Things to do

11 Thrilling Things to Do in Denali National Park

Denali National Park

The highest peak in North America, Denali, is the focal point of Denali National Park and Preserve, previously known as Mount McKinley National Park. It is situated in Interior Alaska.

There is just one road in Denali, with just one entrance. From east to west, Denali Park Road spans 92 kilometres. It is a picturesque dirt and gravel road.

On its westward voyage, it begins in a low, forested area before rising and falling via mountain passes and along some treacherous mountain slopes.

At the eastern extremity of the park lies the park entrance, which is where Alaska Highway 3 and Denali Park Road intersect. The Denali entry is identified by its mile along the route, like many other landmarks and rural roads in Alaska.

The Denali National Park entrance is located here at Mile 237 on Highway 3.

Privately owned vehicles are allowed to travel the initial 15 miles of this park street, to a location named Savage River, during the summer.

The majority of buses, both narrated and unnarrated, are the only means of transportation that go beyond Savage River, and visitors must board their bus close to the park’s entrance. Bus tours are a fantastic opportunity to experience the park’s scenery and wildlife.

Denali national park
Photo by bennymarty from depositphotos

Denali has various types of activities when it comes to activities like biking, hiking, camping, fishing, rafting, flightseeing, and wildlife viewing.

Here Are the 11 Thrilling Things to Do in Denali National Park:

1. Bus Tours

The National Park Service has restricted entry on the park street for private cars in an effort to save the pristine environment of Denali National Park & Preserve. You can join their informative and magnificent interpretive land excursions to get the full park experience. 

Private cars aren’t permitted beyond the first 15 miles, thus the only ways to get to the park’s core are by bus, jeep, van, or airplane. The possibilities all differ in terms of timing, location, cost, and convenience. 

With the land excursions on bus tours, you can spend your entire time observing animals while also having the chance to unwind and pay heed to your Interpretive Guide telling tales about the local history, geography and culture.

Tours are led by knowledgeable guides with years of experience who will give a detailed account of the ecology and animals of Denali National Park.

2. Hiking

Unlike other national parks, Denali National Park is unique. You are allowed to hike off-trail in Denali. Although, it is essential to carry things like a water bottle, snacks, hiking backpack, compact first aid kit, and most importantly waterproof hiking shoes to keep your legs and feet dry and protected. 

You can do this all across the park. You can take a shuttle bus operated by the transportation system and get out in a desirable location. Spend a few hours hiking in the woods, then at the conclusion of the day, board some other transit bus to return to the park’s entrance.

You can even go backpacking if you desire to explore nature. To do this, you must have a permit.

There are many excellent hiking paths in Denali National Park to select from. The majority of these are close to the park’s entrance, making it simple to reach them without taking a park bus. The various options available are:

2.1 Savage Alpine Trail hike:

It’s a four-mile hike. Either an out-and-back or point-to-point route can be taken. It is a difficult climb with a total ascent of 1,500 feet, but it is the only way to see Denali without using a flight or a bus tour. Additionally, it’s one of the top walks in the park.

2.2 Trail to Mount Healy Overlook:

4.9 miles roundtrip, challenging, and close to the visitor center. The entrance to the park may be seen beautifully from this strenuous climb. The summit of Denali may be seen on a clear day.

2.3 Trail to Horseshoe Lake:

Simple two-mile roundtrip distance, close to the visitor center. This small, charming trail makes a loop by the Nenana River and Horseshoe Lake.

2.4 Trail to the Triple Lakes:

Modest 9.25-mile distance one-way hike. Near the park’s entrance is where you may find this point-to-point stroll. The trail passes multiple lakes. If you prefer to trek on a less-travelled trail in Denali National Park, it’s a wonderful option.

2.5 Trail of Gorge Creek:

Located in Eielson, this gentle 2-mile loop. You get amazing views of Denali as you make the descent to Gorge Creek.

2.6 Loop of Savage River:

The Savage River is circled by this short, 2-mile route. Although it’s a very beautiful climb, keep in mind that you can’t view Denali from this route.

2.7 Trail from McKinley Station:

Easy, 3.2-mile out-and-back route close to the visitor center. Riley Creek is traversed along this short trip.

2.8 Trail to Mountain Vista:

At mile 13, the 0.6-mile circle can be found on Denali Park Road. It’s a short hike that offers views of the mountains nearby.

2.9 Trail of Thorofare Ridge:

Strenuous, 2-mile out-and-back route at Eielson. Beautiful views of Denali can be seen. 

3. Camping

Six campgrounds can be situated along Park Road in Denali National Park & Preserves.

The Denali Campgrounds are exceptional due to their location and accessibility to specific park regions. From the park’s entrance, all of these are accessible without an automobile. The campgrounds are:

3.1 Riley Creek Campground:

As you arrive at the park from the highway, you will find Riley Creek Campground instantly on the left side of the road. If you don’t have a car or don’t want to drive, getting around is made simple by the Riley Creek Shuttle and Trails.

3.2 Sanctuary River Campground:

This little Denali campground is hidden away off the main road and is only accessed by vehicle or on a walk. It is open to tent occupants.

3.3 Teklanika River Campground:

For those who prefer to spend more time in the park, the Teklanika Campground offers a distinctive park adventure and a genuinely remote camping atmosphere against the scenery of the Teklanika Riverand and Cathedral Mountain. It is situated beyond the Savage River.

