Denali National Park is the most popular National Park to visit in Alaska. Covering over 6 million acres it is home to Mt. McKinley and provides spectacular scenery and wildlife viewing. With over 400,000 visitors each year it is not surprising the range of activities varies as much as the weather!
The most popular way to see the park is by a Denali bus tours. Three different fully guided, narrated tours are available during the summer season. The shortest tour is the Denali Natural History Tour; this tour is 4-5 hours in length and travels 17 miles into the park focusing mainly on the history of the park. If you are looking for wildlife you can take either the Tundra Wilderness Tour or a Kantishna Tour. The Tundra Wilderness Tour is 6-8 hours and travels 53 miles into the park. This is the shortest tour you can take to get a good chance to see wildlife. These tours have morning and afternoon departures, which make them easy to fit into any schedule! To really see everything the park has to offer I recommend either the Kantishna Wilderness Trails Tour or the Kantishna Experience Tour. These tours travel the full 95 miles of the park road and are 13 hours in length. They both offer exceptional narration and lunch with a stop in Kantishna for an hour or so.
A great way to learn a little history of Kantishna’s first settlers is to take in the Cabin Night Dinner Theater. This robust musical comedy looks at Fanny Quigley and her first years coming to Kantishna as a gold miner. A great cast of performers and a family style feast make this a show to remember!
Along with the bus tours there are many other activities you can participate in such a River Rafting on the Nenana River, flight seeing tours with the option(s) of a helicopter or plane, dog kennel tours and ATV tours. Because these tours have several departures per day it is easy to add one before or after the Denali Natural History Tour or Tundra Wilderness Tour.
If you are looking for a little more low key adventure you can take advantage of one of the well maintained hiking trails right inside the park entrance. Horseshoe Lake Trail is located about a mile inside the park entrance with a round trip of 3 miles and low elevation gain it is popular with all skill levels. Other trails to look for are Triple Lakes Trail and Healy Overlook Trail. Both can be accessed next to the visitor’s center at the park entrance. Keep in mind you are in the Alaska wildness and need to be vocal and keep a sharp eye out for animals at all times!
A trip to the National Park wouldn’t be the same without a stop at the Denali National Park Visitor Center, located at mile 1.5 of the Park Road, it is adjacent to the Alaska Railroad Depot. The center offers visitors a chance to learn more about the park by speaking with park rangers, viewing the park film, “Heartbeats of Denali,” and exploring an exhibit area. The film is about 20 minutes long, and is shown throughout the day generally on the hour and half-hour. It is a non-narrated film that shares with you the various seasons, landscapes and wildlife of this beautiful place. Be sure to pick up a copy of the Denali National Park Guide as well as a listing of “free activities” such as location and times for ranger talks, sled dog demonstrations and maps of local hiking trails near the park entrance. Most of the Denali hotels provide shuttles to the park entrance facilities so even if you don’t have your own car you should be able to take a short bus ride to the Visitor Center and other facilities nearby.