Denali National Park Photos + Tips for a Fun Visit!

Jul 10, 2015

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then here’s a whole lotta words about Denali National Park in Alaska!

From the Denali National Park website: “Denali is six million acres of wild land, bisected by one ribbon of road. Travelers along it see the relatively low-elevation taiga forest give way to high alpine tundra and snowy mountains, culminating in North America’s tallest peak, 20,320′ Denali (formerly Mount McKinley). Wild animals large and small roam unfenced lands, living as they have for ages. Solitude, tranquility and wilderness await.

Denali National Park and Preserve has one road, simply called the Denali Park Road, and it is the main avenue for visitors to see and experience Denali. The road is 92 miles long, and only the first 15 miles of it are paved. That paved portion, leading from the park entrance to Savage River, is open during the summer for public (non-commercial) vehicles to drive. Summer travel beyond mile 15, which is hugely recommended, is by shuttle or tour bus, or under human power. The summer season in Denali runs from late May through early September.”

Map courtesy of the National Parks Service

Map courtesy of the National Parks Service

Here are some tips from our experience at Denali (many of which were bestowed upon us by locals – thank you again!!) for a good visit to the park:

  • The bus system is a little pricey, and complicated to figure out. Make your reservation ahead of time or you may be waiting a while, or completely shut out that day. It’s completely worth it though if you want to see the interior of Denali. The first 15 miles you can drive in your car is still a beautiful segment and allows you to hike some trails and view several points of interest, but the park really gets the most rugged and wild beyond that when the road turns to gravel. Don’t miss the full experience if you can help it!
  • Most of our animal sightings were deeper in the park, and being on a bus instead of driving gives you the ability to rubberneck and take photos and video to your heart’s desire! The best place to sit for panoramic mountain views is on the driver’s side on the way out, and the “passenger” side on the way back.
  • If you want the full narrated experience, take a tour. If you want to be able to hop on and off at stops for hiking and breaks, take the green shuttle buses (this is what we did). We were worried about missing out on the narration, but our driver still did his best to educate us the whole drive and answer questions anyway! The drivers seem to love their jobs and want to make sure you have a good time.
You wouldn't want to drive this road yourself anyway! Leave it to the professionals.

We wouldn’t want to drive this road ourselves anyway. Better to leave it to the professionals and enjoy the view!

  • Here’s a list of items to consider bringing on your visit to Denali. The most important thing to note is that there’s no food or water available in the park once you leave the visitor center, unless you’re on a tour bus that provides a snack or meal, so plan ahead. There are bathrooms with vault toilets, but no running water at several stops. They do provide hand sanitizer. The Eielson Visitor Center at mile 66 does have regular restrooms with running water, and you can also refill your water bottles there.
  • You can bring a bike on certain buses and pedal the park road a portion of the way, but the road is narrow, dusty when buses go by, and there are lots of steep drop-offs, so it’s not for the faint of heart! Hiking is mostly on unimproved trails, so unless you’re prepared for backcountry hiking you’ll want to stick to the more popular ones.
  • The mountains in Denali tend to form their own weather, independent of the surrounding area, so planning ahead based on the area’s forecast doesn’t always help. Your best bet is to allow several days for your excursions in the park to see it in different weather conditions. You may even see lots of weather changes if you only have a single day out there (we did!), so wear or bring several layers of clothes and a good rain coat. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see many animals or Denali (Mount McKinley) – conditions can change quickly for or against your favor. We saw the mountain’s peak for a few minutes during a clearing in a storm, then it was back behind the clouds again. Here’s a list of other places you can view the mountain outside of the National Park.
Mt. McKinley playing peek-a-boo with us.

Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) kept playing peek-a-boo with us.

