Will the odds be in your favor? Trekking to Denali National Park can be seen as a far journey for many, trust me I know I came from the furthest corner of the country to visit the most western road from Florida to Kantishna Alaska located in the heart of Denali National Park.
* This article is all my own thoughts and opinions based on a trip that was hosted by Pursuit Collection at Denali Backcountry Lodge. The activities, hikes, and places I visited were all my own choice. The article has some links that are affiliate links for Amazon, Getyourguide, etc and at no extra cost to you they help me run my site and I receive a small commission.
This feat was possible thanks to Pursuit Collection who run the Denali Backcountry Lodge. Now it is harder than ever to get to some of the most beautiful spots of the USA’s largest National Park since a landslide caused the only road in and out of the park to be cut off from the entrance of the park at mile 44.
Here visitors have a choice to turn back on the National Park Service Bus, hike in the backcountry, or fly into the Denali Backcountry Lodge.
For many considering this journey, they look at the number 30 percent, which you will often hear over and over when you visit the park. Sweatshirts are made to celebrate being one of the 30 percent that get to see the prize of Denali Mountain. The highest peak in the Americas, and one of the most beautiful and dangerous mountains in the world.
What motivates visitors to Denali, when there is a chance you will have a higher probability of not seeing the prize.
That is a good question. Whatever the probability is, it is worth visiting Denali.
It is not every day someone can say they have visited the tallest mountain on land from its base to its summit with a vertical rise of 18,000 feet versus Mt Everest’s 12000-foot rise. At 20,310 feet it can be seen over 200 miles away on a clear day. However, more often than not, the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Many things motivate peoples’ trips to the last frontier and one of the wildest national parks in the USA, but for me, it was the ability to experience something that did not seem overrun by humans and get to get surrounded by nature around me.
Hopefully, the list of things to do in Denali National Park will help you in planning your trip to Alaska’s interior and Denali National Park.
Why should you visit Denali in 2023 and 2024?
Take The Alaska Railroad- Celebrating 100 Years!
When I visited Denali, I was so worried about the weather and what I would see. However, the whole experience of visiting in 2023 is quite special. The closest airport to Denali National Park is Fairbanks, so I thought it was quite special to take the Alaska Railroad to Denali since it was celebrating its’ 100th anniversary.
Avoid Overcrowded National Parks
If you are going to visit Denali it should be done with the total experience in mind, enjoying the pure nature in the backcountry past the landslide in Kantishna.
Some of the best reasons to visit Denali are not even the mountain itself, which is why over 600,000 people in 2019. But currently due to the Pretty Rocks Landslide that shut down the park road at mile 43 visitor numbers were just over 219,000 people in 2022.
Where to stay for a one-of-a-kind experience in Denali National Park?
Denali Backcountry Lodge
If you are looking for an intimate experience with nature, go deeper into the wild by staying at the Denali Backcountry Lodge. This fly-in experience is all-inclusive with naturist guides, mouth-watering food, and so many activities to enjoy nature. I also believe you will have the best view of Denali from staying deeper inside the park.
The experience began with a stay at Denali Cabins at the front park entrance where I learned more about the park, visited the visitor center, and did some of the hikes at the front of the park.
Getting to Denali Backcountry Lodge
Then I got to do something very few people can do since the landslide closed the road. (Road closed til 2025) I got to fly by helicopter to Kantishna. Kantishna began as a gold mining town before Denali was deemed a National Park. It is the furthest west you can drive on a road from Florida.
“At 20,310 feet, it is the crowning peak of the Alaska Range and the highest mountain on the continent. It towers three and one-half vertical miles above its base, making it a mile taller from base to summit than Mt. Everest” NPS
What you should take with you to Denali Backcountry Lodge?
In the helicopter, you can only take a 40 lb soft-shelled bag, like a duffel bag. If you don’t have one they can give you one to borrow at the Denali Cabins.
It is pretty great that other than packing layers because of the changing weather in Denali, the Denali Backcountry Lodge provides a lot of things you will find necessary during your time there. When I arrived at my room/cabin there was an Osprey pack filled with a mosquito net for the head, a water bottle, and also a racket to kill mosquitoes with.
One thing I recommend is not just bringing leggings and also bringing long sleeve shirts since on some of the trails mosquitos can be bad.
That is why you should carry bug spray with you 100 deet and bring sunscreen. While the Denali Backcountry Lodge has mosquito repellent it is good to have your own as well.
I brought Keen hiking shoes and my water shoes as well.
