Denali Jeep Tour: How to Take a Denali Highway Excursion

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Denali Jeep Tour

Let’s explore the wonders of Denali National Park on a self-guided Denali Jeep tour! The vast Denali National Park spreads over six million acres in Alaska. This Park is home to much of Alaska’s wildlife and fascinating geological features. You can discover most of these on a tour of the Denali Highway.

With arid land, numerous rivers, lakes, icy glaciers, tundras, springs, cliffs, and forestation, Denali is perhaps the best tourist destination in Alaska. Tourists will need to make a train journey or go on a road trip to cover the great distances to reach the park and visit its most beautiful spots.

The self-guided tour allows you to stop at any place to take pictures and absorb this park’s outstanding beauty, making this a must-have for planning our full Denali itinerary.

Denali has several roads that wind their way through the park, making picnic spots accessible to visitors who choose a self-guided tour. If you opt for a self-guided tour, a Jeep is the most suitable vehicle for bumpy areas and mountainous routes.

How to Explore the Denali Highway as a Backcountry Excursion

Denali Jeep Tour

A pleasant road trip is an excellent solution to driving your stress away. It can help you gather your thoughts, give you a fresher perspective, wake you up, and settle your soul. 

With Denali being one of the best American tourist destinations of all time, you shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to enjoy a road trip that offers the best sightseeing in Alaska.

Denali’s long road trips provide comfort for the soul throughout the journey. You can park the Jeep at any spot and jump out of the vehicle to take pictures and absorb the view.

A Jeep tour through the tricky roads of Denali will make you keep your eyes on the path, but don’t worry; the window space and windshield offer an unparalleled view of a skyline broken up with distant snowy mountains and dense white clouds.

Hues of white and blue mark the horizon as the sun casts rays and shadows through the clouds. Thick and lush green spruce trees on either side of the road enhance the blues, grays, and whites of this skyline.

The roads are smooth before you get onto the Denali Highway, although they are twisty. Be mindful that the broad roadways have a few stone deposits at the edges, so make sure you don’t get too captivated by the beauty of the sky and go offroad.

Weather in Denali During Your Tour

View of Denali Highway from a Jeep
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The weather in Denali is mostly pleasant, even during winters when the temperature drops below minus seven degrees Celsius, provided it’s not a blizzard.

However, it is best to visit during the summer because you will have access to more activities. Besides, you’ll probably want to avoid the rain in the spring and fall anyway, and you won’t have to worry about the winter cold, which can be fatal.

See Related: Best Van Camping Equipment

How to Take a Denali Jeep Excursion [Self-Guided or Tour Guide]

We took a self-guided Jeep tour of Denali. We traveled with a baby, and we didn’t want our tour guide (and other participants) to have to endure a fussy baby potentially.

No one wants that! We did not need to rent a car and booster seats since we brought our own (it’s law in Alaska to have car seats with you on every ride).

Plus, we like doing Jeep excursions our way. We like to pretend we are in a Jurassic Park movie – sue us. I can’t promise we didn’t play the theme song a few times!

Horseshoe Lake Trail 

Horseshoe Lake Denali National Park

There are various bodies of water along the tour, such as the Horseshoe Lake and Savage River trails within the Denali National Park and Preserve boundaries, right before the Denali National Park entrance.

The trails lead to the river and offer a mesmerizing panoramic view of the lake and the mountains.  Horseshoe Lake is the epitome of natural beauty. It is framed by mountains and dense with spruce trees that are home to squirrels, woodpeckers, and other critters. 

A bridge in the middle of the lake allows visitors to cross the lake from one side to the other. This bridge also makes a great picture spot as the background consists of thick, verdant spruce trees and crystal-clear water. An azure blue sky adds to the scenic beauty of the lake.

There are various cliff faces, with steep drops down to lake level. The lake has smooth edges with rock deposits that form part of the trail. From here, tourists can closely watch the water and take a mind-clearing stroll beside it. This trail looks closer at the still, clear water reflecting the cloud-pocked blue sky.

During summers, the Horseshoe Lake trail is a must-visit spot at Denali Park, as this statue-still lake is as unforgettable as it is mesmerizing. Serenity blankets this area, and peace pervades the atmosphere, making this an incredibly peaceful experience for visitors.

See Related: Best Hotels Near Denali

Visit the Savage River Loop Trail

Savage River Trail Denali

Take your Jeep to the Savage River Loop Trail next. Again, a self-guided tour gives you the benefit of stopping by at any spot that you like the look of.

Although it was a little more crowded than other stops on your tour, this trail is very popular with tourists, the roads are never jammed, and it is relatively safe to travel along the dirt highways.

You’ll see warning signs before the road intersects, but since the road curves every mile, you should drive within the average speed limit to avoid accidents. 

With every twist and bend of the road, you’ll see a new mountain peak out of the distance. That’s because the greater Denali area has a 600-mile-long arch of mountains.

They stretch from Alaska to Canada. The glaciers of this range can also be found in Denali National Park and Preserve. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can go to other mountain treks by Jeep that you can’t get on crowded bus trips.

See Related: Best Hiking Tours in Denali

Other Potential Hikes

Lake Along the Denali Highway in Alaska
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Besides Horseshoe Lake Trail and Savage River Trail, Denali National Park offers many routes via Denali Park Road to reach the distant snow-capped mountains, other treks, rivers, and rocky cliffs.

