there is so much beauty and life in the deep taiga forest and high alpine tundra, one of the best things to do in Denali National Park is hiking the Denali Peak. The tallest mountain in North America towers over the rest of the park at 20,310 feet above sea level. Despite its size, Denali isn’t always visible due to cloud cover for much of the summer.

The park was initially named Mount McKinley National Park after the 1896 presidential candidate William McKinley. However, in 2015 the name of the mountain and the surrounding national park was changed to Denali. Denali comes from the Alaskan natives and means high or tall.

With only one entrance on the eastern side, much of the park remains wild. A single road cuts across the park from the entrance and is only accessible by bus during the summer months. In Denali National Park, protecting wilderness areas and wildlife is a top priority. The park was the first national park created to protect wildlife as well as Alaska’s first national park.

Here are the best things to do in Denali National Park during your next trip.

Best Things To Do In Denali National Park

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1: Park Road Bus

Park Road Bus

One of the best things to do in Denali National Park is to explore the Denali wilderness through a bus tour.

With only one road in and out of the park, driving in the park is minimal. There are two options for taking the bus to the park.

During the busy summer months, most of the park is only accessible by taking the transit bus. Transit buses will make various stops along the road at trailheads and other points of interest.

You can board or disembark from the transit buses as you please. Transit buses are included in your park entrance fee.

Another option to see the park is via tour bus. Tour buses include the Natural History Tour, Tundra Wilderness Tour, and the Kantishna Experience. These buses are driven by trained naturalists who will show you points of interest and wildlife along the way.

Reservations and tickets can be purchased through Doyon/Aramark Joint Venture. Purchasing tickets and bus pick-ups will happen before arriving at the park.

Website: www.nps.gov

2: Take a Hike

Take a Hike

A great way to explore the park away from the road is by taking a hike. The majority of trails are located around the visitor center. If you don’t have a lot of time to explore Denali, choose hikes close to the visitor center. Here you still have plenty of opportunities to see wildlife, including moose and beavers. Many of these trails are self-guided.

Thirteen miles down the road is the Savage River area. From here, you can head out to the Savage River Loop for a mellow hike along the river. Or head up the Savage Alpine Trail for a more strenuous climb and great views.

If you have a couple of days to spend in the park, take a shuttle to the Eielson visitor center. Here you will find more trails and less traffic. Off-trail wilderness hiking is also an option.

Before heading out, make sure you have a plan and prepare to be out in wilderness areas. When you’re done, just come back to the main road and flag down a shuttle. Wilderness hiking is a great way to explore more since the majority of the park has no trails.

Website: www.nps.gov

3: Take a Hike with a Ranger

Take a Hike with a Ranger

Throughout the summer, numerous ranger-led trail hikes and talks happen throughout the park. There is no need to sign up ahead of time for these; just show up. For those looking to get into the wilderness but are unsure where to start, off-trail discovery hike may be the best option.

Hikers must sign up for the off-trail discovery hikes ahead of time, in person, and all members of the hiking party must be present at sign up. Rangers can turn people away if they are not prepared to hike off-trail.

Recommended hiking tours:

One of the favorite things to do in Denali National Park is camping. Denali has six campgrounds throughout the park, all varying distances from the park entrance. Some campgrounds accommodate tents, cars, and RV camping, while some are tent only.

The Riley Creek Campground is closest to the visitor center and is open year-round. Sanctuary River, Igloo Creek, and Wonder Lake Campground are open to tents and accessible by bus only. You can drive to the Teklanika River Campground, but if you choose to drive, there is a three-night minimum stay.

Reservations can be made ahead of time through recreation.gov, though it is not necessary, depending on the time of year you wish to camp. None of the campgrounds have hookups for RVs.

Website: www.nps.gov

One of the coolest things to do in Denali is dog sledding. Denali is unique in that it is the only national park with a working sled dog kennel. In the summer, you can see how the dogs are harnessed and mushed, and learn about how the puppies are raised. You will have the opportunity to hold and pet the sled dog pups.

During the winters, the dogs are put to work out in the wilderness. If you come during the winter, don’t expect the visitor area to be open and the dogs to be around. Often the dog sled teams go out on multi-night trips.

Under no circumstances are you allowed to bring an outside pet in. Please leave your dog behind, or don’t visit the kennels if you do bring your dog. You can drive to the kennels in the winter, but best to take the bus in the summer. Parking is minimal at the kennels.

