The tallest peak in North America at 20,310 feet (6,190 meters), Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley, is the centerpiece of Denali National Park and Preserve in south-central Alaska, an enormous area covering 6 million acres (2.5 million hectares). Founded in 1917, the park protects the native animals who roam free in its remote alpine tundra wilderness.
The main activities at Denali are admiring the scenery and observing the wildlife. Caribou, moose, bears (black and grizzly), wolves, and Dall sheep are heavily sought after and also the most elusive; more common animal sightings include smaller mammals such as arctic squirrels, foxes, and marmots. Although walking and hiking tour options are limited so as not to disturb the environment and wildlife, guided tours from Talkeetna and Healy offer opportunities for adventure activities such as flightseeing, whitewater rafting, ziplining, and ATV rides.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Denali National Park is ideal for animal and nature lovers but offers fewer outdoor activities than other parks.
- Only one road traverses the park—Denali Park Road—92 miles (148 kilometers) of which only 15 miles (25 kilometers) are paved; if you wish to go beyond, you must walk, bike, or take the park bus tour.
- The Denali Visitor Center and Eielson Visitor Center provide information, exhibits, ranger talks, and other services.
How to Get There
The only way to reach Denali National Park by road from Anchorage or Fairbanks is via State Route 3; it’s roughly two hours from Fairbanks or five hours from Anchorage. The Alaska Railroad also connects to the park from both cities.
When to Get There
The summer season runs from mid-May to mid-September and is the best time to visit if you’re hoping to see wildlife with temperatures ranging from 40° to 60°F (4.4° to 15.5°C). You may also visit in the spring or fall, but snow can fall at any time, so be prepared for cold or unexpected weather, and note that the buses do not operate during this time. The park road is closed in the winter, although Denali remains open for winter recreation.
Tips for Spotting Wildlife
Denali National Park is home to 39 mammal species and 169 bird species, but wild animals can be elusive and sightings aren’t guaranteed. To maximize your chances of seeing something, take a tour or the park bus instead of exploring on your own. The tour buses take you up a bit higher off the road for an elevated view, and tour groups provide more sets of eyes to keep watch. Grizzlies are more common around rivers and high-alpine areas, while Dall sheep are sometimes seen up high on the mountainside. If it’s clear and warm, some animals are less active in the middle of the day, so try the cooler hours of morning and evening.