Denali National Park and Preserve spans an astounding 6 million acres of natural landscapes, making it a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. The park is home to Denali, the tallest mountain peak in North America, standing tall at a summit elevation of more than 20,000 feet. While scaling the mighty peak is a formidable challenge reserved for seasoned mountaineers, Denali National Park offers abundant activities for visitors of all interests and skill levels.
The Denali Park Road, a 92-mile scenic thoroughfare that weaves through the heart of the wilderness, provides access to mesmerizing vistas and wildlife viewing opportunities. However, it’s important to note that private vehicles are restricted beyond Mile 15 (except for lucky winners of the road lottery), and access beyond that point is facilitated through shuttle buses, which allow you to immerse yourself in the park’s untamed beauty without compromising its pristine environment.
As you embark on your Denali adventure, a few essential “know before you go” tips will ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Packing proper gear, dressing in layers, and carrying essentials like food, water and bear safety items is crucial. Additionally, respecting the wildlife and adhering to park regulations are essential for preserving the integrity of this majestic wilderness. Sound intimidating? Book a guided tour to take the stress out of planning so you can enjoy the experience to the fullest.
So, whether you yearn to gaze in awe at Denali’s snow-capped majesty or seek to encounter the park’s diverse wildlife and awe-inspiring landscapes, Denali National Park promises an unforgettable journey of exploration and discovery, captivating your senses and leaving you with cherished memories that will last a lifetime.
Here are a few of our favorite tours, hikes, and restaurants to make up the best itinerary for you. Note that the tours and hikes are highly seasonal, so be sure to confirm that they’re running when you’re in town.
Tours and Activities
Denali Natural History Tour
The Denali Natural History Tour departs each morning and afternoon. This four-hour expedition gives you an in-depth understanding of the history of Denali National Park. The highlight is a visit to Savage Cabin, which over the years has served as a camp cook’s house, a tourist camp, and is currently the National Park Service’s patrol cabin. A guide explains the changes that have shaped the role of the building since its construction in 1924, tracing the history of the park and the mountain along the way. You’ll also get the opportunity to learn about the Indigenous cultures of the region.
Tundra Wilderness Tour
Since 1923, variations of the Tundra Wilderness Tour have been bringing guests on awe-inspiring bus trips, venturing as far as the road extended during each era. Fast forward to 2023, and this iconic tour remains a thrilling five-and-a-half-hour excursion into Denali National Park, guided by certified driver-naturalists. The road corridor unfolds before you, promising unique encounters with Denali’s wildlife, which moves at its own pace in harmony with the changing seasons. One of the tour’s highlights is a visit to the historic Murie Cabin near the East Fork River (Mile 43), once the residence of Adolf Murie during his renowned wildlife research.
Savage River Shuttle Unofficial Tour
We’re going to let you in on a little secret. There are free Denali shuttle buses available. The Savage River Shuttle does a two-hour loop through Denali National Park, departing from the Denali Visitor Center Bus Stop and the Wilderness Access Center. You’ll miss the commentary from professional naturalists, but odds are decent that your shuttle driver has a wealth of information about the area’s history and wildlife. You can also jump out at various stops along the way for a picnic or a walk on one of the many trails.
Iditarod Sled Dog Kennel Tour
The world-renowned Iditarod race may only happen once a year, but you can visit DogGoneIt Kennel throughout the summer to get a sneak peek into this race. Iditarod musher Mike Santos offers the opportunity to learn about sled dogs, the Iditarod and rural life in Alaska. This tour includes video footage of the race and the chance to meet the sled dogs — and if you’re lucky, hold some puppies too!
Denali National Park is an exhilarating place for white water rafting. The Nenana River, which flows throughout the park, presents an ideal rafting experience, offering a mix of challenging rapids and breathtaking scenery. The best time to enjoy rafting is typically from mid-May to mid-September, as the water levels will be at their prime.
The Wilderness Wave Tour takes you through the occasional rapid but is mellow enough for the family. The Canyon Wave Tour allows you to soak in the landscape as an oar boat rider or a paddle rafter, depending on whether you’re just along for the ride or looking for a challenge. Both tours are just over three hours, covering 11 miles through the mountains and canyons.
Experiencing Denali National Park by air is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, providing visitors with unparalleled views of Denali and the surrounding mountain range. You cannot imagine the vastness of the park in any other way. Booking a flightseeing tour in advance is highly recommended, especially during the peak summer season when demand is high. While ensuring availability is important, the weather in Denali can be unpredictable, and flights may occasionally face delays or cancellations due to adverse conditions. Travelers should allow some flexibility in their itinerary to account for the weather. The exhilarating experience is worth it. There are many local operators well-equipped to offer thrilling flightseeing tours around Denali.
A two-mile round trip walk with minimal elevation gain, the Horseshoe Lake trail is great for a panoramic view of Horseshoe Lake and Nenana River. If you speed through, you can do it in an hour or less. You can start this accessible trail outside the Denali Visitor Center.
Savage River Loop
Another easy and relaxing hike, the Savage River Loop is just under two miles round-trip, so plan to take one hour or less for this hike. The loop follows a riverbed across the Alaska tundra, and you can expect to see a wide range of flowers and wildlife. Think Dall sheep, marmots, and caribou. You can take the free Savage River Shuttle to the trailhead at the Savage River check station or drive to the parking area at mile 15 along the Denali Park Road.
Mount Healy Overlook Trail
For a more challenging hike, the Mount Healy Overlook Trail is a fantastic choice. This strenuous trail stretches just over five miles round-trip, gaining significant elevation as it ascends Mount Healy. Hikers are rewarded with sweeping panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys from the overlook. Plan for this hike to take around three to four hours to complete. The trailhead starts off the Taiga Trail, close to the visitor center.
Triple Lakes Trail
The Triple Lakes Trail is a longer and more remote option for experienced hikers seeking a multi-day adventure. This backcountry trail covers nearly 10 miles one way and offers a chance to explore Denali’s pristine wilderness. Along the way, hikers encounter three picturesque lakes and may spot various wildlife species. Due to its length, this hike can either be a long day or an overnight. You can start at the north trail head, by the Denali Visitor Center, or the south trail head, at approximately Mile 231 on the Parks Highway.
For a fine-dining experience in the Alaska wilderness, go to Canyon Steakhouse at McKinley Chalet Resort. Savor delicious steaks, locally sourced seafood, and handcrafted signature martinis. The steakhouse offers an elegant ambiance combined with rustic charm.
Karsten’s Public House
Karsten’s Public House is located at McKinley Chalet Resort’s premier Denali Square entertainment complex. Featuring an exhibition kitchen and a modern, yet authentic Alaska feel, Karsten’s is the best place in the Denali area to grab a craft brew and some delicious bites. Enjoy fares like cumin and chili-crusted spareribs, a caribou burger or king crab fettuccine — your tastebuds will thank you!
Fannie Q’s Saloon
Pay homage to the legendary Alaska prospector, trapper, and cook, Fannie Quigley, at Fannie Q’s Saloon. This modern saloon offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, both indoor and outdoor seating, and live entertainment. Sample authentic favorites like bison sliders, braised pork shoulder, and the famous bear-lard pie, all while soaking in the rustic environment.