Walk around the kennels and see the sled dogs up close and personal. The park ranger will even tell you what sled dog is a mom or dad of the adorable puppies.

Want to take one home with you? Once they retire, you actually can! The dogs are available for adoption once they become too old to race. You can fill out an application on the National Park Service website here.

Aren’t ready to adopt? No problem, you can still visit your furry friends by visiting the Sled Dog Puppies Webcam on the National Park website here.

6: Photography

Photography

From the visitor center, there is no view of Denali. Your first view of the mountain isn’t until Mile 9 along the park road. A little farther down at Mile 11 also offers a good view.

The best time to photograph Denali is in the winter as there are more sunny days than summer. One of the more popular places to photograph Denali is Reflection Pond. Reflection Pond is at Mile 85 along the park road and mainly accessible by bus.

7: Explore the Savage River Area

Explore the Savage River Area

If you have more time to spend in the park, consider exploring the Savage River area at Mile 13-15 along the park road. For a moderate, low elevation gain, take the Savage River Loop Trail along the river. If you’re looking for a more adventurous hike, the Savage Alpine Trail is a tough uphill to start but offers excellent views of Denali along the way.

Website: www.nps.gov

8: Wildlife Viewing

Wildlife Viewing
Wildlife Viewing is one of the best things to do in Denali National Park | NPS Photo/Jacob W. Frank

Denali is a great place for wildlife viewing. It’s best to take the bus, giving you a longer ride and better chances of seeing something. Although there is plenty to see at lower elevations, it’s easier to spot wildlife at or above the treeline. Always remember to keep a safe distance from wildlife, especially when you are outside your vehicle.

Recommended wilderness tours:

Website: www.nps.gov

9: Bike the Park Road

Bike the Park Road

You can bike all 92 miles of the park road. Due to the travel restrictions, there are fewer cars on the road and less traffic, making biking more enjoyable. The road is paved until Mile 15, afterward, the road turns to gravel.

If you plan to bike, make sure you are prepared with plenty of water, snacks and can repair your bike if need be. There are no concessions once you leave the visitor center.

Make sure to keep an eye out for incoming weather and wildlife as there are not many places to find shelter along the road.

Website: www.nps.gov

10: Birding

Birding
Beautiful species of birds are among the main attractions of Denali National Park | Flickr/Sandy Brown Jensen

Many species of birds are unique to Alaska's arctic. The best way to see birds in the park is to take the bus or go for a hike. Stop in the visitor center to see if any rare birds have been reported recently in the park. It’s helpful to check out the NPS bird list for the park here.

Address: Denali Park, AK

Website: www.nps.gov

11: See The Beaver Dams

See The Beaver Dams
Dreamstime/Ivan Kokoulin

Beavers are common in Denali National Park and you can even visit their dams. The beaver dams and lodges in Denali are known as "Beaver Works''.

Beavers were trapped and hunted back in the 1880s in Denali. But in the 1900s, Alaska banned beaver trapping, making it a safe area for them ever since.

The beaver works can be found at the stunning Horseshoe Lake, only a short hike from the Visitor Center.

This two-mile hike has an elevation gain of 393 feet. Even though it is a short hike, it does have about 150 wooden steps along the trail.

Be sure to take on this short hike and see the beaver works for yourself while you stroll around the lake.

Some are even lucky enough to spot a beaver which is why visiting this area is one of the best activities in Denali National Park.

12: Denali Brewing Company

Denali Brewing Company
Dreamstime/Lawrence Weslowski Jr

Located about two hours south of Denali National Park is the home of a popular traveling destination. Denali Brewing Company, an Alaska favorite for both locals and tourists.

This locally owned brewing company is located in Talkeetna, Alaska. An adorable mountain town that is a must-visit when you need a break from your things to do in Denali.

The brewery opened in 2009 and has since created many beers, as well as its own line of spirits.

You can visit the original brewery and do an educational tour to see how the beer is made. You can also visit their second location, which is on Main Street in Talkeetna.

This location, the brewpub, offers delicious meals, including local halibut sandwiches. Grab some dinner and enjoy a tasty brew on their outdoor patio during your Denali trip.

13: Visit The North & South Viewpoints - See Denali

Visit The North & South Viewpoints - See Denali
Dreamstime/Steven Prorak

Everyone's goal when visiting Denali National Park is to get a glimpse of Denali itself. The peaks are rumored only to be seen 30% of the year.

