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Adventurous Things to Do in Denali National Park

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What are the things to do in Denali National Park? This is a commonly asked question of tourists who visit Alaska. The surprising fact is that many don’t even know about its existence. This majestic place has a lot ready to be explored.

Today, we thought of sharing an extensive list of activities in Alaska’s beautiful, majestic wilderness.

So, let’s start getting into it.

Denali National Park – An Overview

Scenic view of Denali National Park
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Denali National Park is where human history and geological forces have intertwined. From the footsteps of early peoples to the relentless movement of glaciers, the park’s story is one of resilience and breathtaking beauty.

Historical Facts and Figures

Vintage Picture of a group of people
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Evidence suggests humans have inhabited the Denali area for thousands of years. Early Athabascan people lived a nomadic life, hunting, and fishing in the region. In the late 19th century, the gold rush brought prospectors and explorers to Alaska, putting Denali on the map. Mount McKinley, the park’s centerpiece, was named 1896 after President William McKinley.

Early conservation efforts in the early 1900s led to the creation of Mount McKinley National Park in 1917. Efforts to protect the surrounding area continued, culminating in the expansion of the park and preserve in 1980. In 2015, the mountain’s name was officially changed to Denali, honoring its traditional Athabascan name meaning “The High One.”

Geographical Facts and Figures

Map of Alaska
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At 20,310 feet, Denali is the highest peak in North America and dominates the Alaskan Range that runs through the park. It boasts a dramatic elevation change, leading to a variety of ecosystems. The park offers a microcosm of Alaskan habitats, from boreal forests at the base to tundra blanketing the higher slopes.

Denali is home to North America’s most concentrated area of glaciers. These massive ice fields sculpted the landscape over millennia and continue to shape the park’s environment. Lastly, it experiences a harsh subarctic climate with long, cold winters and short, cool summers. This climate sustains a unique range of plants and animals adapted to survive the extremes.

Top Things to Do in Denali National Park

boasts the highest concentration of glaciers in North America, with an estimated 1,000 glaciers covering a whopping one million acres of the park. Pretty amazing. But that’s not it. From epic hikes to wildlife encounters, Denali National Park offers many adventures. Here are the top things to do:

Tour the Denali Park Road

Denali Park Road
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Park Road is your gateway to Denali’s wild heart! It’s the only road that takes you deep into this amazing park, and you won’t be able to drive your car past the first few miles.  

Choose a comfy tour bus with a guide who will tell you about the park, or take a shuttle bus to explore at your own pace. Look for awesome animals like bears, moose, caribou, and more.  The views of the mountains are incredible, and if you’re lucky, you might even see Denali on a clear day.

See Denali National Park from Above on a Flightseeing Tour

Flightseeing in Alaska
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Want to see Denali National Park in a way that few people do? Take to the skies on a flightseeing tour!  See giant glaciers wind their way between mountains. Look for tiny animals like bears and moose far below. Some tours even let you land on a glacier and walk on the ancient ice – an experience you’ll never forget!

Go Dog Sledding

Dogs attached to a sled
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Learn about a classic Alaskan tradition – dog sledding! Meet friendly Alaskan Huskies and feel their excitement as they pull you on a sled.  Ride over the snow in winter or on a special cart in summer.  Discover how dog sledding teams work together and learn about the special way of life for the dogs and the musher (the person who drives the sled).

Northern Epics Hiking & Survival Tours

A group of hikers
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Get ready for a true wilderness adventure with Northern Epics!   Go beyond the regular trails and explore the wild parts of Denali with experienced guides. Learn how to find your way in the backcountry, stay safe around wild animals, and survive outdoors.  Northern Epics tours are more than just hiking; they are a chance to learn and grow in amazing surroundings.

Kantishna Wilderness Trails

Scenic view of Katishna Wilderness Trail
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Kantishna is a remote area at the end of the Denali Park Road that offers trails that take you deep into untouched wilderness. Hike on your own with the mountains all around. Look for wild animals in their natural home – you might see moose, bears, or even wolves!

Squid Acres Kennel Dog Sledding Tours

Visit Squid Acres Kennel and see how these dogs are raised, trained, and cared for. Learn about their love of running and how their teamwork makes dog sledding exciting. Watch the dogs show off their speed and power – you might even get to pet them.

Hike in Denali National Park

Denali offers gorgeous trails for all skill levels. Short, mostly flat paths like the McKinley Station Trail or the Tundra Loop Trail are perfect for families, casual walkers, or those seeking strolls with scenic views. Horseshoe Lake Trail offers moderate inclines and beautiful scenery, but they may take a few hours to complete.