  • The best time to see animals is supposedly during cloudy periods, or during and after rain – so don’t let a dreary day stop you from visiting the park! They like to take their naps during the warmer and sunnier parts of the day and forage for food when it’s cooler. During sunny weather we saw very few, then when the weather turned more overcast they started coming out in droves.
  • We didn’t camp in Denali, but you can – just be sure to make reservations. Camping beyond mile 15 in the park requires you to have a site booked ahead of time, and to stay at least 3 days – once you’re in, there’s no going in or out except by your own foot/bike power or on a bus! Past mile 2 you’ll lose all cell phone service, and plan to be fully off-grid with no electricity hookups at the campgrounds. More information about the park’s campgrounds can be found here.
  • For a memorable adventure just outside the park (especially if you don’t have time to do the bus ride or just love the water too), consider a rafting or kayaking trip on the Nenana River. Rafting companies in Healy and just outside the park entrance in McKinley Park offer whitewater experiences or calmer scenic floats on the river that borders the national park. We did a 2-hour scenic guided float with Denali Outdoor Center and learned a lot about the area and national park, plus we had some great geology lessons up close while viewing the rock cliffs on either side of the river canyon.

Now, on to the photos…

Click on any image below to enter a full-size slideshow of the entire album.

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13 comments

  1. Comment by gonewiththedogs

    gonewiththedogs Reply Jul 10, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    Great post on Denali ! It was great meeting you and your pups, looking forward to seeing again this winter…..put some thoughts towards the Baja

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Jul 10, 2015 at 9:43 pm

      Thank you, and thanks again for all your insight about Denali!

      We were just looking at rentals in Baja today, actually! Never too soon to start. Let us know if you find anything promising – we’d love to spend a lot more time with you guys. 🙂

  2. Comment by placestheygo

    placestheygo Reply Jul 11, 2015 at 4:29 am

    Great information on visiting the park. One day we will make this journey to Alaska. Thanks for the info, video, and beautiful photos!

  3. Comment by Larry

    Larry Reply Jul 11, 2015 at 7:34 am

    Great shots – hope to get there some day

  4. Comment by leftcoastlass

    leftcoastlass Reply Jul 11, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    This is so helpful — thanks for all that info! Did you do much hiking, even on the popular trails? Is there much risk from grizzlies when hiking in this area?

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Jul 11, 2015 at 12:30 pm

      You’re welcome – thanks for reading! We did the popular trail at the Eielson Visitor Center, which is where we had the McKinley view, and also where the buses turn around if you do the 66 mile tour. For the green shuttle buses, there could be a long wait for the next one (a half hour to an hour) before the next one arrives, plus a chance it’s full and you’d have to wait for another, if you don’t get back on yours. We had to get back to our dogs and our trip out and back was already 8 hrs, so we used our half hour break at Eielson to do some easy walking amongst quite a few other hikers.

      I heard a couole say they did a backcountry hike and walked up to a black bear and her cubs sleeping, but they had no problem. We were told in the summer unless you threaten cubs you’re usually okay – they’re well fed, and the bears deep in the park don’t see humans as a food source since the encounters are rare. We’d still take bear spray to be safe and make lots of noise as we walked, and try to stay out in the open instead of in the trees and brush, where moose would also be a concern. 🙂

  5. Comment by Chrissie

    Chrissie Reply Jul 11, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    So incredibly breath-taking.

  6. Comment by Nikki

    Nikki Reply Jul 14, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Awesome tips guys and perfect timing for us! Thanks for taking the time to really hash out the details, you just saved us a bunch of time!

  7. Comment by Wandering Dawgs

    Wandering Dawgs Reply Sep 25, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Great tips for visiting Denali. Your photos are amazing and brought back wonderful memories of our 2013 trip from Georgia. We loved camping at Teklanika.

  8. Comment by Karen @ SockMonkeyTrekkers

    Karen @ SockMonkeyTrekkers Reply Jan 3, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    This is s trip we absolutely plan to take. Great pictures and tips. Thanks for sharing. We talked before about rig sizes, we are know exploring a pop-up truck camper. Still have a few years to decide while we continue to enjoy our van. Time will tell……

  9. Comment by Lisa

    Lisa Reply Jan 12, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    I’ve heard so much great stuff about the Denali National Park. And looking at the pictures and videos just confirmed it even more that it’s a place I should definitely visit in my lifetime – and hopefully some time soon!

  10. Pingback: Alaska Road Trip Planner - RoverPass

  11. Comment by frank fortney

    frank fortney Reply Mar 19, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    Just saw your notes on being in the Oologah area. If you are in the area give us a call we have room and hook up for your rig. Frank and Lynn

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