While seeing Denali up close is great, it can normally be best accessed by hiking trails only. Don't worry; there is an easier way to view these majestic peaks.

There are two viewing points located on your way from Anchorage to Denali National Park. They are located about an hour south of the entrance gate.

The Denali View South and Denali View North viewing areas are located right off of Route 3. The areas have a complimentary looking device so you can see Denali close-up.

They also have informational photographs and guides so that you can learn all about the peaks. A great stop to make before heading into the park itself. These viewpoints are some of the most underrated attractions in Denali!

14: Visit Wonder Lake

Visit Wonder Lake
Dreamstime/Andrew Kazmierski

Want to know what to do in Denali National Park? Visit Wonder Lake! Located 85 miles west of the entrance to Denali National Park is a park favorite that is sought after by many adventurers.

Wonder Lake provides views of the Alaskan Range and Denali. This is a remote area of Denali National Park, which makes it a peaceful place to visit.

You can take the main trail, which is McKinley Bar Trail, to get in some hiking mileage.

Bring your own kayak or raft to the lake since you are more than welcome to play in the water.

There is even a nightly ranger-naturalist program hosted at the lake in the summer months. This can range from educational sessions to ranger-led hikes.

Wonder Lake is a must-see when looking for things to do in Denali National Park!

15: Flightseeing Tours

Flightseeing Tours
Dreamstime/Pamela Johnson

We have got something for the thrill-seekers out there who want a different view of Denali. Take a flightseeing tour with Denali Air Flightseeing Tours.

They are the closest private airstrip to Denali National park. The flight goes through the National Park and promises the best odds of getting a glimpse of the Denali peaks.

Try their Peak Experience Tour, which is a 70-minute in-flight experience. The flight offers views of Wickersham Wall which is the tallest vertical relief of any mountain in the world.

You can also get intimate views of the glaciers and views of Mount Foraker. Experience the flight of a lifetime with Denali Air Flightseeing Tours when visiting Denali.

Recommended flightseeing tours:

16: Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater Rafting

When visiting Denali in its summer peak months, whitewater rafting is a fun activity for the whole family.

Denali Raft Adventures is home to river runs and rafting for all visitors. Try their Canyon Whitewater Run, an 11-mile trip that goes down rapids.

This run is perfect for beginners who are interested in trying rafting for the first time. You can even try their Wilderness Run, which is recommended for families who are new to rafting.

You can spot moose, sheep and even bears during your trip! Take the opportunity to cool off with Denali Raft Adventures when finding things to do in Denali National Park. While also getting a much-needed adrenaline rush!

17: Horseback Riding

Horseback Riding
Dreamstime/Carlos Caetano

Riding a horse through the Alaskan wilderness sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime experience mainly because it is! Luckily Denali Horseback Tours can help you achieve it.

They are a locally owned small business located a few minutes outside the Denali National Park Entrance.

In the summer months, they provided guided rides for visitors. During your ride, they will give you information on the area's history, which includes gold and coal mining and, of course, fun facts about their Alaskan ponies.

In the winter, they host snowy sleigh riding with the horses in a true winter wonderland.

Visit Denali Horseback Tours and pick a ride that is perfect for you! One of the most unique things to do in Denali National Park.

18: Ziplining

Ziplining

Soar through the sky with Denali Park Zipline! Only located a half-mile from the entrance of Denali National Park, this 3-hour zipline tour picks you up from your lodge or hotel near Denali.

It is then a 10-minute drive to their remote and secluded Zip Lining Course area. Gear up and hit the lines. They offer seven different zip lines and six sky bridges.

There is also a short tundra hike and a dual racer finale included in your tour.

Spend your day zipping through the Alaskan forest with stunning views of Denali National Park. A fun option when looking for things to do in Denali!

Pro Tip: Book your zipline tickets online to save time.

What to pack when visiting Denali National Park

You are probably wondering what to pack for Denali National Park Trip. Denali winters can be harsh, with temperatures at an average high of 11°. In the summer, temperatures can reach a high of 90°, with an average of 66°. Whether you are visiting in winter or summer, your packing list should be close to the same. Here is what you need!