Looking at the aerial view, you may think some places are unreachable; however, this is not the case because the roads are well-paved and smooth, even if they cut through mountainous areas. Only a few sites have bumpy dirt roads that make their way through the hills.

Some of the mountains in the arid ranges have great rocky treks. You can park the Jeep nearby and climb it to get a clear glimpse of the breathtaking views that this area offers. Some of the mountains have carved stairs that make your climb easier.

These mountains blend natural colors with various textured arid cliffs and limestone deposits to make beautiful picture spots. They can be tiring climbs, but it is worth it for shutterbugs. The views of the picturesque landscape allow visitors to capture mountains, flowing streams, and forestation all in one frame.

Make sure you take great care while descending these mountains, as it is a rough trek lined by bushy, thorny trees and giant rocks. A slip and fall could mean serious injury or worse.

Oh yeah, don’t forget to wear sturdy, supportive, and comfortable shoes for this trek. And keep an eye out for wildlife in the area. Some of the wildlife will be adorable or majestic, and some might be bears, cougars, or mountain lions.

See Related: Best Helicopter Tours Around Denali

Explore Denali Highway

Aerial View of the Denali Highway
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Since this is a self-guided tour, you can travel through any roads you like and stop by to stroll when the mood takes you. Since Denali National Park encompasses a vast area, some routes are longer than others. It is wise to use GPS navigation to reach the exact spot you want to visit.

Driving the highway and venturing into Alaska’s wilderness through this tour makes it super easy to witness wildlife and Alaska’s stunning natural beauty.

It is best to travel during the height of the day so you can get the best of these fascinating views. A perfect day is one with blue skies and scattered cloud cover. The clouds occasionally obscure the sun, casting slanting rays through them, creating a unique pale blue tint. 

From tall alpine trees in the North to dry thorny bushes in the south, the roads cover everything and take you through different areas. After a few miles, the snow-capped mountains disappear, replaced by a range of arid cliffs ahead of you. These are home to big-horned Dall sheep as well as moose. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot some American beavers along the way, too. 

You should bring snacks to munch on as you admire Alaska’s spectacular scenery on this peaceful drive. Besides that, some good music on your trip is a mood booster.

Even if you are traveling hundreds of kilometers by Jeep, it does not become tedious because of the continual transformation in scenery every few miles. However, food and music would be helpful since this route section will take 135 miles.

On the gravel road, you’ll only spot a few other vehicles, such as buses and jeeps. The Alaska Range is barely populated, and most traffic will be tourists. Some visitors travel by bus that has multiple stops.

They also have a tour guide. You can follow the tour bus if you don’t want to navigate the park. Usually, the weather in Alaska is pleasant, and the sun’s heat isn’t scorching, so the chances are that you will enjoy this trip even in the hottest parts of the day. 

Yellow Jeep on Denali Highway
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

You’ll see many plains and plateaus along this leg. Besides that, Denali has multiple hills and patches of dense forest, making it a natural habitat for numerous species, such as grizzly bears, caribou, and wolves.

If you’re traveling through these areas, you might spot some grizzly bears along the way. As of writing, approximately 300-350 bears inhabit the Denali National Park and Preserve.

See Related: Rental Cars That You Can Take Out of State

Lightly-guided Denali Highway Jeep Excursion

Alaskan Highway from the View of a Jeep
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Drive Denali Highway and find it a memorable trip recently named the #2 drive in the country. You can also reach your guide using the CB radio.

Your guides will be available to offer you highlights on these trips and will have a range of sporting equipment to choose from. There are more than 50 miles in the turnaround, but if no one got there, perhaps we need Denali.

You will want the freedom to move in any direction or leave the automobile for any reason. Approximately six decades ago, the Denali Highway had nearly closed.

Since the site remains in season, Alaskans now use it to access the countryside for hunting, fishing, camping, boating, or other leisure activities. Snow closing on a road during fall becomes a winter wonderland.

See Related: Where to Stay in Utah to Visit National Parks

Where will you tour in your Jeep?

Yellow Jeep on the Denali Highway
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

By implementing safety measures, Denali ensures a secure journey. There are barriers on the road. The roads do not abruptly terminate; instead, they curve gradually to offer you space to avoid the edges.

Besides that, Denali has some gravel roads that provide a skid-free route to its Northern Mountains. You can travel through these dirt roads to reach various trails. Since it leads to the North, multiple road climbs and bumps exist.

The road trips through Denali National Park share a familiar vibe with driving through the countryside. However, Denali has more ethereal and wilderness-type sites. Such locations promise to soothe the adventurer in you.

Moreover, the park’s preserved geological features make the drive (at whatever cost) completely worth it. For more travel content, check out our YouTube channel for more travel videos like these.

FAQ

Is there any age restriction to going on a Denali Highway Jeep excursion?

Like most rental vehicle companies, you must have proof of a valid driver’s license. However, if you rent your Jeep, the scenic Denali Highway is only accessible from May 1 to September 15, weather permitting.

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Kyle Kroeger
WRITTEN BY

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He's a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he'd heard.

Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he's learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.

He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time. Read more about his portfolio of work.

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