Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Denali National Park

  • Published 2022/11/21

A wondrous Alaskan landscape awaits those raring for adventure at Denali National Park and Preserve.

Denali National Park and Preserve, formerly McKinley National Park, is located in interior Alaska, revolving around the mountain of Denali, the highest peak in Northern America.

The mountain ascends to a majestic 20310 feet, one of the most breathtaking sights in all of Alaska.

Denali’s landscape is a combination of deciduous taiga at the lowest elevations, tundra at the middle elevations, and snow, glaciers, and bare rock at the highest elevations.

It is a bounty of lifelong memories and unforgettable landscapes, traced with wild rivers and glaciers, crossed with tundra and boreal forest, and scattered with diverse wildlife.

It is Alaska’s most famous national park with 6 million acres, a single road, and reams of mountain wilderness sweeping over the Alaska range.

Tourists from everywhere in the world visit Denali for its beautiful and untouched wildlands, its astonishing views, and its endless trove of adventures.

Among the intrepid explorations are bus rides, hikes, tours, excursions, trails, backpacking, husky sledding, flightseeing trips, wildlife viewings, whitewater experiences, outdoor activities, and so much more.

A trip to Denali is an unparalleled opportunity to see the crown jewel of Alaska that captivates anyone who sets foot there.

If you’re primed for adventure at this incredible place, here are the best things to do in Denali National Park:

Take a Bus Tour Exploring Denali

Tour bus along Denali

Marcel Goldhardt /

If you want your tour of Denali to have an accompaniment of rich storytelling, your best bet is a bus tour.

The Tundra Wilderness Tour is Denali’s premier tour offering the best chances to see the wildlife inhabitants and giving a narrated history of the Park Road.

It will bring you to Murie Cabin, where Adolf Murie conducted his famous scientific research.

Tour buses lines up at Denali

Ludmila Ruzickova /

The Denali Natural History Tour focuses on the rich cultural and natural history of Denali with an introduction to the land’s geology, history, and landscape and many interpretive stops.

Learn about Park Road’s creation, and stop over at the historical Savage Cabin.

Watch an Alaskan Native presentation at Primrose Ridge, and gain knowledge of how natives have used the land for more than 10000 years.

The Kantishna Experience Tour will take you to the old mining town of Kantishna, reveal Kantishna’s intriguing history, and explore Denali’s gold rush past.

A tour bus along Denali

Santiparp Wattanaporn /

Be Awed by the Spectacular Northern Lights

Colorful Northern Lights at Denali

FloridaStock /

The Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights are one of the world’s breathtaking phenomena.

Alaska is the only place in the United States where you can rely on seeing the Northern Lights, starting in August or late September.

Denali is an amazing destination for them because of its solitude and scarcity of light pollution.

Some lodges around the park will even give you a wake-up call when the lights appear overhead.

Scenic Northern Lights of Denali

Jonathan A. Mauer /

You can even drive to Denali Viewpoint South to see the mountain rising magnificently beneath the sparkling lights.

They are a spectacular sight, dancing on the horizon when strong magnetic fields and solar flares fire up, pulsing sheets of green, purple, blue, yellow, or pink ionized atmospheric particles into the night sky.

If you think Denali is beautiful by daylight, you will be unprepared for this most magical sight by night.

Scenic view of Denali's Northern Lights

FloridaStock /

Soar above the Clouds with Denali Zipline Tours

Do you want to witness Denali from a different bird’s eye point of view?

Denali Zipline Tours is a fantastic way to experience Alaska’s beauty from the canopy, where you can zip between treetops in a thrilling ride.

Their certified guides will meet you at the course and give you top-tier gear, then send you off to ‘zipline ground school’ for the orientation.

Go on a 3-hour tour where you traverse from one platform to the other via three suspension bridges, nine amazing ziplines, a rappel, and a spiral staircase.

The ride zips you into the beautiful northern boreal forest, giving you time to gaze at the lovely scene from viewing platforms.

It also brings you across aerial bridges that showcase the majestic Alaskan Range.

Your guides will share educational information about the kettle ponds, ridges, ravines, and the braided Susitna and Chulitna valleys and talk about gold mining and mountaineering in the Alaskan Range.

Marvel at the Majestic Mountains with Denali Air

View of Denali glaciers of Denali

Benny Marty /

The park’s famous and iconic landmark is the mountain of Denali, which is visible from varying vantage points throughout.

Since 1970, Denali Air has been the original flightseeing company of Denali National Park.

For the flight of a lifetime, Denali Air will navigate the park with their small aircraft, giving you views of mountains, glaciers, and Denali itself.

