Hello and welcome to the sightseeing review of Denali National Park and Preserve. This incredible park encompasses six million acres in Alaska. It has North America’s tallest mountain peak and various rivers, valleys, forests, and tundras. There are tons of things to do in Denali National Park and after reading this article, we’ll have you prepared with all the things you need to know.
Denali National Park is the crown jewel of Alaska. It has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and rightfully so.
The park encompasses over 6 million acres, including Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley), North America’s tallest mountain at 20,310 feet above sea level.
The park offers visitors an unparalleled opportunity to experience wild nature in its purest form—a chance to see moose, caribou, grizzly bears, and other animals in their natural habitat without any obstructions from human development.
There are many ways for visitors to enjoy the park. You can take scenic flights over it, hike or backpack through it on one of several trails, raft down the two rivers that run through the park, or go dog sledding on one of the park’s frozen rivers during winter.
After spending 5 days in Denali, we’ve jotted notes for what we want to do when we come back (and already removed some of the things that you don’t necessarily need to do), so you can maximize your experience.
Best Things to Do in Denali National Park and Preserve
Let’s get into the best things to see and do in Denali National Park!
Ride the Alaska Railroad
The best way to get to Denali National Park is the Alaska Railroad. It’s not the fastest route, but the scenery is beautiful. You can get to Denali in a variety of ways of course via bus, plane, car, or helicopter.
But the cheapest (outside of hiking), most hassle-free, and best experience are riding the Alaska Railroad. When you ride the Alaska Railroad you get a first-hand viewing experience of the mountains, Alaska Range, rivers, and lakes. You’ll likely see some wildlife along the way as well. We saw huge moose!
You can take the Alaska Railroad to Denali from either the south in Seward or Anchorage or in the north from Fairbanks. The Denali Star Train takes passengers from Fairbanks to the Denali National Park in four hours.
We rode the Alaska Railroad by purchasing the GoldStar Service tickets. GoldStar Service includes a sit-down dinner in the dining car and two complimentary drink tickets per adult.
If you drive and travel by road, it is difficult to enjoy the gorgeous views of the landscape because you have to keep your eyes on the tricky roads. And with how beautiful Alaska is, it is easy to get distracted while driving!
Taking the train will help you relax and you will have a better view of the flowing rivers, lakes, and wildlife that will leave you spellbound.
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Take a Helicopter Ride to a Glacier
Glaciers cover about one million acres of Denali National Park and Preserve. Crazy right? So if you get the chance to visit the Park, don’t miss out on the opportunity to have a sweeping view of these seemingly never-ending glaciers.
What are flightseeing tours? Flightseeing in a helicopter offers about five times the window space of an airplane, which allows you to absorb the snow-blanketed mountains. Besides that, it is also a bump-free ride, and you get to have a smooth aerial view of the dense snow-capped mountains.
The helicopter makes its way over various snowy mountains and frozen lakes. The glacially carved environment consists of Brooks Glacier, Buckskin Glacier, Caldwell Glacier, Cantwell Glacier, and much more.
Get a first-hand perspective of this experience by watching our video on landing on a glacier via helicopter.
If you come from a crowded city like Chicago or New York, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the complete opposite of life in a bustling metropolis.
You can catch glimpses of bears, Dall sheep, moose, and caribou through the helicopter ride. This ride offers about twenty minutes of an aerial view of the glaciers and frozen lakes, allowing visitors to capture perfect pictures.
With more window space than you’d get in any other sightseeing tour, you get to enjoy the cloudy sky sweeping over the Alaskan range.
As you go on flightseeing during the day, the sun casts beautiful shadows on the peaks of the mountains. Sometimes, snow falls off the cliffs, forming low-lying, spiky glaciers.
The helicopter also offers close views of the ground when it flies at a low altitude. It makes its way near the flat surfaces surrounding the peaks.
You’ll find yourself mesmerized by the springs and water bodies in these glaciers as they are an unforgettable view.
