Denali National Park in Alaska has some of the most spectacular landscapes in the United States, including the country’s highest mountain. For nature lovers, it is a must-visit destination, with over 6 million acres of untouched nature.
Visitors to Denali can climb the mountain that gives the national park its name, hike in the tundra, and take in the spectacular glaciers.
There are plenty of adventure activities available to visitors in Denali, from flight tours to white water rafting to dog sledding. The best thing to do in the park is to spend plenty of time outdoors, and obviously you need the right weather to do so.
We’ll help you figure out the best time to visit Denali National Park so you can make the most of the wonderful scenery that the park has to offer. Let’s dive in!
Overall Best Time to Visit Denali National Park
The overall best time to visit Denali National Park is during the summer, between June and July, when the weather is warmest and perfect for exploring the beautiful nature within the park.
Alaska summers are not exactly balmy, but they are an improvement on the weather during the rest of the year. Even in the summer, high temperatures rarely go above 60 degrees, but at least the weather is above freezing.
Denali is in the central part of Alaska, far to the north of Anchorage, and temperatures are below freezing from late September to May! Visitors to Denali have quite a narrow window of when to visit the park to be able to hike and explore the area.
As soon as the snows begin to arrive in late September, many roads and paths become impassable for all but experienced backcountry hikers and backpackers. That’s why the best time to visit is the summer. The summer is also the only time when park services such as shuttle buses are provided.
Private companies within the park offer shuttle bus tours, which are the most efficient way to see the vast landscapes of the park. However, they only operate from May 20th to mid-September.
If you visit outside of this season, you’ll have to drive yourself — if the roads are passable. There are also the most activities offered during the summer. You can catch shows at the many visitor centers and speak to rangers.
While some people live and work in Denali all year round, many leave the park during the off-season in search of better work (and better weather), so you have fewer choices when it comes to what to do.
Since there is such a narrow window of time when you can enjoy the best of Denali, you can expect a lot of crowds in the summer. Reserve accommodation and shuttle bus spaces well in advance. The park only has one road, which can sometimes lead to bumper-to-bumper traffic.
However, you can beat the crowds by staying for a few days, getting past the main road, and exploring other parts of the park. There are literally millions of acres of park to explore, so even a few thousand people feel insignificant!
Cheapest Time to Visit Denali National Park
The cheapest time to visit Denali National Park is during the end of the peak season, from mid-August to mid-September. During this time, you can get discounts on lodging, but you still have more options than during the off-season since more services are open.
Autumn in Denali comes early, around mid-August. The weather starts to get chillier, and the leaves already start changing color. Around this time, the visitors also slow down. Accommodation prices in the park usually fall since there is less demand.
The summer formally lasts until mid-September, so if you manage to catch that sweet window towards the end of the season, you can get some great discounts on visiting the park.
You may think that visiting the park during the off-season is the best time to save money, but that’s not the case. After mid-September, accommodation options in the park all shut down, and your only option is to stay in nearby Healy.
It’s also impossible to take public transportation after mid-September because the shuttle buses in the park stop running, and public transportation from the major cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks also runs only seasonally.
Any money you may save on accommodation, you will lose due to the extra cost of having to rent a car.
Least Busy Time to Visit Denali National Park
The least busy time to visit Denali National Park is the winter, which is the park’s off-season. The least busy time to visit and still have decent weather for hiking is either late winter into spring (April-May) or autumn into early winter (late September to October).
Winter is definitely the least busy time to visit Denali National Park as snow blankets the ground from late September to May and temperatures are dozens of degrees below freezing.
However, unless you are an experienced backcountry skier, winter may not be the most appealing time to visit the park. If you still want to see wildlife and do some hiking, but not deal with the park’s infamous summer traffic, then the shoulder seasons are the best for you.
According to the park’s official website, the area begins to warm up in May, and by the end of May, services such as public transportation are returning. You can go hiking or cycling before the crowds come in.
In the autumn and early winter (winter here begins in October), you can still do some hiking, as well as see the last of the wildlife before they start migrating. You might even catch the northern lights.
Worst Time to Visit Denali National Park
The worst time to visit Denali National Park is the winter, when bitterly cold temperatures make it difficult to go exploring and much of the park is impassable due to snow.