View of glaciers from a plane

Tim Hancock /

In their Denali Express Flight, fly among the snow-capped Alaskan Range and spot the massive ice rivers of the Brooks, Traleika, and Muldrow glaciers.

Spot astonishing terrain, from the green marsh lowland to the colorful Cantwell formation and the Alaskan Range foothills, to the rock and ice peaks of the Denali Massif.

In their Denali Peak Experience, spy braided rivers, tundra-topped valleys, and variegated ridgelines.

Then thread through snowy alpine heights of Mount Mather, Silverthrone, and Mount Huntington and circle Denali to view every breathtaking corner of the majestic mountain.

Chow Down on Tasty Food at Prospector’s Pizzeria and Alehouse

Prospector’s Pizzeria has undoubtedly some of the most delicious fares in Denali, serving an adventurous round of pizzas and yummy craft beer on tap.

They are also pet friendly and will be happy to have your pet fulfill their tasty cravings alongside you.

Devour woodstone-fired, hand-tossed pizza as you sit among their comprehensive collection of furs, maps, and historical photographs.

Try their traditional favorites, such as McKinley Margherita, Firewood, North of the Border, Gold Rush, Boreal Forest, and Kodiak Bear.

People know them for Alaskan specialty toppings like reindeer, elk, salmon, and Alaska king crab.

They also have great soups, appetizers, sandwiches, calzones, gourmet pasta, and desserts.

Other culinary adventures to try are Baked Tomato Soup, Prospector’s Elk Meatballs, Denali Cheesesteak, Diablo Chicken Wings, and Crab Ravioli.

They offer more than 49 beers on tap that present craft brews from Alaska and renowned, hand-selected brews from around the world.

Ride in the Wilderness with Denali ATV Adventures

An ATV at Denali

Photo Spirit /

View all of Denali’s backcountry, intriguing geological features, arid land, and roads in between on a more up close and personal level via a rugged ATV or alt-terrain vehicle

On the 2.5 Hour Wilderness ATV Tour, ride along the trails on the park at speeds up to 30 mph.

Go on 360 overlook stops with views of Otto Lake, Healy Valley, and the Alaskan Range.

Three ATVs at Denali

La Paloma in the City /

Splash the rocky creek beds and water and listen to your knowledgeable guides as they guide you into the rugged terrain.

On the 3.5 Hour Trailblazer ATV Tour, venture into the Boreal forest, ride among the taiga, and spot sweeping panoramas of the Alaskan range.

Navigate archeological dig sites, rutted trails, glacier moraines, creek beds, bog-covered tundra, and challenging trails.

And on the Midnight Sun ATV tours, ride into the summer solstice and admire forest paths and the mountains’ ruddy alpenglow.

Land on a Glacier with Fly Denali Inc.

A plane on a glacier at Denali

Claude Huot /

Glaciers cover about 1 million acres of Denali, so don’t miss out on an opportunity to look at one up close!

Fly Denali Inc. will bring you on a once-in-a-lifetime flightseeing and glacier landing experience.

You can point out the snow-covered peaks from your window, glide above the glaciers, and notice the vivid colors of Denali’s lakes and rivers laced around the tundra.

Ruth glacier view of Denali

Tim Hancock /

Soak in the incredible 80 miles of untouched scenery, the Polychrome Mountains, braided rivers, and over 600 glaciers, including the famous Ruth and Muldrow glaciers.

Then descend near the Great Gorge of the Ruth Glacier, the deepest gorge in the world, and astound yourself by the sheer scale of the peaks above.

Once you land there, haul out your snow boots and explore the glacier with your own two feet.

And pride yourself in checking this remarkable event off the bucket list!

Get Educated at Murie Science and Learning Center

The Murie Science and Learning Center is the main visitor center at Denali during the fall, spring, and winter.

They named the center after the Murie family, naturalists who made important strides in their study of the arctic ecosystem.

It is a collaboration between Denali, seven additional National Parks, and several partners.

It is part of a push for scientific literacy and showcases knowledge from living laboratories like Denali National Park, catering to discovery sciences and research around the Arctic.

It promotes scientific research to help park managers and gives science-centered education to the visiting public, educational institutions, and students.

In partnership with the Denali Education Center and Alaska Geographic, it offers a vast selection of camps with programs available to youths of any age.

It holds day camps that allow kids to learn while exploring trails and week-long backpacking jaunts in Denali’s wildlands.

Have an Entertaining Night with Music of Denali Dinner Theater Show

Exterior of McKinley Chalet Resort

Mike Czyzewski, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of Denali’s happiest dining experiences is at the McKinley Chalet Resort.

It takes place in a timber frame dining hall holding communal tables, much resembling the friendly roadhouses of yore.

The evening kicks off with a family dinner of smokehouse barbecue, Alaska salmon, mashed potatoes, and home-baked apple crisps.