Once you land on the glacier you will also get to experience walking on the glacier! You can drink fresh, naturally filtered glacier water, and hear and feel the ice crunch beneath your feet.
The opportunity to walk on a glacier is extremely rare. We guarantee that your friends will be jealous of your photos and experience, and with many glaciers beginning to melt this is an opportunity you will want to seize fast. Like what you are hearing? Check out these best helicopter tours in Denali.
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Hike the Horseshoe Lake Trail
The Horseshoe Lake Trail is located at Mile 1 on Denali Park Road. It is where the Alaska Railroad crosses the road of the Park where the course starts.
The trail offers a clear view of the crystal-clear Horseshoe Lake and the surrounding mountains. There is a bridge that allows visitors to cross the lake.
The Horseshoe Lake Trail has to be one of the best trails present in Denali as the serene water body mirrors the sky and presents an incredible glassy view.
The mountains around the trail are covered with spruce trees that are home to the red squirrel, Clark’s nutcracker, three-toed woodpecker, and other species.
There is one steep decline as the trail drops 250′ down to the lake level. The path divides into two and forms a loop around the lake. This trail attracts many tourists because of how accessible it is and because it offers a panoramic view of the river and the mountains.
The lake edges are smooth with a few rock deposits, and these edges form the body of the trek. You can closely watch the still water and capture the mesmerizing tranquillity that this lake offers.
If you are lucky, you can see beavers working on their beaver dams. It is remarkable to watch beavers in action, felling lumber and slapping dams together!
Besides that, the weather in Denali is mostly pleasant, despite the sky being largely covered with clouds. On hot summer days, it offers a soothing view when the water reflects the sky.
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Go Whitewater Rafting on the Nenana River
The gnarliest way to experience this amazing wilderness? Go whitewater rafting on the Nenana River! Ideally, your best option will be to book a trip through Denali Outdoor Center. Not only do you get the best guides around, but you have quick access to the best whitewater rafting spots on the Nenana River.
You can also choose from several different types of packages that will best suit your needs and experience level. And best of all? Denali Outdoor Center is very eco-minded, so you can feel good about doing your part to help save the planet. Choose from several different types of trips:
- Day Rafting Trips – You’ll spend 3-4 hours on the river, rafting down class II rapids. These are best for beginners and intermediate boaters.
- Overnight Rafting Trips – You’ll spend 2-3 days on the river, rafting down class II/III rapids. These are best for experienced boaters who want to experience a variety of different water conditions.
Trip Highlights: Feel the exhilaration as you navigate the river, dodging rocks and obstacles.
See Related: Best Denali Cabin Rentals to Consider
Go on a Midnight Sun Photoshoot
The best of what the Arctic has to offer, world-class wildlife viewing at Denali National Park and Preserve, and lastly to witness the Midnight Sun.
The best thing about the Midnight Sun is that it offers visitors a chance to see this natural spectacle while surrounded by snow-covered mountains. It is hauntingly beautiful.
This is an excellent opportunity for photographers who are passionate about photography as an art form and capturing memories not only for themselves but for others with who they want to share them, it’s also a great opportunity for those photographers who are still looking for their vision and style of photography and searching for images that capture the imagination.
This activity is best done in June when the Midnight Sun is at its best because it’s around this time that winter starts to quickly fade. You won’t get any photos with snow, but instead, you’ll be able to capture the best of nature, and have an experience that will stick with you for a lifetime.
The light is clear and bright at night, but if that’s not your thing then there are also ways to get around this by bringing along reflectors or flashlights.
The best way to participate in this activity is by contacting a professional photographer or photography group that specializes in Denali National Park and Preserve, but if you can’t find anyone who can make it out there then you should also bring along someone else with a good eye for photography – I’m sure they won’t mind seeing this stunning place!
