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The Best Time to Visit Denali National Park in 2023

The Best Time to Visit Denali National Park in 2023

Only one road cuts across Denali’s six million acres of wilderness. Along it, visitors may see the lowland taiga forest yield to snowy tundra and icy mountains, all the way up to Denali, the highest peak in North America at 20,310 feet.

Large and tiny wild creatures are free to explore uninhabited areas and continue to exist as they have. Awaiting you are peaceful solitude and a pristine natural environment.

There’s a good reason why Denali National Park and Preserve is so revered. It’s one of the most spectacular examples of American public property. The park extends from the tundra in its northern reaches to the lowland deciduous taiga in its southern extremities.

Guests on Alaskan tours often make a stop at this scenic park. Seeing Denali is like nothing else. But it’s actually not all that easy to organize a vacation.

Even seasoned park visitors may be at a loss as to how to best schedule their time in the park, given that just getting there might take half a day or more and that it is so radically different from many other national parks.

If you want to make the most of your stay, knowing the best time to visit Denali National Park is essential. Read on to learn all you need to know!

Why You Should Visit Denali National Park

The gorgeous snow-capped trails and mountains pictured during the best time to go to Denali National Park

Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

A trip to Denali requires careful preparation. Since it might take half a day or more to get to the park, unlike other national parks, even seasoned park visitors may be confused about how to best organize their time there.

There’s so much to see and do that planning your vacation in advance is essential. The Denali Star Train operates daily throughout the summer from Anchorage and Fairbanks to Denali National Park and Preserve on the Alaska Railroad.

Mile after mile of unspoiled wilderness awaits travelers, home to some of the state’s most recognizable inhabitants. Visitors frequently see moose, eagles, and sometimes bears on the way to the park.

Try upgrading to GoldStar Service for the world’s first second-story alfresco viewing platform and glass-domed ceilings, which enhance your wildlife viewing experience. Visit Husky Homestead if you’re looking for a more down-to-earth experience.

This is where four-time Iditarod winner Jeff King lives, but more importantly, it’s where he trains his puppies.

During the warmer months, Husky Homestead is open to the public as a learning and recreational center for anyone interested in dog sledding. The Alaska Railroad can handle big groups, such as those coming for a family reunion or business.

When making reservations, use the “block seats” option to guarantee that your group sits together. This is the ideal choice if you have a group of 15 or more.

Overall Best Time to Visit Denali National Park

The Northern Lights shimmer in green and blue high above the remote landscape at night during the best time to visit Denali National Park


June through September is the best time to visit Denali National Park. During these months, you have the highest opportunity of seeing animals, the most comfortable weather, and the least hassle because all the activities and accommodations are open.

That said, a visit to the park will be worth it at any time of year. Throughout the year, it undergoes a dramatic transformation as the seasons change.

Visitors flock there throughout the summer. Denali may get crowded during peak season, but that feeling is temporary. In addition, the Denali Backcountry Lodge and the Denali Cabins, two of the area’s most popular lodging options, are also open for the season in June.

Shuttles begin running regularly in mid-June, and most day trips are available after that. Denali is at its best in July, with pleasant temperatures (including the year’s highest).

The blooming wildflowers, midnight sun, and general vivacity throughout the park highlight long days and evenings.

Wildlife is active in July because of the warmer weather and longer days. Plan if you want to participate in excursions or activities or stay at a hotel, as they tend to fill up quickly.

Mosquitoes are a certainty, but they pale compared to the splendor before you. The terrain is covered in ripe berries in August, offering a bountiful harvest for animals like bears.

Autumn colors in Denali begin early, often during the last week of August, when the tundra turns a stunning golden rose hue. As summer concludes, the shorter days increase your odds of witnessing the spectacular northern lights display.

Cheapest Time to Visit Denali National Park

Amazing sight with autumn leaves on the trees turning orange and a road winding through the forest with the mountains in the background, as seen from a tall peak looking down

Amine bassir/Shutterstock

Midway through September is when costs begin to drop for Denali tourists. The days leading up to Labor Day tend to be calmer and more peaceful.

The shorter days and fresh snow on the summits allow for excellent photo opportunities, and the northern lights may often be seen. Denali Park Road day trips and shuttles end for the season in the middle of September.

The grass and trees return to their original brown shade, and a layer of snow falls. Salmon are caught by the millions in Alaska from June through August.

Fishing is a unifying experience for all of the state’s residents because of a yearly occurrence in nature. If you go to Alaska in September, you can find out why by eating some of the freshest fish in the world.

In September, as Alaska’s native animals prepare for winter hibernation, there is a dramatic increase in wildlife sightings. There may be moose or caribou in the area, so be alert.

Bears are similarly active and busy as they stock up on food for the coming winter. Only Alaskans can appreciate the quiet of September. Indulge in peace and quiet when the busy season has ended by planning your trip now.

In the last days of summer, you’ll mingle with hospitable locals who have been waiting all year to holiday in their own backyard.

As a bonus, the colors pop, the bush is less dense, and the insects have vanished. Hiking in the Kantishna Hills or along the McKinley River’s streams is an experience you won’t soon forget.

Least Busy Time to Visit Denali National Park

Tour busses in Denali National Park during the least busy time to visit with visitors walking along long, flat dirt paths

Ludmila Ruzickova/Shutterstock

Early to mid-June is the least crowded period to visit Denali National Park. You can get away from such people very easily, which is wonderful news.

Most of Denali’s guests are only passing through on their way to or from other parts of their Alaskan adventure. The typical itinerary for these travelers includes hotel check-in, a park bus tour, and some adrenaline-pumping excursions like flightseeing or whitewater rafting before they head out.

