Denali National Park – Camping, Things to Do and Secret Tips

Petr Novák

Wild Alaska, the most rugged nature, incredible beauty, the highest mountain in North America McKinley, white mountain peaks and grizzly bears. That, in a nutshell, is how one could describe Denali National Park, Alaska’s jewel for true advaenturers only.

Denali National Park, Alaska | © Ross Fowler

Table of Contents
  1. Information about Denali National Park
  2. What to do in Denali National Park
  3. When to go to Denali National Park
  4. Denali National Park entrance fees
  5. How to get to Denali National Park
  6. Lodging in Denali National Park
  7. Tips and Recommendations Before Traveling to Denali National Park
  8. Photos of Denali National Park

Information about Denali National Park

At just under 7,722 mi2, Denali is the third largest national park in the United States. Denali became a national park on February 26, 1917, and consists largely of the Alaska Range, with snow-capped peaks and mid-elevation forests.

The name Denali means “great” in the Native American Athabaskan language, referring to the highest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley (20,236 ft). It lies within the park and was named after the 25th President of the United States, William McKinley.

The wildlife typical of Denali National Park consists of the so-called Big Five – grizzly bear, Alaskan sheep, moose, wolf and caribou (the name for the North American reindeer).

What to do in Denali National Park

The main landmark of Denali Park is the highest mountain, Mt. McKinley. For the vast majority of the year, its two peaks are shrouded in clouds. You can only see the whole of them for about 7 days in the summer months. You can then photograph the entire mountain from up to 37 mi away, with the most popular spot for photographers being Reflection Pond at mile 85.

If interested, you can take hikes or attend lectures organized by park rangers. In winter, there are adventurous snow activities, including dog sledding known as mushing. It’s offered at lodges such as EarthSong lodge. The Murie Science & Learning Center’s Winter Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You’ll find it at the 1.4-mile marker on Park Road.

Near Lake Wentitika lies the rusted “The Magic Bus” of famed tramp Christopher McCandless, who as Alexander Supertramp walked across America and died of exhaustion at this very spot. His story is told in the absolutely brilliant Into the Wild, and if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. The Harvester K-5 Line 142 bus that Alexander Supertramp stayed in was located off the Stampede Trail at the GPS coordinates 63.868399, -149.769305. US authorities removed it in June 2020.

When to go to Denali National Park

When is the best time to visit Denali National Park? Summer is the most popular time, with buses always starting to run through the park on May 20, although all roads don’t open until June 8. Bus service ends the second Thursday after Labor Day, around September 15.

Snow showers can be encountered in Denali National Park as early as July, but the real winter usually doesn’t start until September or October. Once a significant amount of snow falls, the access road closes at mile 3. There is always a Road Lottery in the fall, where lucky winners are given the opportunity to purchase a day pass to enter the park by car. They can drive to as many spots as the weather and their own strength will allow.

Average temperatures and visitor numbers in Denali National Park

Average temperatures in Denali National Park. Visitor numbers are based on a 2017-2021 average, data source is the National Parks Service.

Max Temp Min Temp Precipitation Days Visitors Popularity
January 19.40°F 8.60°F 8.6 444 🟩
February 23.00°F 10.40°F 6.3 1 421 🟩
March 32°F 14.00°F 6.0 3 160 🟩
April 41°F 24.80°F 6.0 3 808 🟩
May 54°F 39°F 9.2 46 187 🟨🟨
June 64°F 48°F 12.5 127 432 🟥🟥🟥🟥
July 64°F 52°F 14.4 150 055 🟥🟥🟥🟥
August 61°F 46°F 14.6 135 239 🟥🟥🟥🟥
September 52°F 37°F 14.0 58 228 🟧🟧🟧
October 36°F 24.80°F 10.4 2 623 🟩
November 24.80°F 12.20°F 7.7 1 238 🟩
December 21.20°F 10.40°F 8.9 1 275 🟩

Denali National Park entrance fees

The single entry fee to the national park is $15.00 per person and 7 days.

If you plan to visit multiple U.S. National Parks in one year (not calendar year), I recommend purchasing the America the Beautiful. For a one-time $80, you get access to all parks and national monuments.

How to get to Denali National Park

Denali National Park can only be entered from one location near Alaska Highway 3 and McKinley National Park Airport (Show on Map). For transportation to the park, I recommend a car, distances and drive times from nearby cities are as follows:

Destination Distance Drive time Route
Anchorage 239 mi 4 hours 30 minutes View Route
Fairbanks 123 mi 2 hours 30 minutes View Route

You can use buses to get around the park, you can find timetables and prices on the park’s website.

Lodging in Denali National Park

🏨 Hotels

Several mountain cabins are offered in the McKinley area of the park. Given the limited capacity of the accommodation, I recommend booking it in advance:

⛺ Campsites

There are a total of six campgrounds in Denali National Park, of which only Riley Creek Campground is open year-round with a capacity of 20 tents. The fee per night is $21.75.

The campgrounds are open in the summer:

  • Savage River Campground at mile 14 for tents and RVs.
  • Sanctuary River Campground at mile 22 is accessible by bus, and you can only stay overnight in a tent.
  • Teklanika River Campground at mile 29 for tents and RVs.
  • Igloo Creek Campground at mile 35 for tents only.
  • Wonder Lake Campground at mile 85 is accessible by bus, sleep in a tent only.

Tips and Recommendations Before Traveling to Denali National Park

ℹ️ Visitor Center

The center opened in 2005 in Denali Park near the park entrance gate. In the summer, you can view exhibits related to the park or talk with rangers.

It is open from mid-May to mid-September from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm daily. It is closed during the winter.

👍 Good to Know

One of the biggest risks in Denali National Park is bears. Rangers hand out small, plastic barrels to camping adventurers designed to hold food, spray, cigarettes and other strong-smelling items. The barrel is impregnable to bears.

Before visiting the park, I recommend downloading free brochures from park rangers to your phone.

Photos of Denali National Park

Denali National Park | © Maureen

Denali National Park Alaska | © Ross Fowler

Denali National Park, Alaska | © NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Grizzly Bear in Denali National Park | © Gregory Slobirdr Smith

Denali National Park in Alaska | © NPS / Jacob W. Frank

The Fairbanks 142, made famous by Alexander Supertramp | © Paxson Woelber

Alaska Railroad | © Frank Kovalchek

US National Parks

  1. List of US National Parks
  2. America the Beautiful Annual Pass
  3. Timed-Entry Reservation for US National Parks

Travel Guides to USA National Parks

Contribute with Your Question or Personal Experience

Add a comment

Please read the article and preceding comments before posing any questions. I personally review all new comments and promptly remove any advertisements, spam, or offensive content.

Save on Car Rentals in the USA