Things to do at Denali Backcountry Lodge
The Denali Backcountry Lodge offers an all inclusive experience where guests can go on guided or unguided adventures in Denali. They provide everything you need mountain bikes, fly fishing equipment, paddle boards, kayaks, and also lead guided hikes for all difficulty levels.
They also have a great chef that prepares meals in the main lodge. In the morning you must choose from a menu, because they have to fly everything into the lodge. Every meal I had at Denali Backcountry Lodge was fresh, filling, and delectable.
In the evening you could grab a drink, and have some appetizers upstairs while you listen to an educational talk on glaciers, photography and Denali. There was never a moment I felt bored. There was also ample areas to relax with a spa offering massages, and also a sauna and hot tub.
Kayak Wonder Lake
Denali Backcountry Lodge provides kayaks and paddle boards. The naturalist guides will take you to the lake where you can take a kayak and have the place almost all to yourself. Maybe you will get lucky and see Bruce the moose while there. Close to Wonder Lake is an easy hike called Blueberry Hill.
Head to the Reflection Pond At Sunset
The best place to go when the light hits Denali just right at sunset is Reflection Pond. In two days I could not believe the view I had of Denali. One of the most memorable evenings was coming to Reflection pond to see a perfect view of Denali and its’ reflection in the pond. Also, nearby was a lot of blueberry bushes we snacked on.
Things to do in Denali National Park
There are few parks as wild as Denali National Park. This is one of the few national parks with few maintained trails like the ones close to the Denali National Park Visitors Center like Horseshoe Lake Trail, Mount Healy Overlook Trail, Savage River Loop Trail, and a few in the interior like the McKinley Bar Trail.
My time in Denali National Park and at the Denali Backcountry Lodge was the first time I learned about bushwacking or off-trail hiking. This is what most people love about Denali is how wild it truly is and the 6 million acres of wilderness to explore. It was so cool to be able to see a river or a waterfall and just head towards it through bush and tundra to reach it for a swim.
Denali National Park Visitors Center
There are quite a few things to do in Denali, and many of them originate at the Denali National Park Visitors Center. Here rangers lead guided hikes, share information about the park trails, and they show two movies on the half hour one about how the park uses dog sleds to help service the park, and the other on the aurora borealis.
Dog Sledding Demo and Denali Kennels
If you want to see the dog demo, kennel, and learn about how park rangers use dog sledding and train dogs check out tours at 10 am, 2 pm, and 4 pm. There are two ways to get there, you can take a walk/hike, or you can take a shuttle that departs from the Denali National Park Visitor Center.
The demo begins at 10 am, 2 pm, and 4 pm with shuttles departing 40 minutes before each demo. Also, you can visit at any time between 9 am and 4:30 pm.
Horseshoe Lake Trail
Want an easy hike with rewarding views and scenery? Check out Horseshoe Lake Trail. It is about a 4-mile round trip hike from the Denali National Parks Visitor Center, but you can also shave some time off of the hike by parking near the trailhead by the train tracks.
Encounter Alaska’s Big 5
Many people come to Alaska to see wildlife and at Denali National Park you have a chance of seeing Alaska’s Big 5: moose, grizzly bears, wolves, Dall sheep, and caribou. This is something you can see close by the visitor’s center. People that hiked around Horseshoe Lake saw moose and beavers.
However, you can also do the next thing on the list for the possibility of seeing all 5!
Denali National Park Bus Tour on Denali Park Road
If you want to go further than driving to mile marker 15 in Denali National Park you can take the Denali National Park bus tour which is currently the only way to drive after mile marker 15. While the road is currently closed after mile marker 43 due to the landslide, people I met said they still saw a lot of wildlife on this tour. Learn about the National Park tours here.
Take A Scenic Flight Tour with Denali Air
This was a one-of-a-kind opportunity to fly as close to the peak of Denali, North America’s highest mountain without actually having to climb it. The scenic flight by Denali Air is about 60-70 minutes depending on the weather. I was nervous at first soaring in a small plane around Denali’s peak.
Rafting the Nenana River
If you want the chance to see wildlife from the Nenana River, as you pass by scenery with snow-covered mountain tops a rafting trip can be perfect. The Nenana River is great for moderate rafting trips, all the way up to Class 4 rapids. There is a trip for everyone, even those that don’t want to grab a paddle and just be guided down the river.
These tours last for about 2- 3 hours and have times from as early as 8 am, running til the last tours at 6 pm. Rafting season is open from May 20- Sept 10. Check out Denali Rafting Adventures or New Wave Adventures Rafting for a variety of tours including packraft tours for adventurous souls.