3.4 Savage River Campground:

Savage River Campground is a smaller, more isolated campground that is 13 miles off the Parks Highway.

Savage River’s 33 tent and RV campsites offer easy access to fantastic hiking trails and panoramas of the Alaska and Outer Ranges, including, when it’s clear, Denali.

3.5 Igloo Creek Campground:

Near Mile 35 on Park Road, there are 5 campsites at the Denali campground known as Igloo Creek. There is only a chemical toilet provided; there are no connections, running water, or other facilities.

3.6 Wonder Lake Campground:

Wonder Lake is the only campground in Denali that is approachable by camper bus and is the furthest away from the park’s entrance. It is solely open to tent campers.

Wake up to the stunning vistas of the Alaska Range and Denali in their entire magnificence when the skies are clear. From mid-June to late August, biting flies including mosquitoes can be fairly prevalent.

Pro-Tip: After passing the Wilderness Access Center, there is no place to get food or drink in the park. Before heading to your campground, make sure you stock up on everything you’ll need.

4. Flightseeing Tour

By flying above the park on a flightseeing trip, you may gain a different viewpoint on its grandeur and get a close-up look at mountain peaks and wildlife.

A glacier touchdown tour can be added to any number of flightseeing itineraries that circle the Alaska and Denali Ranges.

Take a flight to cover more ground, or by helicopter for the opportunity to either land on a glacier or hike along an alpine tundra.

5. Rafting

Whitewater rafting the Nenana River is a thrilling opportunity to escape the clamour of the city and experience the peace of the Alaskan countryside.

Pick a leisurely float tour so you can relax and take in the views of the snow-covered mountains. Alternately, you can choose to take a thrilling trip over raging torrents with names such as Ice Worm and Coffee Grinder.

Additionally, you have the choice of a float where anyone can participate in the journey by paddling or a completely guided tour where only the guide operates the boat.

In any case, you’ll experience the wind in your face as you travel down glacial rivers while searching the riverbanks for fauna. One of the simplest excursions to squeeze into your itinerary is a rafting tour.

In the midst of the summer, shorter 2-hour tours depart. A full-day excursion that includes a picnic lunch along the riverbank is also an option.

Experience a pack rafting excursion that combines a hike and your own packraft paddling through the Denali region’s backcountry for even more hands-on fun.

6. Dog Sledding

You may go on a dog sled excursion with Squid Acres Kennel all year long just half an hour south of Denali National Park, close to Cantwell.

Learn how to handle your personal dog team or ride out to view the northern lights as part of a winter tour. With a view of Denali, the eager dogs drive side-by-side through the tundra in the summer.

All tours are exclusive for you and your group and are led by knowledgeable experts. The kennels for sled dogs in Denali National Park are also accessible.

Between May and September, free demonstrations are offered by a National Park Ranger twice daily, and a free shuttle is available from the Denali Visitor Center to the kennels. Check the tourist center for hours; the kennels are open even in the winter.

7. Jeep Tours

Navigate by Jeep and venture off the usual path. In either case, you’ll enjoy the rush of plunging through the water as you go through the Alaskan tundra on your way to the far reaches of the backcountry.

On Jeep trips, you have the option of sitting back and admiring the scenery and keeping an eye out for wildlife as a spectator or taking the wheel and driving your own vehicle. You may even lease a Jeep and go exploring on your own.

8. Wonder Lake

On Denali Park Road, Wonder Lake is located at milepost 85. This is approximately as near as you can go to Denali along Denali Park Road. You are only 26 kilometres from Denali at the Wonder Lake Campground.

The vistas of Denali are breathtaking on a clear day. You can cycle along Denali Park Road to Wonder Lake, trek the McKinley Bar Trail, and visit Reflection Pond there.

You can take pictures of Denali’s reflection if the sky is clear and there isn’t any wind.

9. Visit Kantishna

At the far tip of Denali Park Road, there is a small collection of lodges, campers, and private residences called Kantishna. You can get into Kantishna Airport or take a transit or guided park bus to get here which takes around 6 to 7 hours one way.

Stay the night at the Wonder Lake Campground, Skyline Lodge, Kantishna Roadhouse, or Backcountry Lodge.

By helicopter, you can travel to Kantishna, where you can spend up to four evenings at the Denali Backcountry Lodge.

10. Alaska’s Big Five

Photo by from depositphotos

One more of the top things you simply must do in Denali is to see the wildlife in the park. Caribou, Dall sheep, moose, bear, and wolves make up Alaska’s Big Five.

A bus journey on Denali Park Road is the best route to see all five members of the Big Five. These animals all have distinct homes within the park.

Moose are frequently seen close to the park’s entrance. Past mile 30, Dall sheep and caribou can frequently be seen on Denali Park Road. Bears can be seen nearly everywhere. Seeing all five during a single trek into Denali is incredibly rare. You are lucky if you find all of them!

 11. Learn about the Denali National Park

Visit one of the park’s numerous visitor centers, like the Denali Visitor Center, to learn everything there is to know about it and to hear from the rangers who live and work here.

A great alternative is to spend the evening at an Alaskan-style dinner theatre, where you’ll also learn about important historical occurrences like the first ascent of Denali and the Gold Rush.

In the End

These were the 11 Thrilling things to do in Denali National Park. The park is known to be one of Alaska’s top attractions. It keeps the visitors entertained and thrilled. 

Do share your experiences in the comments down below!

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