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Trip Planning

Dreaming of a Denali Adventure, but not sure where to start…

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Make that trip a reality.

Experience the 3rd largest US national park, which boasts the tallest peak in North America, giving the park its name: Denali National Park.  It is one of the most accessible Alaskan national parks, making it a bucket-list destination. Come to Denali for days filled with wonder, wilderness, and breathtaking scenery.

Popular tours book quickly, especially in July, the height of the travel season, so we recommend making reservations as early in the year as possible.  If there are multiple excursions you’re hoping to do while in Denali, we recommend booking your primary excursion as early into your stay in Denali as possible.  For example, if you’re going to be in Denali from Tuesday through Thursday, book the excursion you care about the most for Tuesday afternoon/evening if possible.  A few of the bucket-list excursions, like a flight tour around Denali, are weather dependent and booking that tour early in your Denali stay maximizes your opportunities to re-schedule if needed!

There’s a lot of adventure to be had in Denali, so prioritize the must-do activities or call us and let us help you narrow down the list!  We have a seasoned staff of people who know a lot about the area and can help you maximize your time (and money!).

We have put together a list of tips to help with the planning, so read on to learn more!

The best time to visit Denali?

Denali is beautiful any time of the year, but there may be advantages to traveling in certain months.

Denali summers are short and sweet, lasting from mid-May to mid-September.  Spring can sometimes feel like winter, even in May, when we can see cooler temps and businesses brushing off the snow and opening their doors.  The official sign of summer is the famous moonlight sun!  In May, you can expect 17 hours of daylight and warming temps by the of the month most years.  Tourism abounds in June and July with warmer temps, the longest days of the season, and many adventures to book.  August can bring about more rain, but the days are long with fewer bugs, the first glimpses of fall colors, and usually the first snows in the Park.  These are some spectacular days when the sun does emerge, with the contrast of white snow, green tundra, and the reds and golds of fall.  September is the shoulder season, which brings the possibility of discounted rates on lodging and glimpses of the northern lights with fall colors at their prime at the start of the month.  By mid-late September, there is often snow on the ground and it feels like winter could arrive any day!  The main tourist area outside the road entrance begins to close down mid-September, with businesses locking their doors until the following May.

How to get to Denali?

Denali is located in south-central Alaska between the two cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks. You can get to Denali by car, RV, train, bus, plane, or a combination of several modes.
The national park has only one entrance, located at Mile 237 on Highway 3 (the George Parks Highway or the Parks Highway). To locate the entrance by GPS, the National Park Service recommends inputting the latitude and longitude (63.728443, -148.886572).


Driving to Denali

Driving to Denali (by car, van, or RV) is the best choice for the most flexibility and time to soak in the whole Denali experience. You can travel at your own pace and stop wherever you choose. Also, during the summer, you can drive the first 15 miles of the Denali National Park road.

It will take approximately 5 hours (240 miles) to travel from Anchorage to Denali on the George Parks Highway. You will have a few opportunities along the way to see Denali (if you’re lucky); the South Viewpoint, on a clear day, will provide stunning views of America’s tallest mountain. Continuing to Denali, approximately 30 miles north, is the North Viewpoint, which gives a slightly different perspective of the mountain.

Travelers driving south from Fairbanks to Denali will have approximately a two-and-a-half-hour drive (125 miles) along the George Parks Highway.

Besides the magnificent scenery, opportunities to spot wildlife abound along the way, so allow travel time for stopping and photographs.

Travel by Train

Traveling by train might be a good option if nostalgia and charm speak to you. The Alaska railroad was completed in 1923 and, for a time, served as the only way to reach Denali. Not much has changed for rail travelers from then to now except for increased services such as dining cars, non-smoking cars, baggage services, and wheelchair access. Guests traveling with the Alaska Railroad will arrive at the Denali Depot to be met by shuttle buses from the area hotels and lodges.

During the summer season of mid-May through mid-September, the Denali Star will depart Anchorage on a 12-hour journey north to Fairbanks, with stops in Wasilla, Talkeetna, and Denali National Park. The northbound trip will depart Anchorage at 8:20 am and arrive in Denali at 3:40 pm. The southbound journey from Fairbanks will leave at 8:20 am with a 12:10 pm arrival to Denali.