Therefore, choose a trail that matches your fitness level and experience. Always check weather conditions, pack appropriate clothing and gear, and bring plenty of water and snacks. Denali is home to bears.  Carry bear spray, know how to use it, and make noise while hiking to avoid surprising any bears.

Remember: Some trails require backcountry permits and experience.

Bike Denali

A man biking
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The park’s main road for the first 15 miles is open to bikes. It’s a fantastic way to take in the views at your own pace. These bikes have a small motor to assist your pedaling, making longer rides and uphill sections easier. Classic mountain bikes are great for exploring the park’s gravel road and venturing onto shorter trails.

If you’re focusing on riding the park road, a gravel bike will provide a smooth, efficient ride. Bike Denali will likely provide essential gear like helmets, locks, and repair kits. They may also offer handlebar bags, panniers (storage bags), and bear spray.

Traverse Alaska Rafting & Packrafting

A raft by the river in Denali
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Packrafts are small, inflatable rafts that let you explore remote rivers and lakes. Traverse Alaska likely offers guided trips, teaching you how to use this unique gear for a backcountry adventure. They likely have classic rafting trips on the Nenana River. These cater to various skill levels, from relaxed floats perfect for families to more adventurous whitewater experiences.

Their guides live in the Denali area and have intimate knowledge of the rivers and backcountry. They’ll share insights on the region’s wildlife, ecology, and history. River travel has inherent risks. Traverse Alaska prioritizes safety, ensuring guides have the necessary certifications and experience to manage varying conditions.

Black Diamond ATV Tour

A person riding an ATV bike
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Black Diamond Tours likely caters to different experience levels. You might explore old mining trails at a moderate pace or conquer more challenging terrain with steeper climbs and muddier paths. The tour will provide ample opportunities to stop and capture stunning photos of the Alaskan landscape. Moreover, the tour might take you along historic routes used by miners in the past.  

Denali Highway Jeep Excursions

These tours highlight the Denali Highway, a lesser-traveled route that was once the main access to the park. It offers a more authentic Alaskan experience with raw, unspoiled nature. This route takes you away from the crowds and offers pristine views of the Alaska Range, untouched landscapes, and possibly wildlife like bears, moose, and caribou.

You’ll ride in a modern 4-door Jeep, enjoying comfortable seating and some protection from the elements. The tour provides snacks and beverages.

Each group of 2 or more gets their Jeep, and drivers can swap throughout the tour, allowing everyone to experience navigating this unique road. The Jeeps are automatic, making them easier to drive.

Go to the Visitor Center and a Dinner Theater Show 

The Denali Visitor Center is more than just a building. It’s your gateway to the park and a source of essential information. You can learn about the park’s wildlife, geology, and history through informative exhibits there. Kids will love interactive displays and educational activities.

Denali offers several unique dinner theater experiences that combine entertainment with Alaskan flavor. Music of Denali Dinner Theater is a lively dinner-and-show combo that focuses on the historical “Sourdough Expedition” that made the first ascent of Denali.

The Alaska Cabin Nite Dinner Theater tastes old-time Alaska to your evening. It is a cozy, log-built roadhouse that creates a rustic atmosphere. There, you can enjoy Alaskan songs and stories and enjoy plenty of audience participation.

Denali Summit Flight

View from cockpit
Image Source: iStock

Most summit flights use airplanes with space for just a handful of passengers, ensuring everyone gets a great view. You should be prepared for the thrill of flying up to heights of 20,000 feet or more. If the weather permits, you’ll circle the summit of Denali (Mount McKinley), the tallest peak in North America. See its ice-clad walls, glaciers, and the routes climbers take to reach the top.

Your pilot will provide commentary during the flight, sharing facts about Denali, the geology, and mountaineering history. Don’t forget to bring your camera! Summit flights allow stunning aerial photos of Alaska’s raw natural beauty.

Denali Park Zipline

A person on a zipline
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Denali Park Zipline is a thrilling ziplining adventure near the Denali National Park entrance in Alaska. It boasts a unique design that allows for breathtaking 360-degree views of the Alaskan wilderness, including the mountains and tundra. The course consists of eight ziplines and six suspension bridges.

The ziplines incorporate a hands-free braking system, so you can focus on taking in the incredible scenery. The final zipline is a side-by-side dual racer, where you can challenge a friend or family member. The tour is designed to be safe and fun for various ages and experience levels.

