How to Visit Denali National Park: Complete Visitors Guide [2022]

If you are planning that dream trip to Alaska and wondering how to visit Denali National Park, you are in the right place! No visit to Alaska is complete without a trip to Denali National Park, as it should definitely be on top of your Alaska bucket list.

After a lot of research, followed by my visit to Denali during my Alaska Itinerary, I will be sharing all my best insider tips with you in this guide so that your time in Denali can be just as memorable as mine.

Denali National Park is one of the largest National Parks in the USA and it is named for the Denali, the tallest mountain in North America, at 20,310 feet (6,190 meters), with 6 million acres of a remote vast, and rugged wilderness area.

This is is the most comprehensive guide you can find on the internet and this should be your one-stop guide on how to visit Denali National Park. This guide is packed with very helpful information, such as the best time to visit Denali, where to stay, how to go camping, and what to pack to make your visit easy and safe.

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how to visit Denali National Park

Read More: The Ultimate Alaska Road Trip Itinerary

Where is Denali National Park

If you are searching for how to visit Denali National Park in Alaska, the first thing you need to be familiar with is where the park is located, so you can plan your Alaska itinerary accordingly.

Denali National Park is located in the interior of Alaska, roughly halfway between Anchorage and Fairbanks. If you are planning to fly, both cities have international airports where you can pick up your rental car, or take a train to Denali National Park.

  • Anchorage: 240 miles, 4 hours
  • Fairbanks: 125 miles, 2.30 hours
  • Talkeetna: 155 miles 2.5 hours
  • Glenallen: 340 miles, 6 hours
  • Seward: 365 miles, 6 hours
  • Homer: 353 miles, 6.15 hours
  • Valdez: 460 miles, 8 hoursGlenallen:
  • Juneau: 853 miles, 16.3 hours

How to Get to Denali National Park

There’s only one entrance to Denali National Park and that’s situated at Mile 237 of the George Parks Highway (also known as Alaska Highway 3). From there, you can continue driving up to Savage River where you’ll have to stop at Mile 15.

CAR: The route you take depends on where you’re traveling from! However, if you’re heading to Denali from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Seward, or Whittier, most of your journey will take place along Alaska Highway 3. The drive will take between 2-6.5 hours with Seward being the furthest away!
BUS: During the summer months, there are bus services that operate from Anchorage and Fairbanks. The best way to find them is by going through a tour operator or searching the internet!
SHUTTLE: If you’re staying in Fairbanks then you can catch the Denali Shuttle which operates during the summer months.
TRAIN: Train services run between Anchorage and Fairbanks and will take you directly through the national park. You’ll depart at the train depot which is just a 5-minute walk from the Visitor Center. These services are operated by Alaska Railroad

Logistics on How to Visit Denali National Park

Denali National Park is one of the most popular destinations in Alaska and it’s not hard to see why! With ample wildlife-watching opportunities, plenty of fantastic hiking trails, and awesome campgrounds – it’s the perfect place to visit for adventure travelers.

If you are wondering how to visit Denali National Park, here is a list of practical information, and it is a great start to planning your visit:

PARK ENTRANCE LOCATION: 63.728443 -148.886572, Along Alaska Highway 3
ENTRANCE FEE: $15 for a 7-day entrance permit & $45 for an annual pass.
FREE-FEE DAYS: There are generally five days throughout the year when access to Denali National Park is FREE. This includes Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the first day of National Park Week, and the anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act.
IF YOU ARE DRIVING YOUR PRIVATE CAR: Private vehicles can only drive in the national park up to Mile 15 which will take you to Savage River. From there the road is restricted to National Park employees and residents!
IF YOU ARRIVE BY BUS OR TRAIN: If you’re traveling to Denali via public transport then you’ll either be dropped off at the train depot which is just a 5-minute walk from the visitor center or at nearby lodges and hotels.
BUSES IN DENALI NATIONAL PARK: Taking a bus through Denali is one of the best ways to explore the park past Mile 15. You’ve got two options; narrated tour buses and non-narrated transit tours.
VISITOR CENTER: The Visitor Center is open from 8 am to 6 pm. This is where you can book bus trips or make campground reservations. Here is a great place to start your visit as you can learn how to situate at the park, get maps, and ask the ranges any questions on how to visit Denali National Park.
OTHER ACTIVITIES IN THE PARK: There is not a shortage of adventures to do in Denali Nationa Park, but make sure to book early to ensure your spot, be flexible having a couple of days/ time slots in mind in case your first choice is booked or suspended because of weather conditions. You will find countless things to do in Denali National Park, including some of the top-notch hiking in Alaska, the opportunity to encounter the big fiver, spend time hiking and camping or take a flightseeing tour.