While having dinner, appreciate a talented group of singers and musicians who serenade the hall with their lively sounds.

Then unwind with complimentary servings of tea, coffee, beer, soda, wine, or cocktails, and get ready for the night’s delightful main event!

With clever lyrics and engaging music, discover the story of the legendary first men to scale the peaks of Denali.

Appreciate these brave souls who trekked the Alaskan wild, arriving somewhere that was like looking at “the windows of heaven.”

Relish this spirited performance and grab the chance for some lively audience participation as well!

Capture Amazing Photographs with Denali Photo

With outdoor excursions comes the chance to capture breathtaking photographs, and Denali has boundless beauty everywhere for the taking.

The guides at Denali Photo are experts at light-wrangling and professional photographers who will be your instructor and location scouts.

The photo tour travels the edge of Denali’s boundaries and goes into wilderness areas along the Denali Highway, from which you can discover beautiful vistas.

With the Denali Landscapes Photo Tour, discover the beauty of interior Alaska and have a premiere tour that features stunning mountains, sweeping landscape panoramas, and lovely reflection ponds.

With the Midnight Sun Photo Excursion, go to the best locations to capture the magical golden hour, floating cloudscapes, and rosy alpenglow of interior Alaska.

In the Midnight Sun phenomenon, sunset is close to midnight, and the sunset colors last for an extended period, making it a worthy subject for avid photographers.

Cycle the Road with Bike Denali

People cycling at Denali

Image Source Trading Ltd /

Denali has only one road covering 92 miles, and anyone daring can cycle the length of it.

You can combine biking with a multi-day camping trip or intersperse shorter rides with bus lifts.

Biking is great for seeing Denali at an idler pace than other vehicle tours might allow.

A parked bike at Denali National Park

Niagara66, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cyclists may ride on parking areas, campground loops, Park Road, and the assigned Roadside Bike Path between the Denali Visitor Center and the Nenana River.

Bike Denali will reward you with a rich experience and help you receive an understanding of land and place.

Go on a day ride coupled with transit bus and car racks and undergo a lively, exhilarating time with your independence and mobility.

Or try an overnight trip in any of Denali’s six campgrounds and relish the ‘bikepacking’ accomplishment.

Catch Fish with Denali Angler

Denali’s waters local waters are well-known for their wild Grayling catches, with access to clear streams and spring creeks in the heart of the Alaskan Range.

Denali Angler welcomes both beginners and seasoned anglers and tailors fly-fishing trips to their guests’ specific needs.

They have been fishing in the Denali area for 28 years, casting their lines in miles of rivers and creeks that were made for dry fly-fishing.

If you have never fly-fished, they will give you a lesson, and if you need flies, rods, reels, and hip boots, they will provide them.

Owner George Rogers is a very encouraging teacher who is a registered Alaska fishing guide with years of experience.

Arctic Grayling is one of the world’s most beautiful fish that lives in clear, cold creeks.

It is an eager surface feeder and may just be the perfect fly rod catch.

Meet Canine Friends at Husky Homestead

Denali National Park is the only park that uses sled dogs, and these lovable and loyal creatures have worked beside humans since the 1920s.

Husky Homestead will give you a look at the lifestyle shared with these dogs.

They have remarkable accomplishments, from hauling freights in Denali to crossing the finish line with an Iditarod team.

Upon arrival, you will find yourself cuddling puppies who will become champion sled dog racers in the years to come.

Watch the team burst out of the kennels on an energetic training run, applaud their athletic feats, and see them run on the treadmill.

Know the details of their care and nutrition, and understand what makes a championship sled dog team.

Hear stories of the “last great race on Earth” and spy genuine arctic survival gear and racing sleds for Alaska’s terrain.

And know the relationship between musher and dog team and how these pups become saviors, teammates, and companions.

Cruise Down the Nenana River with Denali Raft Adventures

Aerial view of Nenana river

Jay Yuan /

Rafting the Nenana River might be what you need to get your adrenaline pumping on a trip down glacial waters.

Rush the whitewater rapids, enjoy sights of the surrounding peaks, and glimpse the wildlife cooling down on the riverbanks.

The river is open for whitewater rafting trips with rapids ranging from Class 1 to Class 4.

People whitewater rafting on Nenana river

Rosamar /

Denali Raft Adventures is the original rafting company on the Nenana River, owned and operated since 1974.

Go on their Canyon Whitewater Run 11 miles down the river and brace yourself for thrilling rapids like Coffee Grinder, Razorback, and Ice Worm.

Try the Wilderness Run and spot caribou, moose, sheep, and bear while you raft downstream to the scenic point of the river.

