When to Go
In summer, there are up to 21 hours of daylight. Buses carry visitors into the park late May to mid-September. June is usually less crowded than July and August. In late August or early September, the tundra turns rich tones of red, orange, and yellow. In winter, visitors can take the road three miles to park headquarters and cross-country ski, snowshoe, or dogsled from there.
May and early June are the best times to climb Mount McKinley; after June, avalanches and crevasses threaten. Most mountaineers fly from Talkeetna and land at 7,200 feet on the Kahiltna Glacier to begin a climb that will take 15 to 30 days.
How to Get There
From Anchorage, take Alas. 1 (Glenn Hwy.) 35 miles north to Alas. 3 (George Parks Hwy.). Go north 205 miles. From Fairbanks, take Alas. 3 west and south 120 miles. In summer, the Alaska Railroad runs between Anchorage and Fairbanks and stops daily at the Denali railroad station. In winter, the train runs on weekends only. Air service available in summer to nearby airstrips from Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Talkeetna.
How to Visit
The more time the better, but plan on at least two days. The park is undergoing significant changes to handle the increased visitors; check ahead for road and trail changes.
Any private vehicle can travel the park road for 15 miles to Savage River Check Station; after that only those with camping permits for Teklanika River Campground may continue. For everyone else, shuttle buses and tour buses operate on the road by day and into evening, late May to mid-September; schedules vary.
The 85-mile shuttle bus trip along the park road to Wonder Lake takes 11 hours round-trip but stops at destinations along the way. Visitors can take other buses as far as Kantishna, the end of the road, a 13-hour round-trip. Take a jacket, binoculars, and lunch (available near the Denali Visitor Center or outside the park; no food along the way). In the park, consider getting off the bus for a hike; buses will stop almost anywhere. To get on another bus, just wave one down. In busy times, you may have to wait a while for one with space.
Park campgrounds and buses fill quickly, so plan for the possibility of staying a night or two in a hotel or private campground if you must wait for a campsite or bus ticket.
Mount McKinley is often covered with clouds; you may be more likely to get a clear view of it early or late in the long day.
Where to Stay
Lodging Inside the Park:
Denali National Park and Preserve maintains six campgrounds of various sizes. Some are accessible by private vehicle; others are restricted to shuttle bus access. Backcountry camping is also available.
Constructed in 1954, Camp Denali and North Face Lodge sits on 67 acres of mountainous terrain. Camp Denali has 17 cabins with wood-burning stoves. North Face Lodge offers 15 rooms with private baths. Eight major peaks of the Alaska Range can be seen from this north-country inn. Open June-September.
Denali Backcountry Lodge is located at the end of the 91-mile Park Road in Kantishna. Guests can stay in one of the 30 cedar cabins with private baths. The lodge provides its own shuttle to viewing areas and hiking trails. Open June-September.
Built in the Kantishna historic mining district, Kantishna Roadhouse offers deluxe rustic cabins. The roadhouse is owned and operated by Doyon Tourism, a group of Alaska Native people of Athabaskan Indian descent. Open June through September.
Lodging Outside the Park:
45 cedar Denali Cabins are situated near the entrance to Denali National Park. Enjoy rafting tours, flightseeing, and guided tours organized by the lodge. Located eight miles south of the entrance at Hwy 3.
Perched on Sugarloaf Mountain, just north of the park's entrance, is Denali Crow's Nest Log Cabins, 39 cabins with panoramic views of the Alaskan Range. Also available: helicopter tours, tundra wildlife tours, and natural history tours.
Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge is a luxury wilderness lodge that provides easy access to the park.
EarthSong Lodge, located four miles off the Parks Highway about 17 miles northwest of the park's entrance, is one of two concessionaires permitted to lead multi-day dog-mushing tours into the park. Guests stay in one of 12 hand-built cabins.
Pets must be leashed at all times within the National Park and Preserve. They are not allowed on trails, riverbars, or in the backcountry.
It's important to reserve tickets for buses and campsites ahead of time. Seats fill up very quickly. While shuttle buses are a convenient transportation method, large families should plan on not always traveling together. Additionally, don't spend time looking for designated shuttle bus stops. If you need a ride, simply flag one down.
National Parks Photos
Denali’s paths all lead visitors through its majestic valleys toward the towering Mount McKinley, the crown jewel of the park. On clear days, McKinley can be seen 70 miles to the southwest.
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.