Need to get away but don’t want to be completely lonely? Join TEMSCO Helicopters for a guided helicopter hike. You and your fellow hikers will be dropped off at the tour company’s designated hiking spot beyond the park’s gates.

Various plant and animal life, as well as animal trails, will be highlighted by your guide. Join Traverse Alaska to learn about trails that are easily accessible from Denali Park Road.

They are experts in designing unique, personalized, guided excursions for any time. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing stroll in the woods or an adrenaline-pumping adventure in the wilderness, you’ll find a day walk that suits your needs.

They’ll teach you about the backcountry so that you may go hiking on your own the next time you visit the park. Denali Education Center is roughly six miles south of the park entrance and provides in-depth educational trips on its residential campus.

They are a partner of Denali National Park and provide guests with a range of tour packages that can include as many as six nights in the park.

Guided walks on Denali’s front country trails, treks into the park, and lessons on flora and fauna are great ways to get to know the locals and the environment in a manner that most tourists never see.

Also, during evening lectures, you may get to know the residents and gain insight into their rewarding but difficult way of life in Interior Alaska.

Worst Time to Visit Denali National Park

Dirt walking path winding through Denali National Park

Karel Stipek/Shutterstock

Visiting Denali National Park in July is the most popular and most inconvenient period of the year. During these months, hotel and airfare prices are at their highest, but you may save money by booking early.

Ironically, this is also the ideal time to visit. Starting on May 20, bus excursions will be available along the Denali Park Road, the only road that provides access to the park for off-trail hiking and other experiences.

During the busy season, when the park’s primary visitor center is open daily, the weather is pleasant, and wildlife is more active and easier to observe. Ranger-led activities, the visitor center, and Denali Park Road all close for the winter outside these periods.

Denali’s harshest season may be the only time of year for some sports like skiing, winter biking, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and enjoying the Northern Lights.

However, intrepid explorers will still find much to do, even in the dead of winter. The main visitor center is open daily during the summer and hosts various ranger-led programs.

Although there are many benefits to summer, there are also drawbacks, such as an influx of visitors. Because of this, it’s important to reserve a campsite, a bus tour, or any other park activity well in advance to avoid adding to traffic on the park road.

While mosquito repellent is a must between June and August, rainy weather gear is essential for experiencing Denali during the rainiest months of the year.

Things to Consider

Black bears walking along a dirt road during worst time to visit Denali National Park, the summer

Jiyan Yang/Shutterstock

Here are some of the things worth knowing when visiting Denali National Park:

  • The whole of Denali Park Road is off-limits to vehicles. The sole roadway in Denali National Park stretches 92 kilometers in length. Since it’s paved, vehicles may travel the first 15 miles all year.
  • The snow can cause unexpected road closures even in the middle of summer. The National Park Service has a policy of not plowing the road past the first three miles after it snows.
  • A wide range of hiking routes suitable for visitors of all ages and fitness levels can be found in most national parks.
  • Take the time to prepare well for your trip. Denali’s wilderness is unlike any other.
  • Permits must be obtained at the Denali Visitor Center before entry. Familiarizing oneself with the procedure beforehand is highly recommended. It’s also a good idea to select a handful of regions you’re interested in investigating before you travel.
  • In Denali, a sudden shift in the climate is not uncommon. Hail and snow fell in the middle of summer. Unfortunately, snowfall can occasionally force the route to close in June. Don’t assume anything about the weather, no matter when you intend to come.
  • Northern lights (also known as aurora borealis) can be seen at any time of the year. On the other hand, they are essentially invisible in the light. And you should put it at the top of your list since you should go from September to April.
  • Bear spray is the best way to protect yourself against bears. You probably won’t need it, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Frequently Asked Questions

Gorgeous view out of the window of a train going through Denali National Park during the best time to visit

Martina Birnbaum/Shutterstock

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about visiting Denali National Park:

How many days do you need to see Denali National Park?

Two to three days is perfect for exploring Denali National Park. You can get a good taste of everything the Denali region offers in two days, and if you give yourself a third day, you can probably see and do all you want to.

Can you drive through Denali on your own?

In Denali, you’ll find a single road. It is partially available to private automobiles. However, bus travel alone is allowed on most routes. Bus service is seasonal, from May to September (mid-May through mid-September).

What do I need to know before visiting Denali?

Denali National Park is enormous. There’s only one road, private cars can only drive 15 miles, very few hiking paths, and the great bulk of the park’s 600,000+ annual visitors arrive within a four-month window.

Can you see Northern Lights in Denali?

Denali is an ideal spot for stargazing and aurora watching for two reasons — high northern latitude and the lack of city lights.

Do I need a reservation to enter Denali?

You must register and pay for a permit at least 60 days before you want to climb Denali or Mt. Foraker.

Are there polar bears in Denali?

Denali National Park is home to both black bears and brown grizzly bears. The northern Alaska Range is home to an estimated 300-350 grizzlies.

Is it safe to hike in Denali?

Hiking in Denali is safe, but hikers should be ready to face animals like bears and moose, especially if venturing off the beaten path.

Is there cell service in Denali?

Cell phone reception is available within three miles of the park’s entrance. West of Park Headquarters, there are no phones. In case of an emergency, you should contact a ranger on patrol, a campsite host, a bus driver, or someone at the Toklat Rest Stop or Eielson Visitor Center.

So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Denali National Park?

The best time to visit Denali National Park is from May 20 through the middle of September. It’s a must-see destination because it is home to Mount Denali, North America’s tallest peak, and some of the state’s most breathtaking scenery. So what are you waiting for — book your trip today!