Travel by Bus, Motorcoach or Shuttle

Another option for sitting back and enjoying the ride is to travel by bus, motorcoach, or shuttle. It is an excellent way for travelers to meet fellow travelers while traveling comfortably and a great option for cruise ship travelers who have reached their destination port. Convenient, packaged trips have great excursion options and offer stops at unique destinations. Some companies can tailor the tours to give a more intimate experience.

Tours can range from several days to weeks, with stops at major destinations such as Anchorage, Fairbanks, Denali, Kenai Fjords National Park, Talkeetna, and more. Some companies will also travel on roads not recommended for rental cars, allowing travelers to see these unique spots.

Travel by Air

With less than a million visitors arriving in Alaska by air, it is the second most popular way of reaching Alaska, followed by cruise ships. There are no commercial flights to Denali; therefore, travelers will want to land in either Anchorage or Fairbanks.

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, located 5 miles southwest of downtown Anchorage, is a significant hub serving approximately 5.7 million passengers and ranking among the top three cargo hubs in the world. Flights into Anchorage are typically cheaper than flights to Fairbanks. It is an excellent location for guests wanting to explore Denali and the state’s southern half.
While a smaller airport, Fairbanks is the closest to Denali. It is a great location for guests wanting to visit, primarily the interior regions of Alaska.

After arriving at these two major cities, air taxi service options exist to fly guests into the Denali area. In the Denali area, the companies will land at small, sometimes private, airstrips. Alaska has a long aviation history, so traveling by bush plane gives guests the essence and thrill of an authentic Alaskan experience. It also allows guests the unparalleled advantage of seeing the area by air.

Where to stay in Denali?

You have planned when and how to travel to Denali; the next step is to plan the lodging to meet your needs and budget. There are many options, from hotels, lodges, and Airbnb to hostels and campgrounds, with most located outside the park entrance. We have provided links to take you directly to the property.

Denali Hotels & Lodges

Below is a list of hotels and lodges in the Denali area outside of the National Park. The list encompasses hotels with accommodations ranging from rustic cabins to luxurious resorts. Some will offer a shuttle service to the entrance of Denali National Park, making it a convenient way to visit the park. Some are within walking distance of the various restaurants and gift shops in the heart of Denali, locally known as the “Canyon.”

Three privately owned backcountry lodges are in Kantishna (a former mining community at the end of the park road) for those seeking more remote accommodations inside Denali National Park. You will escape the crowds and find the solitude of wilderness and nature. The lodges are all-inclusive, requiring a 2 to
4-night stay with accessibility via a short flight (in 2021, the Pretty Rocks Landslide occurred, preventing access to Kantishna via the park road).

If you prefer the comforts of a home away from home, staying at one of the area bed and breakfasts might be a great choice. Enjoy delightful food and local knowledge of the area provided by the innkeepers.

Denali area Airbnb and VRBO

If you are interested in a more private setting ranging from cabins to an entire home, there are options on Airbnb and VRBO.

Denali area Hostels

Hostels might be a good alternative if you are traveling on a budget and would prefer to spend the money saved on adventures in the area. Most offer shared rooms and spaces, such as the kitchen and a common room, but some offer private rooms. Most guests prefer to gather in common areas, making hostels more of a community and social setting. Therefore, it is a great way to make friends while traveling.

  • Denali Hostel & Cabins
  • Denali Campground options

    Another budget-friendly option in the Denali area is to camp at one of the campgrounds located inside or outside the National Park. It is a great way to get closer to nature and increase your opportunity for wildlife viewing.

    Inside the park are six campgrounds that accept reservations from mid-May through mid-September, except for Riley Creek, which is open year-round. None of the campgrounds have electrical or water hookups. *As of 2023, two campgrounds, Igloo and Wonder Lake, are closed until further notice due to the Pretty Rocks Construction project.