Take your time with the camera because this will be one of the best photography experiences of your life, and you’ll want to capture it not only for yourself but really for others who haven’t had the chance to come out here.
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Stop by The Eielson Visitor Center
The Eielson Visitor Center is the best place for newcomers to Denali National Park and Preserve to begin their journey. This historical building has hours of free interpretive programs, public exhibits with information on park animals and the best places to view wildlife, maps of hiking trails, species guides, and more.
The best part is that you can do it all in about an hour. This is a great way to begin your trip into the heart of Denali National Park and Preserve. The best part? Everything inside is free!
There are also free guided walks most days (call ahead for times). The best time to view wildlife is when it’s “mealtime,” so check at the visitor center for the best times to spot wildlife.
Tour Denali National Park in a Day!
There’s no better way to see all that Denali has to offer than by car when you visit Denali National Park and Preserve. Get your best views of Denali by taking the Parks Highway (Rt 7) through the middle of the park from Kantishna to Cantwell.
The best way to do this is with a tour company. We took the Denali Alaska Adventure Tour, which let us see all of the best attractions in Denali National Park and Preserve in only one day!
It cost $165 per person for a full day ($240 during the high season) and was worth every penny. One of the best things to do in Denali National Park and Preserve is wildlife viewing.
A good place to stop on your drive for a wildlife viewing tour is either at Mile 11 or 14 of the park road between Denali View and Savage River. We spent about an hour at each location watching grizzly bears, moose, caribou, and a (literal) lone wolf.
Again, the best time to stop for wildlife viewing is at “mealtime.” If you’re lucky, the animals will be much closer to you! We actually had a moose walk right up to our car while we were driving through Denali National Park and Preserve!
At Mile 14 on the road between Denali View and Savage River, there is a pull-off on the left to view some moose. We made this stop at about 8 am, right before “mealtime,” so they were closer than usual (moose can be skittish).
We saw a male moose scratching his back against trees with his antlers, which is a sign of aggression. After about five minutes, we noticed him looking at us! He walked right up to our car and then crossed the road without incident.
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Hike the Savage River Trail
The Savage River Trail is a popular hike that is deeper into the Park. Trees line this trail, and it’s an excellent place for taking pictures. The trail ends at mile 12, but there’s ample scenery to enjoy on the hike because you are far from the entrance.
Before going on the trail and looping around the river, you can climb up to the top of a rock formation to see panoramic views of the river and the surrounding landscape. This mini-hike only takes about 15 minutes, although it is all uphill.
The trail circles for two miles around the scenic Savage River. This trail might be closed in early spring because of bears, but otherwise, it is a great trail to hike.
The Savage River Trail is great for new hikers and people who like to hike without breaking a sweat. The trail is generally flat and does not have steep inclines at all so you can leisurely hike and take in the views.
You can hike off the trail, but you need to be very careful. The footing is rough, and larger wildlife frequents the area. People have fallen and encountered bears when going off-trail, so make sure to bring good shoes and bear spray!
You can access the Apex Mountain Trail by foot (12 miles from the visitors center), by bus or shuttle, but you need a permit if you want to get there by car. Consider going on one of these top hiking tours in Denali to make your adventure.
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Visit the Denali Sled Dogs
The Denali Kennels are located about three miles inside the Park along the roadside trail. To access the kennels you can walk the roadside trail, which takes about an hour.
The sled dog kennels are open all year round, and there is no additional fee to visit them. Alaskan dogs are usually calm as you see them near their kennels, wagging their tails happily. Denali National Park allows you to pet these friendly dogs and takes pictures with them.
The dog keepers accompany them at all times. The kennels are comfortable and keep the dogs happy and excited as they jump around with furry glee when visitors see them.
Unlike most sled dogs, which adhere to a fierce pack mentality, these sled dogs are full of character, love the attention, and can be real showoffs! They also like to sit on top of their wooden kennels and enjoy the evening after a long day of sledding and protecting the Park’s wildlife.