Winter in Denali is long and heavy, with snow blanketing the area from September until May. The park doesn’t have the resources to plow the entire main road, so usually only the first three miles are cleared.
The most famous activity in the park, driving the main road, is impossible in the winter. Many other services, from organized tours to accommodation, shut down for the season.
Even the animals aren’t around as most are hibernating! However, for intrepid travelers used to exploring the outdoors in the winter, it is possible to visit Denali in the winter.
The park has a helpful list of possible activities on its website, such as winter biking, backcountry snowshoeing and hiking, backcountry skiing, and even dog sledding.
Denali by Month: Climate & Activities
Still unsure about the best time to visit Denali National Park? Take a look at our summary of the weather and climate by month below:
Winter temperatures in Denali National Park range from -30 to -10°C (-22 to 14°F). January is an ideal time for winter sports like dog sledding and snowshoeing, as well as experiencing the serene beauty of the snow-covered landscapes.
Similar to January, February maintains cold temperatures between -30 to -8°C (-22 to 18°F). Visitors can enjoy cross-country skiing, take part in winter photography tours, and experience the northern lights in the clear night skies.
As spring begins, temperatures range from -20 to -4°C (-4 to 25°F). March is perfect for observing the northern lights, participating in wildlife tracking tours, and experiencing the gradual transition from winter to spring.
Spring temperatures in Denali National Park range from -10 to 6°C (14 to 43°F). It’s an ideal time for wildlife enthusiasts to spot migrating birds, witness the awakening of vegetation, and take part in interpretive programs at the Murie Science and Learning Center.
May sees temperatures ranging from 0 to 12°C (32 to 54°F). It’s a great month for exploring the park’s trails, attending ranger-led programs, and witnessing the spectacular sight of Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) as the snow begins to melt.
Summer arrives with temperatures between 6 to 18°C (43 to 64°F). June offers opportunities for bus tours along the Denali Park Road, hiking in the backcountry, and experiencing the vibrant colors of alpine flowers.
July maintains mild temperatures from 9 to 20°C (48 to 68°F). It’s a popular month for wildlife viewing, hiking to scenic viewpoints, and attending ranger-led talks and programs at the various visitor centers.
Temperatures in August range from 6 to 17°C (43 to 63°F). It’s an excellent time for camping in the park, exploring the Eielson Visitor Center, and enjoying the extended daylight hours for outdoor activities.
As fall begins, temperatures range from 0 to 11°C (32 to 52°F). September offers a pleasant transition, with opportunities for fall foliage viewing, attending the Denali Music Festival, and experiencing the park’s quieter atmosphere.
October sees temperatures ranging from -10 to 4°C (14 to 39°F). It’s a great month for wildlife watching as animals prepare for winter, participating in photography workshops, and experiencing the first snowfall of the season.
Fall temperatures range from -20 to -5°C (-4 to 23°F). November is perfect for those seeking a peaceful winter atmosphere, with opportunities for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and experiencing the northern lights.
Winter returns with temperatures ranging from -25 to -10°C (-13 to 14°F). December brings opportunities for winter photography, dog sledding, and enjoying the quiet beauty of Denali National Park covered in snow.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions people ask about visiting Denali National Park:
What is the best time of year to visit Denali National Park?
The best time of year to visit is the summer, when the weather is the best for exploring and all park services are open.
How many days do you need at Denali National Park?
You need a minimum of three days to see enough of what Denali National Park has to offer if you want to make your trip worth it. Keep in mind that you will also need to budget a day for travel each direction from Alaska’s major cities.
Can you see the northern lights from Denali National Park?
Yes, you can see the northern lights from the park, sometimes as early as September.
How often is Denali visible?
You can only see the mountain itself from the park entrance about 20% of the time. It is so high that it is usually covered by clouds.
How much does it cost to go to Denali National Park?
The seven-day entrance to Denali is $15. However, this cost doesn’t include accommodation and transportation, which fluctuates all year round.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Denali National Park?
The best time to visit Denali is in the summer, when there is the lowest risk of snow ruining your plans and the park is fully open.
You can visit during late spring or early fall to beat the summer crowds, but keep in mind that the weather is more volatile then and regular services such as shuttle buses often don’t operate.
So, with so much to see and do, what are you waiting for — book your trip today and experience for yourself all that Denali National Park has to offer. Happy travels!