    • Riley Creek is located at Mile .25 and is the largest campground in the park. It is open to tents and RVs under 40 feet in length. This campground features a mercantile with camping supplies, food, a bathhouse, and laundry facilities.
    • Savage River is located at Mile 14 and sits in a spruce forest. A short hike from the campground might lead you to a view of Denali if it’s a clear day, bragging rights of this campground. Thirty-two sites can accommodate tents and RVs under 40 feet in length.
    • Sanctuary River, located at Mile 22, is accessed only by bus and accommodates only tents. It is the smallest campground in the park, with only seven sites. Due to the wooded setting, wildlife such as moose, caribou, and grizzly bears are occasionally seen in the area (often not in the campground itself).
    • Teklanika River, located at Mile 29 and, with 53 sites, can accommodate tents and RVs (under 40 feet long). Campers staying here can drive their vehicle or RV to the campground with a three-night minimum stay, and once at the campground, the car must remain parked for the duration of the stay.
    • Igloo Creek, located at Mile 35, is closed due to the Pretty Rocks Construction Project.
    • Wonder Lake, located at Mile 85, is closed due to the Pretty Rocks Construction Project.

    Outside the park, several campgrounds offer amenities ranging from electric/water hookups, bathhouses, cooking shelters, laundry facilities, and Wi-Fi coverage to a general store and food truck court. If you like being close to nature but not in a tent or RV, few offer charming, cozy cabins for rent.

    Dining in Denali

    Dining options abound in the Denali area, from a casual lunch of reindeer hot dogs to a nice dinner overlooking the Nenana River. Inside the national park, options are limited, but outside of the park, the options are plentiful.

    Dining inside of Denali National Park:

    Dining options inside the park are only available during the summer season from mid-May to mid-September and closed during the winter.

    Morino Grill – conveniently located near the Alaska Railroad depot and the Denali Visitor Center- is the only sit-down restaurant in the park. Serving up cafeteria-style burgers, sandwiches, and salads with grab-and-go options. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available.

    Riley Creek Mercantile – located at the Riley Creek Campground and featuring grab-and-go options such as deli sandwiches, wraps, coffee, wine, ice cream (perfect treat after a day on the trails), and groceries.

    Denali Bus Depot – the Taiga Bean Coffee Shop serves Starbucks coffee, sandwiches, and grab-and-go snacks, perfect to compliment your day trip into the park.

    Dining near Denali National Park:

    Restaurants open at different times each year, and options may be limited if you visit in early May or late September.

    The Black Bear – serving up coffee and brunch since 1997 and voted the ‘Best Coffee Shop in Alaska’ by Food Network online. It features an in-house bakery and locally sourced proteins, produce, and roasted coffee. Vegan and gluten-free options are available. The Black Bear says, “It’s the place to linger, indulge, people watch, meet friends and make new ones.”

    Cache Café – serving “coffee with altitude” featuring Kaladi Brothers coffee, roasted in Alaska by Alaskans and bakery treats. For those wanting a little more altitude, they also offer CBD-infused products.

    Prospectors Pizza and Ale House – offering hand-tossed, wood-stone-fired pizza, salads, soups, and pasta with bits of Alaska history adorning the walls. Prospectors offers specialty pizzas with Alaskan toppings such as salmon, halibut, king crab, elk, and reindeer for those wanting to try something different than a traditional pizza. They also offer over 49 craft beers, including local brews from the 49th State Brewing Company. Expect to wait due to the restaurant’s popularity.
    Denali Doghouse – Stop in for a quick bite of hotdogs, hand-pressed burgers, fries, and more. Featuring reindeer hotdogs and buffalo bratwursts with a variety of toppings to choose from.

    The Overlook at the Crow’s Nest – serving up fresh Alaskan fine-dining cuisine with incredible views since 1985. The menu features farm-to-table seafood, such as scallops and Alaskan oysters, and options like beef tenderloin and burgers. Toast the meal with one of their handcrafted cocktails, craft beers, or wine offerings. Finish the meal with a dessert of Baked Alaska, flambeed at the table.

    Karsten’s Public House – A tavern-style eatery located at the McKinley Chalet Resort and named for the man who led the first expedition of Denali. Serving an all-you-can-eat breakfast and a lunch and dinner menu with options such as the popular beer battered fish and chips, fried chicken and waffles, and
    slow-smoked brisket. Enjoy dining inside or outside with views of Mt Healy and Nenana Canyon.

    The Alpenglow at Grande Denali Lodge – located high atop Sugarloaf Mountain in the Grande Denali Lodge, overlooking the Denali wilderness and the Nenana River Canyon. Featuring a lunch and dinner menu with wild-caught Alaskan seafood selections, steaks, pasta, chicken, soups, salads, and sandwiches.

