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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!