  • Layers: Be sure to pack layers of clothes, whether it is in summer or winter. Winter clothes should include a protective winter coat, a base layer and a fleece. Don’t forget your hats and gloves. For Summer, pack a heavy raincoat for unexpected storms and multiple base layers. Weather can change abruptly near the mountains, so overpacking is a must.
  • Don't forget your high-protein snacks! There are not many areas to get food in Denali, so overpacking with some yummy snacks will help you from getting hangry. High protein trail mix, beef jerky, fresh fruit or pre-made sandwiches is the way to go. Enjoy your lunch at a picnic table in one of the park areas.
  • Hydration Packs: A lot of your activities will be outdoors and require some sort of exercise. Being over-prepared by having excess water is a must when visiting Denali National Park. The rule of thumb is to drink a half-liter of water per hour of moderate activity.
  • Bear Spray: It is important to be bear aware in Alaska. Bears are commonly spotted in Denali National Park. While they normally leave people alone and want to avoid humans at all costs, things do happen. If you run into a bear with their cubs on a trail, chances are they will become defensive. First, back away slowly and hope the bear goes in another direction. If not, it is time to use your bear spray to scare them off, which is why it is so important to have it with you.
  • First Aid Kit: Having an emergency kit is important when going out in the wilderness. Not only can you help yourself if needed, but you can also help other hikers in need. Basic items such as bandages and Advil can be a lifesaver if needed.
  • Emergency Blanket: These small blankets are cheap and don't take up much room. The blankets can shield you in cold weather, helping your body heat warm you faster. They are also bright neon colors, so you are easily spotted by emergency personnel.
  • DSLR Camera: Normally used for memories and not emergencies is a camera. Alaska has many photographic opportunities to take advantage of. Whether you chose an actual camera or your iPhone, get ready to snap some stunning images.
  • Binoculars: Wildlife sightings are everywhere in Denali National Park! It is important to keep your distance from all wildlife. This helps protect their space and your safety. Binoculars are the best way to see the animals up close and personal, without risking your life and theirs.
  • Sun Protection: Whether it is 90 degrees in the summer or 10 in the winter, sun protection is necessary. Due to the high elevation, you are closer to the sun than normal. This can create sunburn or dryness without actually feeling it. In winter, the sun reflects off the snow, causing a brighter reflection than in summer. Bring sunglasses to protect your eyes from the UV rays.
  • Hiking Boots (Him/Her): If you are not planning on hiking, sneakers would be fine in the wilderness. Since hiking is one of the best things to do in Denali National Park, hiking boots are essential! The boots protect you from slippery surfaces and uneven terrain. The grip of your boot is so important when dealing with dirt and rocks. Hiking Boots also protect your feet and keep them comfortable for long distances. A must when visiting the Alaska backcountry!

Where to stay in Denali National Park?

There are plenty of cozy accommodation options when visiting Denali National Park. You can stay in the park or take an exciting overnight trip. Check out our top hotel recommendations!

  1. Located two hours south of the entrance of Denali National Park is a fun overnight trip option, Talkeetna Wilderness Lodge and Cabin Rentals. These cabins are located a few minutes from downtown Talkeetna, which is home to Denali Brewing Company. Get a view of Denali from a distance at this cozy cabin. The property provides a complimentary fire pit most nights for you to chat with the owners. The cabins have their own screened-in porch, ideal for nights wanting to gaze at the stars. Explore the adorable town of Talkneeta before relaxing at your own private cabin in the Alaska woods.
  2. Denali Backcountry Lodge is located in Denali National Park. This unique lodge is in a remote area in the backcountry of Denali, at the historic settlement of Kantishna. The wooden lodge features a cabin vibe with comfortable beds and heated rooms. It was named one of the top ten adventure lodges around the world by National Geographic. A must for any explorer.
  3. For those wanting an all-inclusive stay, try Kantishna Roadhouse. Also located in the backcountry of Denali National Park. This backcountry lodge includes private bathrooms and hotel meals. Their complimentary daily activities include guided hiking tours that range from two to six hours. You can take a shuttle to the famous Wonder Lake or even try some fly fishing. Let the lodge take care of you and your needs! Enjoy a piping hot dinner while learning all about Denali National Park.
  4. Denali Touch of Wilderness B&B is a quaint place to stay located outside of the National Park entrance in the town of Healy. This bed and breakfast quote themselves as being the "True Alaskan Wilderness Experience". There is a good possibility that you can spot the northern lights in the winter months in this area. Relax in their private guest rooms and indulge in their complimentary hot breakfast before heading back into the park.

Plan your trip to Denali National Park soon!

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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