Denali Star Route 

Train in Alaska
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The Denali Star is the Alaska Railroad’s flagship train route. It offers a scenic journey between Anchorage and Fairbanks, allowing you to experience some of Alaska’s most beautiful landscapes from the comfort of a train. 

The Denali Star route covers about 356 miles, stretching between Alaska’s two largest cities. The journey takes approximately 12 hours one way. Besides Anchorage and Fairbanks, the train stops at Wasilla, Talkeetna, and Denali National Park.

The Denali Star crosses a variety of Alaskan terrains – from coastal wetlands near Anchorage to the lush Matanuska Valley, the rugged Alaska Range, and the subarctic scenery north of Denali. On a clear day, passengers are treated to spectacular views of Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), the tallest mountain in North America.

Recommended Readings:

Best Time to Travel to Alaska

Hiking at Denali Park Village

Denali Park Village offers some lovely hiking options, ranging in difficulty to accommodate everyone from casual strollers to experienced hikers.  Some popular hiking trails there are:

Rock Creek Trail: A moderately strenuous 4-mile loop with chances to spot wildlife. You’ll pass through forests with potential views of Denali on clear days.

Steps Through Time Trail: A family-friendly interpretive loop exploring the area’s history through signs and exhibits.

Triple Lakes Trail: This challenging hike inside Denali National Park takes you into the boreal forest, leading to three picturesque lakes. Be prepared for some uphill climbs and seeing wildlife like beavers or moose.

Biking at Denali Park Village

Like hiking, Denali Park Village offers a few options for cyclists, providing a different way to explore the beautiful scenery. There are many bicycle-friendly areas there, such as: 

Campground Loops: The park’s campgrounds have relatively flat roads with less traffic, perfect for a leisurely bike ride.

Roadside Bike Trail: This paved trail is 1.7 miles long (one-way) and takes you from the park entrance towards the Nenana River Canyon. Be aware that you might encounter pedestrians on the path. It includes a spur to the Riley Creek Day Use Area for a picnic spot.

Denali Park Road: If you are a very experienced cyclist, you can bike portions of Denali Park Road.

You can rent comfortable hybrid bikes right at Denali Park Village. Information is usually available on their website or by contacting them directly.

Things to Take Care of When Visiting Denali National Park

  • Book accommodations and tours early, especially in peak season.
  • Drive your vehicle only the first 15 miles into the park – park buses are required after that point.
  • Prepare for changing weather – layer clothing and bring rain gear.
  • Bring mosquito repellent during the summer months.
  • Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
  • Store food properly in designated bear-proof containers.
  • Practice Leave No Trace principles to preserve the park’s wilderness.
  • Expect limited cell reception throughout the park.
  • Bring cash for smaller vendor purchases and entrance fees.
  • Enjoy the breathtaking scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities.

P.S.: Alaska is a swarm of mosquitoes. Learn how to battle mosquitoes in Alaska through our blog. 

Ending Note

Moose standing on a hill
Image Source: iStock

Denali National Park isn’t just a destination. It’s an experience that will stay with you long after you leave. From the moment you see its towering peaks to the glimpse of a bear foraging in the distance, this wild Alaskan landscape will capture your heart.

If you plan to visit this breathtaking park, ensure to do all the activities we have listed to get the most out of it. Also, don’t forget to take safety precautions!

Now that we have reached the end of this blog, we hope you have enjoyed reading it. Let us know your thoughts and experiences related to Denali National Park. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long should you spend in Denali National Park?

Denali is a wild place, far from big cities or airports. It can take a long time to get there, even most of the day. So, it’s best to plan to stay for at least 2 nights. That way, you’ll have one full day and part of two others to enjoy the park.

2. What will you see at Denali National Park?

You’ll see a huge mountain called Mount Denali at Denali National Park. Different kinds of places like forests, grasslands, and snowy areas exist. Many animals like bears, wolves, moose, and birds can be seen.

3. Is Denali worth visiting? 

Denali National Park is worth visiting for anyone who appreciates the beauty and wonder of the great outdoors. It’s a stunning wilderness area with breathtaking scenery, diverse wildlife, and various outdoor activities.

4. What is the best month to visit Denali National Park?

The best month to visit Denali National Park largely depends on personal preferences and what activities you hope to engage in during your visit. However, many visitors find June, July, and August popular due to milder temperatures, longer daylight hours, and increased wildlife activity.

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