Denali National Park is the only national park where visitors are allowed to meet working sled dogs.
The company offers booths where people can sign up for tours that include a Q&A session and “meet-and-greets” with the animals, as well as educational presentations on why DNP has its pack of sled puppies.
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Do a Backcountry Jeep Tour and Tour the Denali Highway
Six million acres is a very large area, and it consists of numerous fascinating geological features. A vast region of arid land and roads in between offers an excellent opportunity for tourists to experience various parts of the Denali National Park on their own during a self-guided tour.
The best place in Alaska to experience beautiful Denali National Park is the Denali Highway. There are many activities there such as Jeep tours that allow tourists to explore all the park has to offer and also give them a unique tour of their desires.
The best Denali National Park Jeep tours are ones that go to the backcountry and offer tourists a chance to experience Denali on a more personal level.
These guided Denali Highway Jeep tours are offered by outfitter companies who charge tour participants for transportation, meals, and guide service.
In addition, many of these same outfits allow customers to do self-guided tours of the Denali National Park or take a less personal bus tour. These companies are best contacted through their websites for information on what best suits travelers’ experiences and budgets.
Denali National Park’s highway tours are best enjoyed during April when the park blossoms with wildflowers in colors ranging from white to deep red, orange, pink and yellow.
Experiencing the Jeep tour offers views of the colorful mountains ahead, lush greenery on both sides of the road, and a sky filled with fluffy clouds.
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Denali National Park is known for its beautiful wildlife and wildflowers. It’s also well known for its amazing lakes. One of the most popular lakes in Denali is Wonder Lake, the largest body of water in Denali National Park.
The lake spans over 7 miles long and 1 mile wide, with a maximum depth of just over 400 feet, making it one of the deepest high-altitude lakes in North America.
Wonder Lake has an average surface temperature year-round that ranges from 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it a perfect place to fish or boat during all seasons!
During winter months when ice covers much of the shores and shoreline activity ceases (except on rare occasions), you can still enjoy viewing Wonder Lakes’ beauty from the nearby sled dog kennels or from a boat on the lake itself.
Wonder Lake is very hard to access, due to its long distance from park headquarters and backcountry roads being closed during winter.
The best way to reach Wonder Lake is by flying in by light aircraft to the nearby landing strip at Mule Creek, or by hiking the 17-mile trail around the lake from Savage River Road near Cantwell.
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Denali Wilderness – Marmot Basin Trail
One of the best things to do in Denali National Park is hiking; specifically, hiking Denali’s famous wilderness trails. One trail that should be at the top of your best things to do in Denali’s list is the 7-mile Marmot Basin trail.
Hiking the Marmot Basin Trail is best done in the morning. Be warned; you will be hiking through fierce winds and horizontal snow for most of the first three hours of your hike (bring a few extra layers!).
However, once you reach the alpine meadows at around 2 miles mark, you are treated to amazing views of Denali and the surrounding mountain ranges!
The best part about this hike is that it can be done during all 4 seasons, although hiking in winter months, when cross-country skiing is available (check with park headquarters or backcountry rangers beforehand to determine the best conditions), is best for viewing wildlife like the snowshoe hare and marmots!
Just watch the weather! Be sure to check with park headquarters about the best conditions for entering the wilderness before hiking any of Denali National Park’s best trails!
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Do a Flightseeing Tour Out of Talkeetna
Flightseeing tours in Talkeetna, Alaska provide visitors with the best views of Denali National Park and Preserve. The best time to go on a flightseeing tour is early morning when the air is crisp and clearest. You can also take a day trip to Denali National Park from Anchorage or Fairbanks.
For those afraid of flying, a guided bus tour provides access for people who do not want to fly themselves but like taking photos from an airplane window. The best way to explore this beautiful wilderness area is by air – but if you’re not a good flyer, it’s as close as you’ll ever get!