Read More: 10 Epic Things to do in Denali National Park

Getting Around Denali National Park

Private Vehicles

If you are driving your own car, note that you are allowed to drive only the first 15 miles of Denali Park Road to the Savage River Area. Beyond this point, the road turns into gravel and the only way you can advance is by taking the park bus, by bicycle, or if you have a special permit. The Denali Park Road is not open to private vehicles so most guests will visit the park on a bus tour.

The Denali Park Road starts at the visitor center, close to the main entrance of the park, and it heads west of the park. It will take you to the north side of the Alaska Range, crossing many rivers along the drive.

Check here the complete list of the 20 top hikes in Denali

how to visit Denali National Park
Image Credit: U.S. National Park Service

Denali Park Bus Tour

There is a free shuttle at the park, taking visitors from the main bus depot and the railroad station to the Visitor Center, as well as the sled dog kennel, the Riley Creek Campground, and the Savage River Campground.

The buses heading to the park beyond the Savage River at milepost 15 – and this is the best opportunity to venture further into Denali Park.

There are four bus tours in total; the Tundra Wilderness Tour, the Denali Natural History Tour, the Eielson Excursion, and the Kantishna Experience Tour. No matter which one you choose you’ll have a guide on board who will teach you all about the local area!

However, it’s the Tundra Wilderness Tour that often steals the spotlight due to its awesome wildlife-watching opportunities. As you travel along Park Road you’ll also be treated to breathtaking views and a narrated history of the park. You can book your bus tours in advance online to secure yourself a spot!


Visiting Denali when the roads are closed

If you choose to visit the park in your private vehicle, or if you are visiting during low season when the park bus doesn’t operate, you still can catch some beautiful views of the park, try to see some wildlife, and here is a short list of options of how to visit Denali National Park when the park is closed:

  • go on some hikes such as the horseshoe lake trail or hike the Mountain Healy Overlook trail, and hike the Savage River Loop Trail.
  • You still can visit the Sled Dog Kennels
  • Take a flightseeing tour to experience the incredible and vast landscape from above, I really recommend it!

There is not a shortage of adventures to do in Denali Nationa Park, but again, booked early to ensure your spot, be flexible having a couple of days/ time slots in mind in case your first choice is booked or suspended because of weather conditions.


Visiting Denali with a Road Lottery

The Denali Road Lottery is one of the best ways to visit the park. It is a special event hosted by the National Park Service for a few days in mid-September. But in 2021 and 2022, the park has announced that Denali Park Road closed at Milepost 42, and will remain closed due to the continued landslide at Pretty Rocks, until further notice (I will update this post when this changes again).

For future consideration, if you are wondering how to visit Denali National park with the Road Lottery, here is how it works.

Each September the park hosts a four-day event called the Denali “Road Lottery.” During these four days, winners of a lottery drawing are given a chance to purchase a single, day-long permit, allowing them to drive as much of Denali Park Road as weather allows. In years with early snow, Park Road might open no farther than Savage River (Mile 15); in milder years, lottery winners are able to enjoy a trip out to the end of the park road (Mile 92). 

The dates offered in the Road Lottery vary each year. Generally, the event usually begins the second Friday after Labor Day. Applicants must apply here for the lottery, from May 1 to 31, for the chance to drive the road in September.

how to visit Denali National Park

How Many Days do I need at Denali National Park?

Day Trip to Denali

If you’ve only got one day in Denali then you’ll want to stop off at the Visitor Center to feel situated and o learn about the park., and visit the sled dog kennels. If you are looking to go hiking in Denali, you have options for shorter trails nearby, such as Mt Healy, offering incredible views of the park and the Horseshoe Trail. Check here for all the hikes in Denali National Park.

You can also check my complete Alaska itinerary article, which includes Denali for a day trip.


Multiple Days at Denali

Spending several days in Denali is recommended as there is so much to do! As well as the activities mentioned for day one, you’ll want to attend a ranger program, hike some of the park’s longer trails and head out on a backcountry safari to see wildlife!

You would need at least 2-day at the park to be able to get the bus tour into the park because the bus leaves early in the morning and it takes the whole day.

how to visit Denali National Park

Where to Eat at Denali National Park

You are not going to find food or drink available inside de park, so I recommend packing snacks and food with you. If you’re planning to go camping and hiking plan to pack high-energy food for hiking that is easy to carry.