Visit the Boardwalk
If you are looking for souvenirs, restaurants, and a place to walk around with an ice cream cone in hand, then the boardwalk is the place to be. I got my $10 souvenir shirt and had a lovely time enjoying the unique shops along the boardwalk. One of the most interesting snacks I saw on the boardwalk was salmon jerky! This is also the spot you can book tours, Jeep rentals, and find other adventure excursions like ATV tours. One of the places everyone recommended to eat and hang out over here was Prospector’s Pizzeria.
This may be one of the hardest mountains to climb in the world. It is a part of the seven highest summits of each continent. While people are allowed to get a permit to climb Denali on their own, it is advisable to go in groups of three or on a guided trip. This is a high ticket item with a guided trip up Denali costing about $10,800 quoted price from Alpine Ascents.
Even by paying that much money, there is no guarantee of success. So far this year there have been 1019 attempts and only 308 summits. This is only about a 30 percent success rate, sort of about the same chances visitors get to see the mountain at all.
Other Activities To Do In Denali, Alaska
Why is it called Denali now?
The name Denali is based on the Koyukon name of the mountain, Deenaalee (‘the high one’). The Koyukon are a people of Alaskan Athabaskans settling in the area north of the mountain. Alaska in 1975 requested that the mountain be officially recognized as Denali, as it was still the common name used in the state.
What is the best month to visit Denali National Park
The best month in my opinion to visit Denali is in either June or July. That is when you will have the longest periods of sunlight to enjoy all of the activities and things to do Denali National Park has to offer. June – August is also the rainiest month in Denali.
If you want to see the Northern Lights I would suggest going in the fall as it will be dark enough at night to enjoy. Plus you will have the opportunity to hike and see fall colors in September!
How much time do you need at Denali National Park?
I spent 4 nights in Denali National Park. Two nights at the Denali Cabins and two nights at the Denali Backcountry Lodge. This allowed me to do most things I wanted, but if you want to do most of the hikes around Denali National Park Visitor Center as well as activities like Denali Air or going rafting.
How to get to Denali National Park?
Denali National Park has only one road entrance, located at Mile 237 on Highway 3. The park entrance is about 240 miles north of Anchorage and 120 miles south of Fairbanks, the two largest cities in Alaska. You can reach the park by car, train, bus, or plane, depending on your preference and budget.
Denali By Car:
Driving to Denali National Park is a scenic and flexible option, as you can stop along the way to enjoy the views and attractions. The drive from Anchorage takes about 4 hours, while the drive from Fairbanks takes about 2 hours. You can rent a car from either city or bring your vehicle. However, keep in mind that you can only drive up to Mile 15 of the park road, where private vehicles are restricted. To explore deeper into the park, you will need to take a shuttle bus or a tour bus. If you are looking for a rental car compare and search for deals on Expedia.
Denali National Park by train:
Taking the train to Denali National Park is a relaxing and comfortable option, as you can sit back and enjoy the scenery through large windows. The state-owned Alaska Railroad connects Anchorage and Fairbanks and runs directly through the park entrance. The train depot is a five-minute walk from the Denali Visitor Center. The train ride from Anchorage takes about 8 hours, while the train ride from Fairbanks takes about 4 hours. I took the train from Fairbanks and then the train from Denali to Anchorage. I booked the Goldstar service which was perfect and included drinks, food, and amazing commentary on what we saw on the train.
Taking the bus to Denali National Park is an affordable and convenient option, as you can save money and time compared to driving or taking the train. Several private bus and van services operate daily from Anchorage and Fairbanks in the summer months. The bus ride from Anchorage takes about **6 hours**, while the bus ride from Fairbanks takes about 2.5 hours. You can find more information and book your tickets online or by phone.
Flying to Denali National Park is a fast and exciting option, as you can get there in less than an hour and see the park from above. Several small airlines offer flights from Anchorage and Fairbanks to Healy River Airport, which is 12 miles south of the park entrance.
Are you ready to pursue a holiday in Denali National Park?
Hope this helps you plan an epic trip to Denali National Park and explore Alaska’s Interior. It is doable solo and an epic experience seeing North America’s tallest mountain. I was super happy exploring Denali with Pursuit Collection and stayed with them at both of their properties in Denali. The Denali Backcountry Lodge was a very special and unique experience where I felt safe to explore the backcountry of Denali with their naturists, and guides, and also always felt like I had a beautiful lodge to come back to every night after exploring. In conclusion, this was the perfect adventure exploring the 49th state of the USA and it should be on your Alaska itinerary.
Love visiting National Parks? Check out my guide to visiting Bryce Canyon National Park!