10 Best Things To Do in Denali National Park

06/17/2024 Back To Blog Denali Mountain and Reflection Pond, Alaska

A trip to Alaska isn’t complete without visiting Denali National Park and Preserve. Within its 6 million acres, this park offers everything you need for the trip of a lifetime. Home to the tallest mountain in North America, Denali stands at 20,310 feet above sea level. Its name, derived from a Tanana Athabaskan word meaning “the high one” or “the great one,” captures the awe-inspiring beauty of this natural wonder.

A day trip into Denali National Park can take you to trails for wildlife spotting, four-wheeling adventures, or paddling along the serene Nenana River. Whatever your interests, this destination is a must-do on your Alaska bucket list. To help you make the most of your trip, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best things to do in Denali National Park.

1. Look for Alaska’s Big Five

One of the main attractions of Denali National Park is the chance to see Alaska’s big five animals: moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves and bears. To maximize your wildlife viewing, consider booking a Denali Walking Tour. This three-hour adventure includes a moderate hike with guides who offer insightful commentary while ensuring your safety. The chances of seeing at least one of the big five in Denali are always high, so be sure to keep your eyes and ears open.

Read up on the big five to learn what to keep an eye out for:

  1. Moose — The average moose stands about six feet tall, is brown all over, and tends to be found snacking on some birch or grass.
  2. Caribou — These animals can be spotted traveling in herds and roaming around bushy areas.
  3. Dall sheep — Keep your gaze upwards for these animals as they are mainly found on the side of a mountain.
  4. Wolves — They may look like large dogs, but they’re still wild, so keep your distance if you spot a wolf. Many people have been able to spot them along Denali Park Road!
  5. Bears — In the park it’s more common to spot a brown bear than a black bear. They can often be seen near streams and rivers or high-alpine areas.

2. Go Hiking

hiking boots

There are many trails to choose from for your hiking adventure. Here are our top five recommended hikes:

  • Horseshoe Lake Trail: An easy, two-mile round trip near the Denali Visitor Center with a 300-foot ascent.
  • Savage River Loop Trail: A relatively easy two-mile loop offering beautiful views of the Savage River.
  • Mount Healy Overlook Trail: A moderately challenging five-mile trail with steep climbs leading to panoramic park views.
  • Triple Lakes Trail: The longest hike in Denali, at 18.5 miles round trip with a 1,800-foot ascent and three lakes along the way.
  • McKinley Station Trail: A three-mile round trip near the Denali Visitor Center, featuring historic buildings, a railroad trestle and abundant wildlife.

For a guided experience, opt for the Denali Adventure Hiking Tour. The five-hour tour takes you off the beaten path for a good workout and unbeatable views.

3. Drive the Denali Park Road

The Denali Park Road is the only road that goes in and out of Denali, stretching 92.5 miles from the entrance and running parallel along the north side of the Alaska Range. Along the way, you can make stops at stunning viewpoints and scenic lakes or even venture off on a hike. While private vehicles can only drive up to Mile 15, several options can take you further, including a free shuttle, a non-narrated transit tour bus or a narrated tour bus.

Free shuttle services:

  • Savage River Shuttle: Runs every 30 minutes from the Denali Visitor Center and the Denali Bus Depot.
  • Riley Creek Loop Shuttle: Circulates the entrance area every 30 minutes, connecting all major visitor facilities.
  • Sled Dog Demonstration Shuttle: Takes you to sled dog demonstrations with no tickets needed.

Non-narrated transit bus:

  • East Fork Transit: This route makes regular restroom and wildlife stops.
  • Camper Bus: This shuttle is designed for campers with the rear seats removed for gear.

Narrated bus tours:

  • Natural History Tour: A five-hour tour focusing on the park’s natural and cultural history, traveling to Primrose Ridge.
  • Tundra Wilderness Tour: A five-and-a-half-hour tour to the Murie Cabin, highlighting Denali’s historical research sites.

Be sure to check for updates on construction as well as the National Park Service website for shuttle and bus tour updates before planning your trip.

4. Visit an Iditarod Sled Dog Kennel

Meet some iconic Iditarod sled dogs on the DogGoneIt Kennel Tour with Iditarod musher Mike Santos. This three-hour tour includes holding sled dog puppies, a 90-minute multimedia presentation and a chance to learn about the life of mushers. Dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes for this partially outdoor tour.