If you missed anything, there is a small grocery shop at the entrance of the park. Also, Healy is the closest full-service, year-round community located about 11 miles north of the entrance of Denali Park.

Here, you will find some lodges and restaurants, and during peak season, many offer evening entertainment such as live music and dinner theater. In this area, you can also find some grocery shops and a gas station.

How to visit Denali National Park

Best time to Visit Denali National Park

Denali National Park is open all year round but each season offers a different experience. Generally, the best time to visit Denali is during the summer but let’s take a look at every season and see what they offer!

I also recommend visiting the Denali National Park Current Conditions Page for a full list of operational updates.

SPRING: Spring in Denali is usually very short and runs from mid-April to early May! You’ll find activities and services to be limited during this time and you’ll need to hire a car for your trip as the buses don’t start to operate until mid-May. The climate tends to be cool during this time of year, but temperatures are known to plummet and you may experience plenty of snowfall so keep that in mind!

SUMMER: Denali’s peak season runs from late May to early September and is the BEST time to visit the park. With pleasant temperatures, regular bus services, and operating tours – it offers the best experience. During the summer, you’ll also have fantastic wildlife-watching opportunities, and the hiking trails will be in good condition too.

FALL: The Autumn/fall season runs from mid-September to October and is when the snow starts to accumulate in Denali. The temperatures start to drop dramatically although if you’re lucky, you can get some pleasant weather conditions too. Fall is another season where you’ll need to hire a vehicle as the bus services stop in September. However, during this time you’ll be able to drive up to Mile 30 if you’ve won the Park lottery.

WINTER: If you’re heading to Denali during the winter be prepared for freezing temperatures and plenty of snow. The only campground open during this time is Riley Creek although it’s FREE to stay there in the winter. Due to snowfall, you may find the road to be temporarily closed at Mile 3 and wildlife spotting becomes very difficult.

Weather at Denali National Park

The weather in Denali National Park is notoriously unpredictable so make sure you’re prepared! It can change without warning and you’ll often be treated to a variety of conditions throughout the day. This includes sun, rain, and wind so you’ll need to dress for the elements.

Even if you’re heading to Denali during the summer, you might experience snowfall too – especially in the mountains. If you’re planning to climb within the national park, this is something to keep in mind.

Although the weather is changeable throughout the park, this is especially the case if you’re hiking some of the higher elevation trails. The Eielson Visitor Center and the Polychrome Overlook are located at quite a high altitude, so expect temperatures and conditions to vary dramatically.

If you’re unsure of the expected weather conditions you can chat with one of the rangers or check out the NPS webcams!

how to visit Denali National Park
Image Credit: U.S. National Park Service

Where to Stay Close to Denali National Park

There are plenty of hotels, lodges, and cabins around the Denali Park entrance. Most of the Denali Park Hotels are located near the park entrance, from the Denali Canyon 1 mile north of the entrance to the Denali Village area. About 7 miles to the south.

Make sure you book your accommodation well in advance because they book up fast. Below are my top picks for you:

how to visit Denali National Park

TOP OVERALL PICK: Denali Lakeview Inn

Rated: 9.4 Exceptional

Located on a gorgeous beachfront in Healy, with a private beach and water sports facility. The rooms have mountains and lake views, and the rooms have kitchenettes, with comfortable beds. This is a family-owned operation, and they will take great care of you!


how to visit Denali National Park

Denali Tri-Valey Cabins

Rated: 9.4 Exceptional

Located in Healy, Denali Tri-Valley Cabins has accommodations with free WiFi, air conditioning, and access to a garden with a grill. Cabins are well equipped with a full kitchen, barbecue area, sitting area, and very comfortable beds.


how to visit Denali National Park

Grande Denali Lodge

Rated: 7.6 Good

The rustic lodge sits high up on the hill, with views are stunning panoramic views of Denali Canyon. They offer a shuttle service to take guests around the area. The location is 1.6 miles from Denali National Park. The Alpenglow Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


Camping in Denali National Park

Camping in Denali National Park is a bucket list experience for sure, and is something everyone should experience! There are two main camping options within the park; backcountry camping and campground reservations so let’s take a look at each one.

Backcountry Camping

If you’re an avid explorer and you don’t require facilities then backcountry camping may be the best option for you! This is an experience like no other and will allow you to explore Denali’s rugged wilderness. You won’t need to stick to the trails either so you can find some of the park’s hidden gems!

There aren’t any campgrounds out in the wilderness so you can literally pitch up wherever which is super exciting! Just keep in mind that you’ll need to carry approved bear-resistant food containers (BRFC) and bear spray.

