Where is Denali National Park
Denali National Park is located in central Alaska, approximately halfway between Anchorage and Fairbanks. It is around five hours outside of Anchorage and only 3 hours from Fairbanks (both major cities in Alaska). The park is centered around Mount Denali, which is the highest mountain in all of northern America. Alaska State Route 3 leads into the east entrance of the park. From there, a single, 92-mile road runs east to west through the park, and most of it is unpaved. The route starts in a low, forested area and eventually elevates up through several mountain passes. Since there is only one way in and one way out, the park is fairly easy to navigate. Denali US National Park is commonly known as “the park road”.
How Big is Denali National Park
Denali National Park includes over 6 million acres of preserved lands, impressive wildlife, high mountains, and glacial terrain. Within the vast acreage there are 6 campgrounds, 35 miles of trailhead, and 92 miles of roadway. All in all, this spectacular national park is bigger than the entire state of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The main attraction, Mount Denali, reaches an elevation of 20,310 feet, making it the highest elevation mountain in North America. Denali’s landscape includes forest trees at lower elevation areas, tundra at more central elevation levels, and extensive glaciers, like Kahiltna Glacier, at a higher elevation. In fact, glaciers make up around 16% of the total acreage of the park. These glaciers are found on the southeastern side of the mountain range.
Denali National Park Weather
This central area of Alaska experiences long, cold winters and shorter, more mild summers. Over the course of the year, temperatures can drop as low as -13 °F and reach as high as the mid-70s. The warmer season lasts only 4 months, from mid-May to mid-September. July is typically the hottest month of out the year, and therefore the busiest in terms of visitors. During this time, the temperature averages around 60-70°F. The park is the coldest from the beginning of November until the end of February, with January usually proving to be the coldest month out of the year. The winters are quite frigid and harsh, with temperatures often dropping into the negatives. The park tends be cloudy throughout the year, with more prominent overcast skies starting in April and lasting until February.
When did Denali Become a National Park
Charles Sheldon, a conservationist and hunter from Vermont, and Harry Karstens, a historic outdoorsmen and dog racer, had spent a winter near Toklate River over a century ago. They became fond of the landscape and the beauty within it. They then had the idea to turn the remarkable terrain into the first national park established for the purpose of conserving wildlife. After a decade fighting for the cause, Sheldon happened to convince Congress to make the area a national park. President Woodrow Wilson then officially signed the bill into law on February 26th, 1917. It was first named Mount McKinley National Park. Then, in 1976, the park was declared an international biosphere reserve and President Jimmy Carter proclaimed it Denali National Monument in 1978.
Things to do in Denali National Park
Visitors come to Denali National Park from all over the world. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the park with the stunning scenery and numerous hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. Our National Park Visitors Guide lists some popular activities to take part in at Denali National Park.
Denali is filled with official and unofficial trails, both with spectacular surroundings and overlooks. Spring and summer are the best months to head to the trails, as the weather is much milder compared to the colder season. During the summer, you can even sign up for a guided tour lead by park rangers. If you plan to head out on your own, check out the Mount Healy Trail for a hillside stroll and the Roadside Trail for a look at the plush greenery within the park.
There aren’t many national parks where whitewater rafting is as wild and adventurous as Denali. Visitors often opt to sign up with a private company to experience one of the park’s many winding rivers, including the Nenana River. Rafting will provide a thrill as you crash down the rapids. It’s both an adrenaline-pumping and serene outdoor adventure.
Although there is a single, 92-mile road that winds through the park, there is a point where private vehicles are no longer permitted. To reach beyond these limits, you can take a shuttle bus tour. They run during the summer, helping you spot the standout scenery, unique wildlife, and breathtaking natural views.
Dog sledding is a very popular winter activity in Denali National Park. The local area is filled with private companies that can take you on a thrilling dog sled expedition. In fact, this is practiced as a competitive sport throughout Alaska, helping you feel like a true local. The dogs will take you through the wintery, snowcapped mountains and winding trails.
Another way to explore Denali National Park is on an ATV. There are tour companies in the surrounding areas that will give you a guided ride through the park, exploring some off-the-beaten-path locations. You’re sure to get some incredible views and glimpses of wild animals.
Winters in Denali are snowy, cold, and perfect for cross-country skiing. Although it’s quite hard to initially trek up the loose, deep snow, the downward traverse makes it all worth it. From the top of the hill, you can witness the fantastic views the park has to offer. It’s truly a winter wonderland experience. Additionally, if you do not personally own skis, there are plenty of opportunities to rent some at the nearby ski stores.
Not only are winters great for cross-country skiing, they also provide an excellent opportunity to see the northern lights. This magical sight is typically noticeable during the coldest months out of the year. Essentially, the northern lights are able to be seen in only a few unique locations, making Denali all the more special. On a dark night, they will light up the sky with a range of colors, from reds and greens to blues and purples.
No, horse-drawn carriages aren’t solely meant for moonlight strolls down Central Park, Manhattan. Denali National Park has them too, and they’re just as magical. The guided tour will teach you about the park’s natural history and unique cultural background. It’s a relaxing way to enjoy the park, while exploring the true Alaskan backcountry paths.
