If you thought Denali National Park was just about amazing views and hiking, think again. It’s packed with adventures to delight and excite travelers of all kinds.
From glacier trekking and ice climbing to chasing the northern lights and exploring the wild tundra, there’s certainly no shortage of things to do in Denali National Park. We’ve put together some of our favorite activities to inspire your next Alaskan adventure.
- Spot Denali’s big five
- Take a glacier landing flight
- Go river rafting
- Visit Eielson Visitor Center
- Soak in Chena Hot Springs
- Camp in the wilderness
- Go hiking
- Take incredible photographs
- Go on a cycling adventure
- Visit the charming town of Talkeetna
- See the northern lights
1. Spot Denali’s big five
We’ll forgive you for thinking the ‘Big Five’ was only for animals found in Africa (we didn’t know until we visited Alaska). That’s right, Denali National Park has its own big five: moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves and grizzly bears. There are over 350 black bears and grizzlies and the best time to spot them is between May and mid-September when they come out of their winter hibernation to hunt for food. You might see them fishing for a tasty salmon lunch or roaming the tundra in search of fresh berries. You’re never guaranteed to see wildlife, but you have a pretty good chance.
2. Take a glacier landing flight for an epic bird’s eye view
If you thought Denali National Park was jaw-droppingly beautiful from the ground, just wait until you experience it from above. It’s something else. You can either go by plane or helicopter. You’ll cover a bit more ground (or should we say air) in a plane, but a helicopter gives you the opportunity to land on a glacier where you can then put on a pair of snow boots and explore by foot… definitely not the worst decision you’ve ever had to make! Either way, you’ll get up close and personal with snow-covered peaks, glide over glaciers and see the bright blue colors of Denali’s winding rivers and lakes popping out amongst the tundra. A flight over Denali is a once-in-a-lifetime kinda thing that will stay with you long after you land.
3. Go river rafting
Chill out on a relaxing glacial river journey or crank up the adrenaline as you rush through white water rapids. Whatever rocks your boat, a trip down the Nenana River is a great way to soak up the views of the surrounding peaks and catch a glimpse of wildlife who are cooling down by the riverbanks. If you go for the latter option, please prepare to get splashed and have a lot of fun.
4. Visit Eielson Visitor Center
Take a trip to Eielson Visitor Center for some of the most impressive views of Denali and the Alaska Ranges, daily ranger-led programs and Denali-inspired artwork. It’s a little far to get to, but honestly, the views will not disappoint. It’s a great chance to speak to the rangers and ask them questions as they know pretty much anything and everything about the park.
5. Soak in Chena Hot Springs
If Chena Hot Springs isn’t one of the most serene settings (like…ever) for a hot bath then we don’t know what is. Embrace the icy Alaskan air for a few moments before slipping into the water where you can exhale and unwind. A soak in this mineral-rich spring will warm your cockles and rejuvenate your energy for another day of exploring. Oh, and if you’re looking for a sign to up your self-care game even more by treating yourself to a post-soak massage, this is it.
6. Camp in the wilderness
Is there a better way to immerse yourself in the Alaskan wilderness than camping in the great outdoors? Setting up camp and spending your nights looking at the stars will help you connect with the land on a deeper level and recharge the batteries. What you lose in modern luxuries you’ll gain tenfold by being out in the wilderness. There are six campgrounds in Denali with facilities (note: most are only open in the summer months):
- Riley Creek Campground
- Savage River Campground
- Sanctuary Campground
- Teklanika Campground
- Igloo Campground
- Wonder Lake Campground
7. Go hiking
Because Denali remains practically untouched (and also because it’s a whopping six million acres in size), there are only 35 miles of hiking trails. You can always hike off-trail into the wilderness, but you’ll need to apply for a permit and complete a backcountry orientation at the Information Center to help you stay safe. The beauty of hiking in Denali is that you’ll find out what ‘wild’ truly means and you’re free to pave your own way.
8. Take incredible photographs
Outdoor adventures and photography go hand in hand, right? You won’t be able to put your camera down in Denali. We’re not joking when we say there’s beauty everywhere you look. You could spend a whole day sitting in a camp chair taking photos of Denali itself – there’s a whole weather system up there and the views are constantly changing. You’ll be on the edge of your seat waiting for the clouds to move to catch a glimpse. That’s not including Denali’s abundant wildlife, mirror-like lakes and wildflowers… better free up the space on that memory card.
9. Go on a cycling adventure
Denali has one road, and you can cycle the full 92 miles of it. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not load up your bicycle and combine it with a camping trip. You’ll almost have the road all to yourself (except for the occasional bus tour and ranger vehicles) as the road is closed to the public after mile 15. Watch out for any four-legged pedestrians on the roads including moose, bears, cows, Dall sheep and goats. Whooshing down these roads is guaranteed to have you feeling as free as a bird.
10. Visit the charming town of Talkeetna
Talkeetna is the ever so quaint little mountain town that sits at the foothills of Denali and the Alaska Range. This tiny town has only 1,000 residents but it oozes charm and character. Get to know the locals in cozy roadhouses, sample local beers from the Denali Brewing Company around a warm log fire, fill your belly with freshly caught Alaskan seafood or meander around the Mountain Traders Market for local produce and homemade goods
11. Watch the magical northern lights
If you’re like us, chances are it’s one of your dreams to see the northern lights. And if you thought Denali was beautiful in the daylight, just wait until you see it illuminated by a sky lit up with green, blue, purple and red lights. Alaska is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights as there’s hardly any light pollution. If the lights don’t fancy making an appearance, you can also try your luck at stargazing with a warm flask of mulled wine or hot chocolate.
Whether you’re looking to retreat into nature to get away from it all or you’re hungry for a bit more excitement and adventure, Denali National Park has you covered. We’ve only scratched the surface.
Feeling inspired? Check out our Denali National Park tours.