If you are planning your dream trip to Alaska and wondering what are the best things to do in Denali National Park, I have got you covered. Here you will find the absolute best things to do in Denali, plus a complete list of the best hikes in Denali National Park.
After planning my amazing Alaska Itinerary, and having done a lot of research, I visited the park and I have done many of the best things to do, plus I have taken some of the top hikes in Denali National Park. I am here now to share all my best insider tips with you, so your visit can be as memorable as mine.
Denali National Park is the largest National Park in the United States, and it is home to 6 million acres of remote wilderness, offering plenty of amazing things to do. It is also home to the tallest mountain on the North American continent, Mt. Denali which gives the name to the park.
There are plenty of adventurous things to do in Denali National Park, such as ride the park bus, take a flightseeing tour and see the Alaska Big Five. Plus the park has an incredibly long list of 20 hikes in Denali National Park, and here you will find a complete list of all the trails ranging in distance and difficulty, that are scattered throughout the park. So, without any further ado, let’s dive into the best things to do in Denali National Park.
You will also love:
- A complete guide on how to visit Denali National Park
- Ultimate Alaska Bucket List: 22 Unmissable Experiences
- A perfect Alaska road trip itinerary
- Logistics & Map of Denali National Park
- Top 10 Adventurous Things to do in Denali National Park
- Best Hikes in Denali National Park
- What to Pack for Denali National Park
- How to Visit Denali National Park Conclusion
NOTE: When planning your Alaska Itinerary, make sure you plan your visit to Denali in advance, considering that what you will see and do, will depend on when you are visiting it, so you don’t set your expectations so high. I visited it during shoulder season, which means, I could only drive the 15 miles inside the park, and the bus service was not operating – therefore, the access was very restricted with only a few access to the hiking trails.
Read More: The Ultimate Alaska Road Trip Itinerary
Logistics & Map of 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.
There are plenty of awesome things to do in Denali but first, let’s take a look at the practical information. This will give you everything you need to know for the perfect trip!
Read More: Denali National Park Ultimate Visitor Guide
Top 10 Adventurous Things to do in Denali National Park
1. Take a Scenic Drive at Denali National Park
Denali Park Road is one of the best things to do in Denali National Park. Considered one of the most scenic drives in the world and is not to be missed during your visit. Boasting spectacular scenery and endless wildlife-watching opportunities it’s one of the most iconic routes in Alaska.
It’s a singular road that runs through the center of Denali National Park so as you can imagine, you won’t encounter much traffic. There are plenty of pull-off spots too where you can park up and appreciate the breathtaking views all around you.
However, there is a catch! Private vehicles are only permitted to drive up to Mile 15 which is near the Savage River Campground. After that, you’ll have to head back or take a bus tour through the park.
HOW TO VISIT: If you secure a spot at Teklanika River Campground you’ll be able to drive all the way up to Mile 29!
2. Go on a Denali Park Bus Tour
One of the most popular things to do in Denali National Park is to go on a bus tour – and for good reason! As private vehicles aren’t allowed past Mile 15, a bus tour offers you the opportunity to venture further into the 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. What more could you ask for?
HOW TO VISIT: You can book your bus tours in advance online to secure yourself a spot!
3. Flightseeing in Denali National Park
Now, this is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Denali National Park! Going on a flightseeing tour is unlike any experience you will ever have and is definitely one for the Alaska bucket list!
However, it’s not cheap so be prepared to part with some cash. If you’re not too worried about the cost then I’d recommend checking out this fantastic flightseeing tour!
You’ll be picked up from your hotel in the Denali area and then you’ll be taken to the airport. From there, you’ll head off to explore the national park by air and be treated to fantastic views of the HUGE Ruth Amphitheater, Wickersham Wall, and the Alaskan Range. This includes the towering Mount Denali, Mount Foraker, Mount Hunter, and Mount Russel!
4. Denali Helicopter Glacier Landing Flight
If you’re looking to see the national park by air but you’d prefer to fly in a helicopter then you’ll want to check out TEMSCO Helicopters. They are the only helicopter tour operating in the Denali area and offer several fantastic tours! This includes the ‘Tundra Express’ and the ‘Heli Hiking Adventure’.
However, one of the BEST tours is the Denali Glacier Landing! Not only will you get to soar over the Alaskan Range but you’ll be landing on the enormous Yanert Glacier. You’ll get to spend around 20 minutes exploring the glacier and taking in the views before heading back up in the air.
The tour lasts for around 2.25 hours and you’ll get stunning views of mountain peaks and rolling tundra along the way. Keep your eyes peeled too as you can often spot bears, caribou, Dall sheep, and moose from the helicopter.
HOW TO VISIT: TEMSCO’s season runs from May 12 – Sep 17 so keep this in mind when planning your trip!
5. Rafting Canyon Whitewater
Another fantastic activity waiting for you in Denali is whitewater rafting! It’s one of the BEST things to do in Denali National Park and the most adventurous ways to explore the park and admire its spectacular scenery.
There are plenty of tour operators in the area that offers this activity, but why not check out this whitewater rafting excursion so you can book in advance? This tour will take you along the scenic Nenana River where you’ll have to traverse Class II & Class III rapids.
Don’t worry though as you’ll have a guide present with you at all times and all necessary equipment is provided. Just make sure you enjoy the ride, marvel at the breathtaking scenery, and look out for wildlife along the way! I’d also recommend taking along a waterproof action camera if you can to capture the experience.
6. Wilderness ATV Tour
Denali National Park is a fantastic place for adventure travelers as you’ll find tons of awesome activities waiting for you! One of the best things to do in the park is to head out on an ATV tour where you’ll get to experience Denali in style.
