10 Adventurous Things to do in Denali National Park + 20 Hikes in Denali AK

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.

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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!

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.
CELL PHONE SERVICE: Cell phone service is only available in the front part of the park, near the entrance of the visitor center. Expect not to have cell service beyond mile 5 of Denali Park Road.
PETS: Pets are allowed in Denali National Park, with limited access to many areas, and they need to be on a leash at all times. Pets are NOT allowed on buses and the majority of the hiking trails.
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 between 8 am – 6 pm. This is where you can book bus trips or make campground reservations.
DAY TRIP TO DENALI NATIONAL PARK: If you’ve only got one day in Denali then you’ll want to head out on a bus tour, stop off at the Visitor Center, and hike some of the shorter trails nearby!
HOW TO VISIT DENALI NATIONAL PARK ON MULTIPLE DAYS: 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!

Read More: Denali National Park Ultimate Visitor Guide

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

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!

how to visit Denali National Park

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!

HOW TO VISIT: Tour operators in the area that offer this activity include Denali Air, Denali Summit Flight, & Fly Denali.

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.

HOW TO VISIT: Tour operators in the area that offer this activity include Denali Raft Adventures, New Wave Adventures, & Traverse Alaska.

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!

HOW TO VISIT: Tour operators in the area that offer this activity include Black Diamond and Denali ATV Adventures.

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.

HOW TO VISIT: If this tour isn’t for you then why not check out some of the other tour operators in the area? Some of the most popular options include Camp Denali and Denali Park Village.

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.

things to do in Denali

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

Distance (roundtrip): 2 miles | 3.2 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 2-2.5 hours
Elevation: 394 feet (120m)
Highlights: This is one of the most popular hikes in Denali National Park, located near the entrance of the park. Relatively easy hike with moderate elevation changes. Hike through the forest to the lake, and circumnavigate the shore of the lake with a short detour to the river bank. Likely to encounter other hikers and possibly see beavers and beaver damns.
Hikes Denali National Park

2. Jonesville Trail

Distance (roundtrip): 0.6 miles | 1 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 20 minutes
Elevation: 174 feet (53m)
Highlights: A nice short trail to experience the natural beauty of Denali. Enjoy the views of local fauna and flowers and keep your eyes out for birds. The paved trail makes the trek easy and enjoyable.

3. McKinley River Bar Trail

Distance (roundtrip): 4.8 miles | 7.7 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 2.5-3 hours
Elevation: 971 feet (296m)
Highlights: Easy and well-maintained trail with boardwalks over streams and wet areas. Delightful scenery of the Alaska Range and Denali along the trail, as well as intimate views of McKinley River.
hikes Denali National Park

4. Meadow View Trail

Distance (roundtrip):  0.6 miles | 1 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 30 minutes
Highlights: A short connector trail between 2 other trails, this trail provides some pleasant scenery and easy elevation changes. The trails are paved and its location near the Denali Visitor Center makes it a great choice.

5. Morino Trail

Distance (roundtrip): 0.4 miles | 0.6 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 30 minutes
Elevation: 160 feet
Highlights: Easily accessible trail near the Visitor Center that is made for all skill levels. There are connectors off of this trail to other trails

6. Mountain Vista Trail

Distance (roundtrip): 0.6 miles | 1 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 30 minutes
Elevation: 75 feet (23m)
Highlights: A short trail that starts and ends at the Mountain Vista Rest Area. As the name implies, there are stunning views of the mountains (Mount Healy and Denali) as well as the Savage River Valley, and a side trail to the banks of the Savage River.
hikes Denali National Park

7. Oxbow Loop Trail

Distance (roundtrip): 1.5 miles | 2.4 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 1 hour
Highlights: There are a few steep and uneven steps on the hill of this trail. The trail follows the Cuyahoga River and is great for bird-watching. This trail can be combined with the Overlook Trail for a longer hike with more scenery.

8. Savage Cabin Trail

Distance (roundtrip): 0.3 miles | 0.5 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 10-15 minutes
Elevation: 46 feet (14m)
Highlights: An easy gravel trail with interesting history placards. Stop by 1 of 5 cabins that the Park Services use in the winter as they patrol the trails by dog sled.