5. Explore the Savage River Area

The Savage River Area, a hidden gem, offers breathtaking scenery and hiking trails. Accessible by the free Savage River Shuttle, this area is perfect for hiking and capturing stunning views. Bring water, snacks, layers and a camera to make the most of your visit.

6. Go White Water Rafting

Denali is one of the best places to go white water rafting, offering varying levels of difficulty for both beginners and experienced rafters. You can catch the best waves from mid-May to early September when the weather is warmer and the daylight lasts longer. Check with tour operators for up-to-date information as the weather and water conditions are always changing.

  • Wilderness Wave Tour: The milder route of the two, this 11-mile journey will have you gliding down the glacially carved valleys with amazing vistas of the Nenana River. Along the way, you can gaze at the amazing views of Mount Fellows and the Nenana Canyon. You can expect to experience an occasional rapid, but don’t worry — it’s mellow enough for the whole family!
  • Canyon Wave Tour: This more challenging and adrenaline-pumping tour takes you 11 miles down the Nenana River. Along the way, you can expect to see amazingviews of Denali National Park gems such as Mount Healy and Sugarloaf Mountain. This tour is perfect for adventurous beginners and intermediate rafters.

7. Practic Photography

Woman taking photograph of Denali

Denali is truly a special place for photography enthusiasts, offering opportunities to capture the wild and raw moments of this remote area, from a mama bear and her cub crossing the road to a stunning sunset over the tundra. Princess offers a three-and-a-half-hour Denali Photography Workshop that allows up to four participants to ensure you are getting the most out of your time.

Always be prepared for changing weather, as rain often brings out more wildlife.

8. Try the Wild Side with Four-Wheeling

Black Diamond ATV Adventure & Backcountry Dining

Drive your own four-wheel ATV and join your guide on the Black Diamond ATV Adventure & Backcountry Dining tour of the Alaska wilderness. Enjoy the spectacular scenery from the Dry Creek riverbed all the way up to see the entire Healy Valley. Experience Alaska as it was meant to be –- rough and wild!

9. Take to the Air on a Zipline

Denali Park Zipline Adventure

The Denali Zipline Adventure provides a bird’s-eye view of the Alaska wilderness. This zipline tour spans multiple lines, allowing you to soar through the forest canopy and take in stunning views of the Alaska Range and Denali. The tour includes expert guides who ensure safety and provide insightful information about the local environment.

10. Go Fly-Fishing on Fish Creek

Fishing for Arctic Grayline

Learn all about fly-fishing and fly casting on the Denali Fly-Fishing for Arctic Grayling tour. This full-day excursion takes visitors to remote fishing spots where you can cast your lines for Arctic grayling, a freshwater fish in the trout family. Led by experienced guides, the tour includes all necessary gear and personalized instruction, making it suitable for both novice and seasoned anglers. If you are a fishing fan, this fly-fishing experience is a must.

Know Before You Go

  • Park entrance fees: For everyone entering Denali National Park, there is a standard $15 per person fee. Youth 15 or younger get in free. This fee is a year-round fee and will give you a seven-day access pass to the park.
  • Cellular service: You can expect to have cell phone service up to three miles from the park entrance. Beyond this range, you should expect to have no cell phone service. To prepare in advance, be aware of where to contact rangers on patrol, find campground hosts and bus drivers to report any emergencies.
  • Hours of operation: Although Denali National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day, services are limited from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.

How much time to spend in Denali

Most visitors spend two to three days in the park. Denali is such a massive mountain that it creates its own weather system, so consider staying longer to increase your chances of seeing the mountain.

When is the best time to visit Denali?

Denali National Park is a year-round Alaska destination, though the most popular time to visit is between June and August. These months bring warm temperatures, lush green mountainsides, more than 22 hours of functional daylight and opportunities to spot wildlife such as grizzly bears, black bears and moose. If you’re interested in visiting Denali without the crowds and potential northern lights sightings, consider the park’s shoulder season (mid-May to early June and mid-August to mid-September).

Where to stay in Denali?

Denali Alaska Wilderness Lodge

The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge is the closest accommodation when staying outside the park. The entrance to Denali National Park is located only a mile from the front door. With an expansive deck overlooking the Nenana River and views into the park, Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge is the ideal spot to relax, visit with friends and savor the exquisite landscape.

To learn more about any of these amazing Denali excursions, or to discover even more adventure possibilities, visit our excursions page. With its abundant wildlife, rolling tundra and infamous mountain peaks, Denali truly is an adventure land.