Denali National Park is centrally located in the heart of Alaska and by far one of the most-visited parts of the state! Despite being a small town Denali sees over 600,000 visitors per year, and most of those are in the short summer season of May-September.
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In the summer of 2021, I worked in Denali National Park in the bus depot. It was an amazing summer! It’s quite hard to put into words what it is truly like working and LIVING in such a remote national park. It was awesome and I got to learn a lot about how the park operates while selling bus tickets.
Denali National Park is laid out in a way that is best for it to stay as wild as possible, without the tourists affecting the landscapes or the wildlife. Because of this, Denali only has one road inside of the park and it is falling.
Anyone with a vehicle can access miles 0-15 (Savage River) on their own at their leisure. This road is open 24/7 and is home to the majority of marked trails for hiking.
The only way to get past mile 15 inside of Denali is to purchase a bus tour. Most bus tours take you to Eielson Visitor Center, mile 66, and back in an 8 hour time period but the road extends all the way to mile 92.
Denali Park Road Landslide and Road Closure
In late August 2021, there was a massive landslide at Polychrome Overlook, mile 46, closing Denali Park Road for the foreseeable future. The road collapsed due to a landslide caused by melting permafrost underneath.
Many park employees are surprised it stayed open as long as it did because this has been an ongoing problem with the road This leaves NO access to Denali National Park past mile 46.
After the landslide, Denali National Park continued bus tours inside of the park, but issued discounted tickets due to the shortened tour, from 8 hours to 4 hours.
I was working in the bus depot the day the landslide happened, and it was one of the craziest days of work I have ever experienced.
Is it Worth Visiting Denali National Park in 2024? Can I Still See Mount Denali?
Alaska is ALWAYS a good idea to visit. Actually, it has been my favorite state to visit so far and I have visited 40/50 states.
Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America at 20,310 ft, can be seen from Miles 11-13 and then a few more times along the bus route. Because of the road closure, you will not be able to get as close to Denali for those super grand photos, but you can get other amazing viewpoints of Denali and understand the size of it pretty early on in the park!
Even without the road closure, if you are able to see Denali you are part of the 30% club.
Denali is usually covered by clouds because it creates its own weather. Only 30% of the days Denali is out, so it is not uncommon for visitors to visit the park without seeing a view of Denali.
But, Denali is such a massive and beautiful park, I would never miss an opportunity to visit. You can always go twice! I managed to see plenty of moose, caribou, a grizzly bear, and other small creatures during my 4 hours shortened bus tour.
So yes, visit Denali and visit Alaska. If you really want to wait to visit so you have the full Denali National Park experience you could be waiting at least a couple of years.
Pro Tip: Visit in the Spring or Fall to catch the Northern Lights!
What Tours Will Run in Denali National Park?
To book a tour, visit ReserveDenali.com.
These tours sell out EARLY and FAST. It is best to book these as far out as possible to ensure your spot. Tickets go on sale for each summer starting on December 1st.
If you are like me, and you do not plan your trips far in advance, you are in luck! Denali bus depot has last-minute tickets available every day. I would call/check-in with the reservations desk about 48 hours before you want to take your tour.
Last minute tickets are available between 1-2 days before the scheduled tour. These tickets are usually required to purchase in person and are on a first come first serve basis! But always call and see if anything has changed.
Things to do in Denali National Park? Here are the BEST One and Two Day Itineraries!
You might be wondering, “What is there to do in Denali National Park with all this craziness?”As I previously mentioned, the first 15 miles of the park are free (with your entrance fee) to visit and there are lots of things to do in Denali National Park!
One Day in Denali National Park
If you only have one day in Denali, I would recommend taking the first tour bus into the park. This usually departs before 7am. It is a fantastic opportunity to see the park, hopefully spot wildlife, and understand the sheer size of Denali.
If you take a 7 am bus out, you should be back to the front of the park around 11 am. Either grab your car and drive back to Savage River or ask your tour bus driver if you can be dropped off at Savage River.
Take 1-2 hours enjoying the 1.5-mile easy hike through Savage River. Visitors are known to see bears and wolverines around this area so stay alert! There is also a super lovely picnic area with tables and restrooms right along the riverbed at the start of the trail. Have lunch and enjoy these beautiful views.
Next, head to Park Headquarters. This is NOT to be missed. Park Headquarters are home to the Denali Sled Dogs! Denali is the only National Park with sled dogs and you are able to pet and interact with the dogs.
Once you’ve visited the dogs head back to the front of the park. Enjoy the visitors center, shop for souvenirs. The visitor center stays open until 5 pm and the neighboring gift shop is open until 6 pm.
If you still have time and are up for another hike, I would recommend ending your day with Horseshoe Lake Trail. This trail has a 250 ft elevation gain and is a 4-mile loop. The elevation comes from stairs at the beginning of the trail to get you down to the lake. Moose and beavers can often be seen down here making it a very enjoyable hike.
Two Days in Denali National Park
If you have two days to spend in Denali, consider yourself lucky.
I would recommend following the day one itinerary and continuing from there.
Day Two in Denali
Day Two, start with a delicious and filling breakfast at The Black Bear. Located just north of the park entrance alongside Highway 3, The Black Bear is a popular stop for Denali locals and visitors. They have the best homemade biscuits!
Next, head back inside of the park and head to Mountain Vista, about 13 miles into the park. Mountain Vista is one of my favorite spots in the front country because it is less crowded than many other spots.
Mountain Vista is home to two trails, Mountain Vista Trail and Savage Alpine Trail. Start with walking the quick and easy 0.6 miles Mountain Vista Trail. If Denali is out, you will have a view of her from these trails.
If you are up for a hard hike, the Savage Alpine Trail begins at this stop. It is my favorite hike in the park! Start at Mountain Vista for an easier climb up the mountain. The trail begins in a beautiful meadow following a creek and then it opens to amazing views of Denali as you ascend further up the mountain.
Once again, pack lunches to enjoy either on the hike or at the Savage River Picnic area. I would expect this to take in total around 3-4 hours including a lunch break. I did it in about 2 hours, but I was going quickly through the trails by myself.
If you are still up for walking, I would recommend the McKinley Station Trail that is located next to the visitors center. If you are not up for it, head back outside of the park to the canyon and souvenir shop. I personally liked the merchandise outside of the park better than I did inside the park!
Have a nice sit down dinner at Prospectors Pizza. It will be the last building in this strip mall area. Arrive early to Prospectors because it is known to be very busy.
Denali is MASSIVE with so much to do. Even with the road closure for the foreseeable future, there is so much to be explored in Denali and it is still worth visiting.
After spending 6 weeks in Denali over the summer, I can confidently say I did not do everything, but I did do A LOT.
I hope this guide helped clarify your upcoming trip to Denali and as always leave a comment letting me know what you think! Have you been to Denali before? What are your favorite things to do?