There is a plethora of bird species to witness during the spring months, including ravens, black-billed magpies, and trumpeter swans. You can also keep an eye out for other wildlife, like brown bears, moose, and more. There is no one specific spot to catch a glimpse of the wildlife; the park is packed full of unique species throughout its terrain.
The many trails throughout the park aren’t only meant for hikers, but they can be used for mountain bikers as well. Most of the trailheads are a mountain biker’s dream, with the winding paths and uphill climbs. You could even bike the full 92-miles of Denali Park Road.
When to go to Denali National Park
There is no right time to go to Denali National Park. Each season provides a different adventure. Spring is best for hiking, birding, mountaineering, and mountain biking. Summers can be spent searching for wildlife, whitewater rafting, hiking, and horseback riding. Fall is a good time for avid photographers, and those that want to go out on an ATV. Finally, there is no lack of things to do in the wintertime. Try out cross-country skiing and dog sledding, or catch of a glimpse of the northern lights. Overall, Denali National Park is open to visitors 24 hours a day and 365 days out of the year. Depending on your interests and which activities you care to take part in, will determine which season is the best time for your visit. Keep in the mind, the park is busier during the spring and summer months.
Must-Have Things to Bring to Denali
Here are the top ten essentials to bring on your visit to Denali National Park. List of Parks will cover everything you need to know, from snacks to clothing to equipment and gear.
As mentioned earlier, there’s a ton of bird species and unique wildlife to see all throughout the park. A pair of binoculars will help you get a better look at these animals in their natural habitat. You could see wolves, wolverines, snowshoe, lynx, hares, moose, caribou, sheep, grizzly and brown bears, and over 160 different types of bird species.
Tour Bus or Shuttle Tickets
The one road running through Denali only permits private vehicles to reach a certain point within the park. Tour buses and shuttles are able to go the full way through, and many visitors take advantage of this guided expedition. If you plan to go on the bus, remember to bring your tickets with you. They can be purchased online, ahead of time.
No matter the season, Denali National Park can get quite chilly once the sun goes down. It’s best to plan to bring a few extra layers. Summer temperatures tend to fall into the 60s, and there is often an overcast. It’s a good idea to come prepared and dress in layers.
Roaming bears are not uncommon in Denali National Park. There are grizzlies and brown bears, along with other massive animals strolling through the terrain. Bear preparedness is an essential. Park rangers recommend visitors bring bear spray as a precaution. In addition, you should learn how to make yourself known to a bear and figure out a good distance to keep. Visitors can even get bear proof containers to help store food.
Mountain Bike Gear
There are plenty of awesome mountain biking trails in the park. It’s important to properly prepare and pack for the trek. Bring your bike, knee and elbow pads, a helmet, a basic repair kit, and anything else you might need for maintenance.
Many visitors head to Denali Park for the amazing camping opportunities. There are 6 campgrounds to choose from, all with different views of the park. Pack the necessary gear and equipment for a camping trip. Remember to bring the essentials like a flashlight, firewood, matches, etc.
Quality, fuel-worthy food is another important thing to bring along. Staying well-nourished will help to keep you alert and nourished throughout the day. You can choose from a wide range of snacks, like nuts, bars, and dehydrated fruits.
Whenever planning to stay outside for the day, staying hydrated is a must. Bring enough water to last your stay. High capacity water bottles would work great. And plan to bring a few. The last thing you would want is to run out of water, especially on a camping trip.
The dirt paths make proper footwear all the more important. There are plenty of trails to help visitors experience the full landscape of the park. Remember to bring hiking boots if you plan to walk those trailheads.
Protecting your skin from the sun is vital. The UV rays even in cold-weather Alaska can be very strong. While exploring any park, you can get lost in the moment and the scenery. When planning to spend the day outdoors, your skin is suspectable to sun burn and further sun damage. Apply sunscreen before entering the park and remember to reapply throughout the day.
Where to Stay in Denali National Park
There are no hotels in the park, but there are six campgrounds. Some popular options include Teklanika River Campground, Savage River Campground, and Riley Creek Campground. The Teklanika River campsite is 22 miles into Denali Park Road. Visitors must stay a minimum of 3 nights and it is only open from May to September. There are a total of 53 sites that can reserved for recreational vehicles. Savage River Campground is located within the lush forest, with views of Mount Denali. It is open from May to Septembers, where RVs and trailers can get access to a hookup. The Riley Creek Campground has a whopping 127 reservable sites and is located near the entrance of the park. It’s open year-round and offers many amenities, including storage lockers, restrooms, and internet access.
Food Nearby Denali National Park
Denali National Park is located in a relatively remote location, with its 6 million acres of protected lands. There are a few restaurants in the surrounding areas, however. Some quality options include 229 Parks Restaurant and Tavern, Moose-Aka’s, Denali Park Salmon Bake, Denali Thai Food, and Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse.
Airports Near Denali National Park
As mentioned earlier, Denali National Park can only be reached by vehicle through Alaska Route 3. There is also an air service available where visitors can fly into McKinley National Park Airport or they can take the train via the Denali Star Train. The airport and train station are only a short walk to the park’s visitor center. Additionally, Fairbanks International Airport is located 125 miles north of the park and Anchorage International Airport is around 245 miles south of Denali.