To camp out in the wilderness, you’ll require a backcountry permit. These permits are FREE but you’ll need to attend a backcountry orientation first before they are issued. Once you’ve attended this, you can get your permit from the Backcountry Information Center or the Denali Bus Depot Campus.


Campgrounds

If you’re not sure about a wilderness experience then I recommend staying at one of the campgrounds within Denali Park Instead. There are six campgrounds so let’s take a look at each one:

  • Riley Creek Campground – Mile 0.25, open all year round, suitable for RVs and tents
  • Savage River Campground – Mile 14, open in summer only, suitable for RVs and tents
  • Sanctuary River Campground – Mile 22, open in summer only, suitable for tents
  • Teklanika River Campground – Mile 29, open in summer only, suitable for RVs and tents
  • Igloo Creek Campground – Mile 35, open in summer only, suitable for tents
  • Wonder Lake Campground – Mile 85, open in summer only, suitable for tents
how to visit Denali National Park

5 Safety Tips to Camp in Denali

TIP #1: The first two campgrounds are located before mile 15 so are accessible by car. However, after that, the majority of the campgrounds are accessed by bus so are only suitable for tents.

TIP #2: Teklanika River Campground is located at Mile 29 and is accessible via car. You’ll have to stay for a minimum of three nights but this gives you the chance to drive past Mile 15 which most visitors to Alaska often won’t get!

TIP #3: The best way to secure a campground is to make a reservation in advance. This can be done months in advance if you know your route or you can do it closer to the time. However, just keep in mind that you’ll find there to be limited availability if you leave it too late.

TIP #4: Camping in Denali is a great way to cut your costs as the campground fees are extremely reasonable! They vary site by site but you’re looking at an average of $20-40 per night. If you decide to visit Alaska during the winter and camp at Riley Creek, your stay will be FREE!

TIP #5: Regardless of where you choose to camp in Denali, you are required to secure your food in a bear-proof container, that you can borrow from the park service when you get your camping permit. Also, always have bear spray with you, it is extremely important to follow the safety guidelines on any wildlife encounter.

What to Pack for Denali National Park

Considering that Denali National Park is located in a remote location and that Alaska is the land of extreme weather, you need to make sure you plan and pack accordingly. If you forgot to pack any essentials, or you plan to bring some items that you cannot fly with, such as bear spray or camping gear, you can buy these things in Anchorage or Fairbanks.

This is my list of essentials I recommend you to pack for Denali National Park:

  • Complete Packing List: If you are short on time, check my Ultimate Packing List for Alaska with a FREE printable packing list
  • Pack food & Snacks: You will need to bring your own food and snacks to the park, especially if you are planning to go hiking in remote areas. Plan to pack high-energy food for hiking that is easy to carry, and has a good mix of carbs, proteins, and fats.
  • Portable water bottle: Remember to bring and drink a lot of water and if you need to refill, a LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle is the best option. You will find stations to refill your water along the hiking trails
  • First-aid kit: Always remember to pack a first-aid kit for your hikes.
  • Bear Spray: Especially if you are planning to hike in the backcountry you will need a bear spray
  • Day-Backpack: I love my day-backpack and it is very handy for any hiking.
  • Headlamps:  Carry a flashlight or headlamp even on a day hike. If you have trouble on the trail, darkness may fall before you can finish your hike.
  • Wear sturdy shoes for hiking: The most important thing is to protect your feet and avoid twisting your ankle and getting injured. I recommend investing in a good hiking boots brand such as Teva, Salomon, or even Keens.
  • Moisture-wicking clothing: These clothes help to pull the sweat away from your body and stay cool and dry during your hiking such as light hiking pants long sleeves shirts.
  • Warm Layers: Early morning or late night can get cold so it is important to bring layers, a lightweight puffy jacket is a must!
  • Packing for winter hiking: During winter make sure to have a good quality hiking jacket and pack a warm pair of pants for your hike.
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses: It is always important to protect yourself against the sun. Bring a hat with a good face cover like this one and don’t forget to pack a pair of polarized sunglasses
  • Bring your Camera: You will see some incredible views during your hiking, so don’t forget your camera, or check some great value options here

Read More: What to Pack for Alaska + FREE Printable List

How to Visit Denali National Park Conclusion

I hope you have found all the information you need about how to visit Denali National park, for fun and most importantly, a safe visit.

If you still have any questions such as what are the best things to do in Denali or wondering what are the best hikes in Denali National Park, just visit my other articles where you will have all the detailed information you need.

If you are planning your trip to Alaska, I would also love:

How to visit Denali National Park

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