    Mountaineer Grill & Bar – Nestled in the Denali Bluffs Hotel, it serves BBQ entrees (pulled pork, smoked chicken, and brisket) complemented by local beers and hand-crafted cocktails. Enjoy a toast on the outdoor patio overlooking the Alaska Range.

    Perky Moose Pantry and Café – also located in the Denali Bluffs Hotel for on-the-go breakfast and lunch options such as coffees, teas, pastries, salads, sandwiches, and soups.

    Moose-Aka’s – from humble beginnings in a food truck to opening a Balkan-style tavern in the heart of Denali canyon. This Eastern European restaurant has claimed some prestigious accolades along the way, most recently being named the #7 Casual Dining restaurant in the USA by TripAdvisor. Enjoy favorites like Moussaka, Schnitzel, Serbian cheesecake, and Turkish Coffee. Featuring imported beer and wine from Serbia. Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options are available.

    Subway – a familiar franchise located on the Denali boardwalk.

    Dining options at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge:

    Whether you are staying on lodge property or not, the Princess Wilderness Lodge has dining offerings sure to please every palate.

    Fannie Q’s Saloon – named for the famous Alaska prospector, trapper and cook Fannie Quigley. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner with locally inspired dishes.

    King Salmon – serving breakfast and dinner. The star on the menu is fresh Alaska seafood, halibut, and salmon dishes.

    Lynx Creek Pizza & Pub – a cozy cabin atmosphere, serving pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and ice cream.

    Grizzly Burger – enjoy a gourmet burger with the option to sit on the deck overlooking the Nenana River.

    River Run Espresso – located inside the Main Lodge on the lower level, grab a quick cup of joe before your day’s adventures. Featuring specialty coffee beverages, pastries, and ice cream.
    Denali Dinner Theater

    Music of Denali Dinner Theater – located at the McKinley Chalet Resort in the Gold Nugget Saloon. Enjoy a hearty dinner of Alaska salmon, BBQ, and all the fixings while entertained by musicians and singers. The show is a comedic portrayal of the adventures of the first men to scale Denali.

    Alaska Cabin Nite Dinner Theatre – a lively telling of the life of Fanny Quigley, a Gold Rush pioneer and prospector who lived in the Kantishna hills. Don’t be surprised to find yourself singing along with the actors. Enjoy an all-you-can-eat family-style dinner of Alaska salmon, BBQ ribs, baked beans, vegetables, biscuits, and Fanny’s famous mixed berry cobbler. The show is performed in the Miners Plaza at Denali Park Village.

    Dining north of Denali National Park:

    Approximately 15 miles north of the park entrance is the town of Healy, which has a few dining options.

    49th State Brewing Company – features award-winning craft beer brewed on-site. Spacious dining from inside to outside in the beer garden cozied up to a bonfire. The menu features various items, from a yak burger and Alaskan-raised pork ribs to flatbreads and salads.

    Totem Inn and Pub – serving guests and residents in the Healy area for decades. Most menu items are made in-house and are popular items like burgers, pasta, pizza, and desserts. The pub’s relaxed atmosphere features pool tables, Xbox and Wii consoles, and five large flat-screen TVs where you can catch your favorite game.

    Healy Thai Food – a local favorite! The bright orange food truck parks next to 49th State Brewery and serves popular Thai dishes. The meals are affordable, quick, and plentiful.

    Rose’s Café – A diner-style restaurant serving breakfast and lunch since 2004. Don’t be surprised to see the parking lot packed with short waits. Be sure to try the homemade sourdough bread and salsa.

    Black Diamond Grill – located at the Black Diamond Resort. Offering freshly prepared meals with favorites like Alaskan crab cakes, Alaskan Cod hoagie, Alaskan salmon, halibut, shrimp, and crab legs.

    The Alaska Coffee Bean – coffee house serving breakfast and lunch with a small gift shop featuring locally made items. On Saturdays throughout the summer, they host the local farmers market, where you can find local produce, plants, and homemade treats.

    Dining south of Denali National Park:

    There are more options to consider just south of the park entrance.

