Best Time To Visit Denali National Park – Guide For Travelers

Best Time To Visit Denali National Park

A first-time visitor might be surprised to hear that the park remains open year-round. While the obvious high season months of early June through early September seem like the best time to visit the park, every season is special. Consider exploring outside mid August height of cruise ship passenger crowds, and you can enjoy a better experience.

In fall, the crowds fade, and snow turns the park into a winter wonderland. Spring brings new life, and visitors enjoy the park before the crowds. Winter visitors have a better chance of seeing Mt Denali in all its glory. Days of clear skies from January through April provide the greatest opportunity to see the mountain.

Summer Season Is Peak Season

Summer in Denali National Park is the busiest time of year. Most of the 600,000 annual visitors will arrive from May 20 through mid September. Summer is a fun time to visit Denali National Park! The buzz of activity, pleasant weather, and the strong likelihood of spotting wildlife are all great reasons to visit in the summer months.

This is when the shuttle buses are out in full force. The Denali Park Road is exclusively open to tour and shuttle bus traffic. Private vehicles can drive only as far as the Savage River check station at mile marker 15. If driving a car into the park is a bucket list adventure for you, then you will need to apply for the park’s annual road lottery, which takes place in mid September.

Tour and Shuttle busses on Denali Park Road include:

  • Tan-colored tour busses driven by a trained naturalist. This bus is for people who want a scheduled tour with running commentary.

  • Green transit busses are similar to the tours, except there is no narration. Passengers get off where they want and catch another bus later. An excellent option for hikers.

  • Free shuttle bus. These busses are available to take passengers to areas where parking is limited and eliminate some road traffic. They only go as far into the park as a privately driven vehicle can.

Summer Bus Tour In Denali National Park
Summer Bus Tour In Denali

Fall Denali Road Lottery

In mid September, the shuttle busses are put away for the winter, and the park holds its annual road lottery and military appreciation day. Visitors can drive the Denali Park Road to mile marker 30, Teklanika River, from September 16 until snow closes the road.

The road lottery allows people to drive along the parks only road by private vehicle. Applications to participate in the lottery must be submitted in the month of May. The event happens yearly on the second weekend after Labor Day. All instructions can be found on the Denali National Park Service website. By late September, the snow begins to cover the road, and it becomes impossible to navigate.

Military Appreciation Day

Immediately following the three-day road lottery event is military appreciation day. This one-day event is open to active military members and their families. Tickets are assigned by the military.

Drive Along The Park Road By A Private Vehicle
Drive Along The Park Road By A Private Vehicle

The Deep Freeze Of Winter

Winter at Denali can be a special time of year. The park remains open, but no busses are running, and most visitor centers are closed. For those hardy few who decide to brave the cold, the Murie Science and Learning Center at mile 1.5 acts as the winter visitor center. You can borrow snowshoes and junior ranger books are available for the kids.

The winter park is covered in a heavy blanket of snow. In January, the average temperature is a mere 2 degrees F and often dips well below zero. However, there are no crowds and still plenty of things to do. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are great ways to get outside and experience an Alaska winter.

Snowshoeing In Denali National Park
Snowshoeing In Denali

Denali In Spring

From mid-April until May 19, the park begins to wake from a deep freeze. Road crews begin to plow the road in March, although snow can continue to fall, and the route is not always navigable. In mid April, the road to mile 15 at Savage River is generally open, with crews working tirelessly. In late spring, the road will open as far as mile 30 at Teklanika River.

Biking is popular in spring. With the road opening as far as mile 30 and beyond, bicyclists can enjoy the journey with little car traffic. The Winter Visitor Center at the Murie Science and Learning Center is the source of information through May 14. On May 15, the Denali Park Visitor Center opens at the park entrance.

Denali In Spring
Denali In Spring

Best Time To See The Aurora Borealis At Denali National Park

Your best chance to see the aurora borealis, or northern lights as it’s commonly called, is in fall, winter, and early spring. This is when the sky is darkest. Predicting aurora activity is similar to predicting the weather. The Alaska Geophysical Institute website predicts when the aurora will be strongest. A strong aurora indicator and a clear and dark sky provide the best chance that you will see the northern lights. However, there is never a guarantee.

Northern Lights In Denali
Northern Lights In Denali

Denali National Park Specialist Planning

Don’t leave your travel plans to chance. Stampede Excursions has years of experience with activities and excursions in Denali National Park. Our guides are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and well-versed in Alaska’s history and culture. We know where to go and what to do for every season in this fantastic national park.

Let us arrange a personalized experience for you at any time of the year. We are here to help, and we look forward to meeting you!


Duration
5 hours
Group Size
Up to 20

Devil's Canyon Jet Boat Adventure

Experience the unforgettable beauty of this vast and remote wilderness on this 5-hour river adventure. A 130-mile round trip river excursion through Denali State Park and into the nationally registered Wild River Park of “Devil’s Gorge” will offer a safe, dry and comfortable way to experience whitewater and you can venture where only few have gone.

from
180 USD
Duration
2 hours
Group Size
Up to 20

Wilderness Jet Boat Adventure

Behold the splendor of Denali and the great Alaska Range from a spectacular vantage point on the Susitna River in a jet boat! The folklore, artifacts, and panoramic views make this unique 20-mile Alaska river adventure unforgettable.

from
79
Duration
3 hours 30 minutes
Group Size
Up to 20

Talkeetna Canyon Jet Boat Adventure

Explore different rivers on this 3.5-hour, ~50-mile jet boat adventure, which features the Chulitna River Gorge and a unique braided river – one of few such extensive systems in the world! Travel in the comfort of our fully enclosed jet boats. This tour is an extension of our 2-hour wilderness excursion including a ¼-mile nature stroll to an authentic trapper’s cabin and Dena’ina Indian encampment.

from
140 USD
Duration
3 hours
Group Size
Up to 5

Draft Horse Drawn Covered Wagon

To get a real sense of old-time Alaska, travel like the original pioneers did-by horse-drawn wagon. Climb onto a covered wagon for an adventure and you’ll be in for a trip through time. While guides fill you in on the area’s history and natural treasurer, you’ll be pulled through the Alaskan tundra with the mountains of nearby Denali National Park hovering overhead. Join us for an exciting, yet relaxing, journey into the wilds of Alaska. Our custom-built Covered Wagon Ride is pulled by two beautiful Draft horses.

from
90 USD
Duration
1 hour
Group Size
Up to 5

Personal Draft Horse Encounter

Join us for a one-on-one encounter with our gentle giants! You will get a private experience with your group learning all about our draft horses. Your group will have the opportunity to feed, brush, and meet our draft horses. You will then get to watch a demonstration of how our teamsters gear and hitch up our horses to get ready for a covered wagon ride.

from
40 USD
Duration
10 hours
Group Size
Up to 20

Historic Denali Guided Adventure

Experience the wilderness and wildlife along the rugged route. Guides will ensure opportunities to view the area's best landmarks & introduce you to authentic Alaska activities!

from
194 USD