The best flights will have you flying over Denali, which at 20,320 feet tall, is North America’s highest peak. For best results, plan to visit Denali National Park in late May through early July and September. The weather is best during these times of the year.
October can be a good time for viewing if it does not rain; however, the hiking trails are closed because of potential dangers from avalanches and rivers that may be swollen and unfordable.
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See If You Can Spot the Big 5 Wildlife
The Big 5 in Alaska consists of Dall sheep, caribou, grizzly bear, wolf, and moose. Caribou is best seen from the air, while Dall sheep are best viewed by hiking around on foot.
Denali’s wildlife can be best enjoyed by seeing close-up views of a glacier via a helicopter tour.
You will have the best chance to see grizzly bears if you do a Denali National Park tour in the fall. Moose can be best viewed during August and September.
Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour is a three-hour tour that allows you to observe animals, such as grizzly bears and moose, from the best seats in the house. The Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour takes place on a specialized Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD truck with large open windows.
The best time to view wildlife is during the fall months when animal populations are high. Denali National Park Tours allow sightseers to enjoy nature’s best by viewing glaciers and wildlife in their natural habitat, from the best seats in the house.
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Visit Husky Homestead
Husky Homestead is a paid alternative to the Denali Sled Dog Kennels and is one of the most well-known things to do in Denali National Park.
The best part about the dog sledding experience at Husky Homestead is that you get to feed and interact with the huskies. It’s also different from the Denali Sled Dog Kennels because it doesn’t have a drive-through experience.
Husky Homestead is a tour founded by Jeff King who is known as the “World’s Winningest Musher”. You’ll get an up-close and personal experience with an Iditarod legend. You can also choose how long your tour will last depending on how much time you have in Denali National Park and Preserve.
If you want a longer visit, then you can go during the summer when there are more hours available for tours to take place.
The best time to visit Husky Homestead at Denali National Park and Preserve is during the spring season though because you’ll get a lot of snow over the winter months which makes dog sledding easier.
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Sound of Sleighs Bells
Denali National Park is best known for its spectacular mountain views and wildlife. But Denali Village, Alaska also has some great attractions to see and do.
This museum and gift shop is located in the heart of Denali Village, Alaska. Here you will find everything from authentic Native Alaskan art to supplies for your own sled dog team.
A highlight of this attraction is the “Sleigh Bell” which was donated by Walt Disney himself. The best things to do in Denali National Park include a stop at this historic building and its many available activities.
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Grab Some Craft Beer and Pizza at Prospector’s
Prospectors Pizza is hands down the best pizza in Denali, Alaska. They make a wide variety of pizzas including white pizzas and have tons of different toppings.
They also have delicious craft beer on tap which is served at just the right temperature. The best part is they are dog-friendly and will serve your pet a slice of the best pizza in Denali, AK!
Hike the Triple Lakes Trailhead
The Triple Lakes Trailhead is a hike that is located alongside the Denali Parks Highway, north of Denali Park proper. This trailhead offers hard-core hikers an opportunity to get a unique close-up view of the park’s best features.
Mill Creek is also on this trail and it can be crossed without getting your feet wet. The best time to see wildlife is early in the morning as most animals are more active at that time of the day.
In some sections, the path may be slippery due to rocks and mud. The best months for hiking are from April through October when temperatures are milder, with July being the best of all.
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Where to Stay in Denali National Park and Preserve
There are many types of hotels to choose from in Denali. The best hotel for you will depend on your budget, the number of people with you, and what style of accommodations best suit your needs.
The best hotels in Denali National Park and Preserve include the Wonder Lake Lodge, Snowshoe Motel Motor Court, and the Denali Pines Lodge. These hotels have been given the best ratings by TripAdvisor:
- Wonder Lake Lodge – best for family travel with an overall rating of 4.5/5 stars
- Snowshoe Motel Motor Court – best for solo travelers with a 4.5/5 star rating
- Denali Pines Lodge – best for couples with a 4.5/5 star rating
TripAdvisor gives these best hotel ratings to the Wonder Lake Lodge, Snowshoe Motel Motor Court, and Denali Pines Lodge based on traveler feedback of these hotels.