This awesome 2.5-hour ATV tour offers you the chance to drive a single or double ATV and both types of vehicles are automatic transmissions. These ATVs can reach speeds of up to 30 mph (48 kph) whilst you traverse the rugged terrain and splash through water!
Not only will you get to have the adventure of a lifetime, but this tour stops off at popular spots too including Healy Valley and Otto Lake. You’ve also got a great chance of spotting wildlife along the way!
7. Visit the Canine Rangers at the Denali Kennels + Dog Sled demonstrations
During your time in Denali, you NEED to visit the Canine Rangers at the Denali Kennels – especially if you’re an animal lover! Denali National park has seen sled dogs and rangers work together since the 1920s so this place has an important place in the history books. It’s actually the only park in the United States that still has a working dog kennel!
To reach Denali Kennels you can take the FREE shuttle that runs from the park entrance or you can drive up although parking is extremely limited. Once you’re there, you can watch one of the dog sled demonstrations which is an amazing experience!
After these experiences have finished, you can even interact with some of the dogs as they are left on an open leash. Remember to take plenty of photographs too!
HOW TO VISIT: The opening hours will depend on which season you visit. During the summer, the kennels are open between 9:30 am – 4:30 pm whilst after mid-September, they run on reduced winter hours.
8. Go on a Guided Hiking Tour
Denali National Park is home to a HUGE variety of fantastic hiking trails. They all differ in difficulty, duration, and elevation too so there’s an option for everyone – no matter your hiking experience or fitness level.
Although heading out on a self-guided hike in the park is a great adventure it’s not for everyone’s taste. Many travelers aren’t familiar with hiking and others like to exercise caution, especially as Denali is home to bears, moose, and wolves. If this is the case then I’d recommend heading out on a guided hike!
This fantastic guided wilderness tour is run by Denali Backcountry Guides and offers a 5-hour hiking experience along the park’s trails. Throughout the hike, you’ll get to admire panoramic views, search for wildlife, and learn about the area from your guide.
9. See the Big 5 on a Backcountry safari
One of the main reasons that people visit Denali is for wildlife watching! This enormous national park covers an impressive 6 million acres so naturally is home to a wide variety of wildlife.
Now, did you know that Alaska has its own Big 5? Yep – this includes bears, caribou, Dall Sheep, moose, and wolves! If you’re lucky you might even get to spot lynx, marmots, and snowshoe hares too.
One of the best ways to look for the Big 5 is to head out on a backcountry safari! This tour offers an epic ‘into the wild’ experience as you head out on an off-road adventure. You’ll get to hike in the backcountry and explore the open tundra which gives you a great chance to spot some wildlife!
HOW TO VISIT: If you’re looking to go on a backcountry safari then make sure you book your tickets in advance! This is a popular activity and tickets can sell out quickly.
10. Go Backcountry Camping
Now if you are looking for an ULTIMATE adventurous thing to do in Denali National Park, you need to add backcountry camping to your Alaska Bucket list. 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. Check here for everything you need to know on how to visit Denali National Park and get ready for this adventure of a lifetime!
HOW TO VISIT: 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.
Best Hikes in Denali National Park
Hiking in Denali National Park is something that should be on your Alaska Bucket List. Home to the highest mountain on the North American Continent, scraping the skies at 20,308 feet of elevation, and with an area of 6 million acres of remote wilderness, here you will find incredible hiking trails to explore.
Denali name came from the Koyukon world meaning ‘The High One” and became the mountain’s official name in 2015. But beyond the highest mountain in the country, Denali National Park offers hiking options for all visitors. From easy and short hiking trails that can easily be done with the family and kids, offering jaw-dropping views of the park to exhilarating ascent and backcountry odyssey, providing the opportunity to challenge more experienced hikers.
Most of the hikes in the park are marked trails and are located at the main entrance of the park. But if you are more adventurous, and are looking for camping and backcountry trails, you will need to get your backcountry permit in order to be free to explore the wilderness and vast part of the park. Make sure you pack your map!
Lastly, don’t forget that you are entering a preservation area, so animals roam in every part of the park. Be sure you are a responsible traveler, be aware of your surroundings, and carry bear spray with you.
Easy hikes in Denali National Park
1. Horseshoe Lake Trail
2. Jonesville Trail
3. McKinley River Bar Trail
4. Meadow View Trail
5. Morino Trail
6. Mountain Vista Trail
7. Oxbow Loop Trail
8. Savage Cabin Trail
9. Savage River Loop
10. Spruce Forest Trail
11. Tundra Loop
Moderate hikes in Denali National Park
12. Gorge Creek Trail
13. McKinley Station Trail
14. Roadside Hiking Trail
15. Rock Creek Trail
16. Taiga Trail
17. Thorofare Ridge Trail
Difficult hikes in Denali National Park
18. Mount Healy Overlook
19. Savage Alpine Trail
20. Triple Lakes Trail
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 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
How to Visit Denali National Park Conclusion
I hope you enjoyed this list of the top most adventurous things to do in Denali National Park, to help you plan a fun and most importantly, safe visit. Plus with this complete list of the best hikes in Denali National Park, you have chosen what are the next trails you will explore during your trip.
If you still have any questions such as what are the best things to do in Denali or wondering what is the best way to visit the park, where to stay, and essential tips to go camping in Denali, just visit this article and you will be all covered.
If you are planning your trip to Alaska, I would also love:
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- What to pack for Alaska + FREE Printable pack list
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