9. Savage River Loop

Distance (roundtrip): 2 miles | 3.2 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 1.5 hours
Elevation:413 feet (126m)
Highlights: Easy trail in an area popular for hiking. It is possible to see wildlife (ptarmigan and caribou) as you walk along the river.

10. Spruce Forest Trail

Distance (roundtrip): 0.4 miles | 0.6 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 20 minutes
Elevation: 102 feet (31m)
Highlights: A short easy trail through a Spruce Forest. Great trail to hike if you are waiting for the park bus.

11. Tundra Loop

Distance (roundtrip): 00.3 miles | 0.5 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 15 minutes
Elevation: 52 feet (16m)
Highlights: Stretch your legs and explore the tundra of Denali. This short easy trail is a great way to kill some time as you wait for the park bus and take in the views.

Moderate hikes in Denali National Park

12. Gorge Creek Trail

Distance (roundtrip): 2 miles | 3.2 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 1.5 hours
Elevation: 1095 feet (334m)
Highlights: Somewhat steep but manageable, with a descent down to the creek. The trail does go through the creek, so you will need to wade through the shallow water to cross. You will be climbing back up the same hill as you make your return trip.
hikes Denali National Park

13. McKinley Station Trail

Distance (roundtrip):  3.2 miles | 5.1 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 2 hours
Elevation: 374 feet (114m)
Highlights: Generally easy hike with views of the river and the trestle bridge for the train. Possible to see wildlife including moose.
hiking Denali National Park

14. Roadside Hiking Trail

Distance (roundtrip): 3.6 miles | 5.8 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 2 hours
Elevation: 768 feet (234m)
Highlights: Well groomed trail out to the dog kennels. The trail runs along the road but is far enough off the road to enjoy nature.
hiking Denali National Park

15. Rock Creek Trail

Distance (roundtrip): 4.8 miles | 7.7 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 3 hours
Elevation: 1000 feet (305m)
Highlights: Moderately challenging trail with a stop at the dog kennels mid-way through the hike. A pleasant walk through the forest with birds and fauna.

16. Taiga Trail

Distance (roundtrip):  1.6 miles | 2.6 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 1 hour
Elevation: 207 feet (63m)
Highlights: This hike offers narrow winding trails through the forest. It is excellent for bird watching and finding berries along the way

17. Thorofare Ridge Trail

Distance (roundtrip):  1.6 miles | 2.6 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 1.5-2 hours
Elevation: 1000 feet (305m)
Highlights: Challenging hike with elevation changes. This trail is not maintained and it is recommended to download an offline map of the trail. It is a rocky trail that can be slippery in spots.

Difficult hikes in Denali National Park

18. Mount Healy Overlook

Distance (roundtrip):  5.4 miles | 8.7 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 4 hours
Elevation: 2484 feet (757m)
Highlights: This is a challenging trail that will reward you with great views and amazing photo opportunities. You will be greeted by breathtaking scenery at the summit of Mount Healy.
hiking Denali National Park

19. Savage Alpine Trail

Distance (roundtrip):  8 miles | 12.9 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 6 hours
Elevation: 1414 feet (431m)
Highlights: An excellent and challenging hike with alpine views and possible bear and moose sightings. Be prepared for rocky, rugged terrain. Bring your binoculars to get the most out of the views.

20. Triple Lakes Trail

Distance (roundtrip):  19 miles | 30.6 km
Estimated Hiking Time: 10 hours
Elevation: 3691 feet (1125m)
Highlights: A wonderful trail providing views of all 3 mountain lakes. The trail is long and steep in parts. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks/food with you. It is possible to do the hike and take the park shuttle from the end of the trail back to the starting point, but the shuttles are infrequent. Check the Visitor Center for this option.
10 days Alaska Itinerary

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

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

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.

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Things to do in Denali National Park

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1 thought on “10 Adventurous Things to do in Denali National Park + 20 Hikes in Denali AK”

  1. Olá Paula, como sempre as fotos e os lugares são incríveis e de tirar o folego, sem dúvida uma viagem fantástica em um lugar pouco explorado e conhecido pelos brasileiros. Roteiro super completo e rico em informações. “Em dias de caos, reserve uns segundos para admirar a natureza ao seu redor. Escute o canto dos pássaros, observe o vento tocando nas folhas das árvores, note a harmonia das formigas. A natureza é mágica e está sempre oferecendo um espetáculo a quem está disposto a admirá-la.”

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