For example, there have been many positive reviews from travelers who appreciate the spaciousness of their rooms, the different amenities available, and the friendly staff.
There are also bed-and-breakfast inns to choose from in Denali National Park and Preserve. These inns are best for travelers who want a little more privacy, a homey touch from the B&B staff, or to try something different than what is available in standard hotels.
The best bed-and-breakfast inns in Denali National Park include:
- Denali Country Inn – best for solo travelers with a 4/5 star rating
- Denali Sunset Bed and Breakfast – best for couples with a 4/5 star rating
- Denali Cabin Bed and Breakfast – best family travel lodging with a 3.7/5 star rating
They also enjoyed the amenities like a fireplace to keep warm or to sit and chat with friends and family after a long day of sightseeing. Some of the best hotels in Denali National Park and Preserve also include a campground with cabins, tent sites, or RV hookups.
Campgrounds are best for travelers who want to get away from the busy cities and towns near Denali, but still, have some sort of luxury accommodations available to them. The best campgrounds in Denali National Park and Preserve include:
- Denali Forest Service Campground – best value accommodations with a 4/5 star rating
- Stony Hill Cabin – best for solo travelers with a 5/5 star rating
- Parks Highway RV Park & Motel – best for RV travelers with a 4.5/5 star rating
Several guests have appreciated the quiet atmosphere amongst the trees, away from the congestion of traffic or the business of a city. They also liked the cabins, which were rustic in decor and large, featuring multiple rooms, bathrooms, and beds for their party.
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Tips for Visiting Denali National Park and Preserve
Before we get into the top attractions and things to do, let’s highlight a few tips and things to pack when visiting Denali National Park.
- If you are used to the lights of the big city, the best thing to do when arriving at Denali National Park is to allow your eyes some time to adjust.
- Don’t forget sunscreen and a hat. Denali’s elevation and latitude put it in one of the world’s most extreme climates. It might feel cold, but the sun is still fierce.
- Denali National Park is LARGE, so make sure you have plenty of maps in advance of your trip and know where you are going before setting off. If you need help, be sure to ask a park ranger.
- There are no paved roads through Denali National Park and Preserve, so you will have to get around on foot or in a shuttle.
- The best time of year for bear viewing is late summer and fall when they are fattening up for hibernation. Consider bringing air horns or bear bangers and always carry bear spray to deter more inquisitive bears.
- Denali is home to black and brown bears, as well as wolves. See above for deterrents.
- Polar bears live in the arctic region of Alaska, but most often make their homes on the sea ice. They may migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles from land over frozen seas. Polar bears are large, powerful animals with sharp claws and teeth. Again, see above for deterrents.
- There are only 824 miles from Anchorage to Denali, but with winding roads and extreme elevation changes, it can take 10 hours or more to drive the 220-mile road.
- If you are planning on staying overnight in Denali National Park, Denali Park Lodges offer a wide range of accommodations and dining options.
- As with many national parks, Denali National Park has its own rules and regulations, which are best to know beforehand.
These best things to do in Denali National Park are best suited for the late spring through mid-fall, but the park is open year-round.
How to Get to Denali National Park
To get to the Park, visitors need to jump on the Denali Star Train or drive by car from Fairbanks or Anchorage – the two closest large airports. Denali National Park offers a railway track and various roads to access the beautiful spots.
If you are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Denali National Park is the place to go. With its breathtaking views and wildlife that can’t be found anywhere else in the world, it will leave an unforgettable impression on you.
From hiking through the wilderness of Alaska or learning about how Native peoples lived here over 12,000 years ago, to seeing bears fishing in streams, and eagles soaring overhead, there really is something for everyone at this incredible national park.
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