Or go on the Healy Express Run, which splashes you over Class 2 and 3 waters through the beautiful and rugged river, then plunges you into blood-pumping whitewater rapids.

People whitewater rafting on Nenana river

SJ Brown /

Take a Hike with Denali Backcountry Guides

There are over 6 million acres in Denali that are virtually untouched, and it has only 35 miles of hiking trails.

Denali has some excellent trails and off-trail wildlands to explore, and joining a local guide helps in giving you local knowledge on the flora, fauna, and geography.

Denali Backcountry Guides is a guiding service that has operated since 1996, leading heli-hike trips, walking tours, overnight trips, and interpretive hikes.

Their guides are some of the most experienced in Alaska.

They have guided through the state, with decades of climbing, hiking, and pack rafting in the Alaskan Range.

Try their heli-hikes, where you will fly with a naturalist and an experienced pilot over the mountainous Alaskan backcountry and gear up for a custom-picked hike.

Go on their Denali Walking Tour and find the splendor of the boreal forest, the permafrost, and the mountains.

Or try the Denali Wilderness Hiking Tour, where you can cover the glaciers’ topology and find forested areas, the sub-alpine tundra, and the gorgeous taiga.

Stay at the Lodge Cabins of Camp Denali

For some refined rustic accommodation within Denali National Park, you can stay with your family at Camp Denali.

This family-owned wilderness lodge has been welcoming visitors since 1952.

You’ll enjoy country-style log cabins with well-crafted authentic details, country quilts and decors, wood stoves, and propane lamps provided.

A few steps from the cabin area you’ll find a well-kept outhouse with a sink for washing up; a path uphill also leads you to the dining area and shower facilities.

You can also hang out at the antique log lodge located on Nugget Pond and relax at the cozy seating and wood stove, read books at the library, or just gaze at the stunning direct views of Denali Park and the Alaska Range.

Camp Denali also offers leisure and adventure hikes and helps you plan for activities like fishing, canoeing, and biking.

Go Horseback Riding with Denali Horseback Tours

Just a few minutes from the park’s entrance is the locally-owned Denali Horseback Tours

This small business is the closest to Denali and offers horseback riding services for novice to experienced riders.

They usually allow a maximum number of four riders to better facilitate mounting and riding instructions.

You’ll be first introduced to your horse, go through some safety instructions, and prepare with helmets, gloves, and bug spray.

During your ride, you’ll get to learn about the region’s scenic mountains, rich flora, and fauna, and stories of the gold and mining industries.

You can also signup your kids up for riding lessons that include groundwork and how to care for horses.

Denali Horseback Tours will give you great service for an unforgettable experience.

Camp Out with the Family at Riley Creek

If you prefer primitive camping and want to get the most out of the scenery, you can camp out at Riley Creek.

The creek is known in the Ahtna dialect as Tsenesdghaas Na’ which means “Rough Rock Creek.”

You can conveniently access the park entrance from Highway 3 in case you need to go for quick errands.

Pitch your tent or park your RV at the wooded campgrounds; you can also visit the Denali Visitor Center, and hike the trails from there.

You’ll also see some common wildlife in the area like the snowshoe hare and red squirrel; you might even catch large animals like moose on the campground.

The camp area has amenities like trash collection and food storage lockers and seasonally opens a Camp Store.

Have more of the outdoors at Riley Creek.

Get Fresh Catch at Denali Park’s Lakes and Rivers

Denali National Park has a few creeks and ponds clear enough to throw your anglers for a fresh catch.

Wonder Lake located at the park road on Mile 85 occasionally has lake trout.

Likewise, the Savage River at Mile 15 has clear-flowing streams inhabited by graylings.

You can access both river areas by bus so you don’t have to worry about how to get there.

Go for a fishing adventure with the family and discover other scenic areas in the park.

Enjoy fishing at Denali National Park’s lakes and rivers.

Spot Amazing Wildlife at Several Denali National Park Areas

Denali National Park is teeming with amazing wildlife and is famous for its big five.

The best way you can spot them is by riding a bus on Denali Park Road; you’ll find them in different areas of the park so always be ready with your cameras and binoculars.

There are over 350 grizzlies and black bears roaming around the area, and you’ll surely spot many of them coming out of their hibernation between May and September.

You might even see them hunting for fish or looking for berries.

Moose are usually spotted near the park entrance while Caribou and Dall sheep are often seen past Mile 30.

Likewise, wolves are seen everywhere around the park.

Final Thoughts

There is no beating Denali National Park and Preserve for intrepid and daring souls ready to take the plunge.

If the winds blow you to this part of Alaska, follow this list for wild and wonderful escapades.

Embark on exhilarating journeys as you make your way through Alaska’s crown jewel.

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