Welcome to 6 million acres of Alaskan wilderness—the ultimate playground for avid outdoor adventurers, intrepid wildlife enthusiasts, and happy forest wanderers. I’d put myself in the latter category, a little less fearless and adventurous, but certainly curious with a daring edge. Denali National Park and Preserve is one of the most amazing trips with breathtaking scenery and exciting adventures for everyone. Denali insists that you open your eyes and heart to the wonders of nature and the role we play in the evolution of our environment.
A visit to Denali National Park, whether on a cruise extension to Alaska or as a standalone adventure, should be at the top of your “places to see” list.
Note: Some of the information in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.
1. Drive Denali Park Road
Denali Park Road stretches for 92 miles on a gravel road from the park entrance on Alaska Highway 3 to Kantishna. Park-contracted buses transport visitors along Park Road to Mile 43. The road is closed to vehicles at Mile 43 due to the Pretty Rocks landslide.
If you are driving your own car, you must turn around at Mile 15; personal vehicles are not allowed beyond this point.
Pro tip: Check with your car rental company if you plan to drive Denali Park Road. It is prohibited by some rental companies and you can void your car rental insurance if you have an accident while driving on a prohibited road.
2. Relax on a narrated bus tour
Denali Park Village offers two narrated bus tours that take you through Denali National Park and Preserve, offering a unique perspective on life in the park.
- The Tundra Wilderness Tour focuses on wildlife population, park management, and park history. The 5-hour round trip to Mile 43 and back is a protected immersion in the park. By stopping regularly, you can stretch your legs, take a few photos and use the washroom. With everyone on the bus scanning the passing landscape, you’re more likely to spot a variety of wildlife – from grizzly bears to Arctic ground squirrels.
- The Natural History Tour is a 4+ hour tour to Mile 25 and back. The tour revolves around the Teklanika Flats and explores the history of Denali National Park. Included is an Alaskan Native presentation and a tour of Savage Cabin, an original home of a ranger.
Pro tip: Bring your binoculars. Some of the wildlife will be up close, but most will be away from the tour bus and binoculars will give you the best view.
3. Enjoy dinner and a show
The Alaska Cabin Nite Dinner Theater show tells its version of Gold Rush history. From late May through mid-September, guests will enjoy the story of Fannie Quigley and her adventures in the Alaskan wilderness. As the waitstaff alternates between performing and serving, you are drawn, sometimes literally, into the show. Guests are encouraged to participate as a group and a select few are chosen to expand their acting feats and become temporary cast members. The fun and frivolity combined with a delicious dinner is a wonderful end to an adventurous Denali day.
Family-style dinner is served in an authentic log cabin at long tables where you can enjoy a shared experience with your table companions. The all-you-can-eat fare includes sticky barbecue ribs, Alaskan salmon, licorice cookies, and other savory dishes.
Pro tip: Cut loose and join the fun. It’s a great opportunity to make new friends and exchange Denali stories.
4. Hiking trails and backcountry
Whether you prefer hiking on worn trails or bushwacking in the backcountry, trekking through the park is at the heart of the Denali experience. From the easy 3.1-mile Savage River Loop Trail that meanders along the Savage River to the 15-mile back-and-forth Triple Lakes Trail overlooking the Nenana River and three park lakes, there are trails for every fitness level. Denali has 43 curated hiking trails; you will find it difficult to narrow it down to just a few.
Off-trail hiking in Denali National Park is part of the charm of this beautiful wilderness. Transit shuttle buses pick up and drop off day hikers and campers by the side of the road.
Consider taking a walking tour with an interpretive guide. Hikers of all levels will enjoy walking with an experienced guide. Not only will you not get lost, but your guide can fill you in on the local flora and fauna, often spotting critters you may have missed.
Pro tip: You can explore several of the most popular hiking trails in Denali, so start building your hiking bucket list now.
5. Make friends with a sled dog
The Denali Sled Dog Kennels is home to the team that helps guard Denali during the winter. With a set route through the snowy trails, the dogs and their sled — with a ranger in tow — patrol the park to check the condition of the trails.
The kennels are open daily and demonstrations are held at 10am, 2pm and 4pm from early June to early September.
6. Find your wings
Use your binoculars to hunt for all the amazing birds that call Denali National Park home. Bird watching in Denali is a favorite pastime for many visitors. Wanted ornithologists will be thrilled to spot a golden eagle soaring high above them or a willow ptarmigan perched in a willow bush. The ubiquitous black-billed magpies are everywhere; their light-hearted grace and antics on the ground are entertaining.
Pro tip: Binoculars are a must to spot Denali’s many birdlife.
7. Soar above the trees
Denali Park Adventures offers scenic flights that take you off the ground for panoramic views of Denali National Park. Circle the majestic mountain, land on a glacier or see all the beauty of Denali from high above the treetops. This is a great way to experience Denali without breaking a sweat from all the walking.
Pro tip: The weather in Denali is changeable and flights are weather dependent.
8. Tackle the Terrain
If you want to get dirty, try an ATV Tour. Hop on your one, two or up to six person All Terrain Vehicle and explore a guided drive through the hills and forests near Denali National Park. Conquer the wild side of Alaska on this explosive adventure. It’s the perfect close-to-ground ride that takes miles through the wilderness in just a few hours.
Pro tip: Check out their spectacular Midnight Sun Tour and experience a classic Alaskan sunset.
At the end of your tiring day, you need a place to rest and dream of tomorrow’s adventures. Some will choose to set up camp in the National Park – personally I like a little more comfort. In addition to backcountry camping, there are several other options. The Lodge in Denali Park Village has all the conveniences you desire. You can also camp at a designated park campground — a compromise between luxury and roughness.
9. The Lodge
At the Lodge you have the option of staying in a well-appointed room or suite, some with a private terrace overlooking the Nenana River. The main lodge is a wonderful meeting place for groups and has a nice gift shop, a cozy bar, a great restaurant and a large terrace with beautiful views. It is the perfect place to enjoy the amenities you desire and the rustic nature of the area.
Another option at Denali Park Village is the cabins. Cozy camping-like accommodations with baths and a beautiful view. They give you the feeling of roughing it up, but provide much-needed comfort after a day exploring Mother Nature’s wonderland.
10. Campsites in the Park
There are great camping options in Denali National Park and Preserve. You can have the security of a home base to return to each evening after your daily adventures.
There are six campgrounds in the park where you can reserve a spot for up to 14 days of wilderness wonder. The locations range from tent camping to selected camper spots. Some are accessible by car, others require the use of the transit bus. None of the sites have water or electricity hookups.
- Riley Creek Campground (RV Access)
- Savage River Campground (RV Access)
- Sanctuary River Campground
- Teklanika River Campground (motorhome access)
- Igloo Creek Campground
- Wonder Lake Campground (closed for the 2022 season)
11. Camping in the hinterland
For the ultimate wilderness exploration, Denali National Park offers backcountry campgrounds. Backpacking at night requires a permit (free), an orientation, and approved bear-proof food containers. Permits are personally issued no more than one day before your backcountry adventure begins.
If you love interacting with Mother Nature on her terms, this may be the perfect lodging for you and your besties.
Adventures in Denali National Park and Preserve
The wonderland that is Denali National Park and Preserve is amazing. Filled with adventures that leave lasting memories, your visit to this Alaskan wilderness will be nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Visit as an intrepid outdoor adventurer, thrilling globetrotter, or curious nature lover; but you must visit Denali National Park and Preserve.