    McKinley Creekside Café and Bakery – located at McKinley Creekside Cabins on Carlo Creek, just 13 miles south of the park entrance. Boasting awards such as the 2023 Travelers’ Choice Winner and 2023 Restaurant Guru Recommended places to eat. A warm and welcoming atmosphere serving espresso, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Guests will also want to check out the bakery, featuring their renowned Alaska and Texas-sized cinnamon rolls and other sweet treats. They also serve to-go “park” lunches ordered online the night before pick-up and include a sandwich, a bag of chips, a granola bar, a homemade bakery treat, bottled water, mint, and condiments.

    Panorama Pizza – enjoy a hand-tossed pizza and a microbrew on their deck overlooking the pristine and serene Carlo Creek. On Wednesday nights, they host a karaoke night, where you can belt out your favorite song to a lively crowd.

    Prey Pub & Eatery – located just 8 miles south of the park entrance at Denali Cabins. Relax near the natural stone fireplace while enjoying breakfast or dinner. The menu features pub fare with an Alaskan twist on classic favorites like fish & chips, salmon melt, and caribou chili.

    Mount Hunter Coffee Co. – Also located on the property of Denali Cabins. Stop in for a morning or afternoon pick-up. Offering light meals and grab-and-go snacks.

    Thai Food – the original bright orange food truck in Healy gained such popularity that they opened a second location at the Denali Grizzly Bear Resort—featuring affordable, plentiful, and quick Thai dishes.

    Dining options at the Denali Park Village Lodge:

    Gold Rush Dining Room – Serving a plentiful breakfast buffet and a dinner menu featuring appetizers, soups, salads, and entrees like ribeye, salmon, and crab & shrimp mac-n-cheese.

    The Shack – serving up quick comfort food of burgers, fries, and assorted desserts. Open from 5 pm – 9:30 pm in the Miners plaza of the Denali Park Village.

    Quigley’s Coffee Cart – conveniently located inside the lodge and open from 5 am – 3 pm. It features Starbucks coffee, grab-and-go items, and specialty Alaskan hand-dipped ice creams.

    How to pack for your Alaska adventure

    Smart packing helps ensure that you are ready for whatever the Alaska climate brings and that you have a fabulous time on all of your adventures. The weather can be unpredictable and change quickly; therefore, clothing you add to or take off based on your comfort level is necessary.

    Layers, Layers, Layers – A good suggestion is to pack base, mid, and outer layers that can be worn together or separately based on the weather.

    • Base Layer – Avoid cotton as it does not quickly dry nor offer moisture-wicking, which can pull heat away from your skin. Base layers vary from short-sleeved to long-sleeved options.
    • Mid-Layer – great mid-layer choices will provide insulation with wicking power. Popular choices range from wool and polyester tops to a lightweight down jacket while still avoiding cotton.
    • Outer Layer – providing protection from elements such as wind, rain, and snow. For the unpredictable Alaska weather, a rain jacket is a must; it is a good idea to throw in your day pack while on your adventures.

    If you plan on hiking a trail or two, a pair of quick-dry pants would make a great addition to your list of pants. Also, if you plan to visit in the Spring or Fall, a light pair of leggings underneath your pants would help with warmth.

    We also recommend bringing wool socks (great moisture-wicking), light gloves, a beanie, and a hat to block the sun.

    Shoes – Comfortable and sturdy are the keywords for choosing shoes. You will likely be doing a lot of walking, so you want to bring a good pair of walking shoes or hiking boots; even better if they are waterproof since you just might find yourself walking in the rain.

    Personal Items

    Besides the necessities such as underwear, toiletries, etc., we recommend including the additional gear listed below:

    • Water bottle
    • Sunglasses
    • Binoculars
    • Camera – make sure to pack chargers, extra battery packs, and memory cards.
    • Book, iPad, or eBook Reader – for those early mornings, made even better with a cup of coffee.
    • Sunscreen
    • Insect repellent – especially if you are visiting in June and July. Options range from products containing DEET, Picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
    • Day Pack – a small, lightweight daypack that is great for hikes and tours to keep items close, such as water, camera, binoculars, etc.
    • If traveling with children, a car seat, as some tours and transportation services may not provide. Here’s a link to Alaska Car Seat Laws AK Statute 28.05.095