Why Is Denali National Park So Popular?

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View of denali national park.

Denali National Park is one of the most well-known Alaskan parks. Before the chaos of 2020, the park welcomed more than half a million visitors each year.

But we’ve learned that some attractions don’t always live up to the hype. Is Denali really that great? Today, we’ll look into why people flock to Denali National Park. Let’s get started!

About Denali National Park

Denali National Park sits close to the middle of the massive state of Alaska. Its roughly six million acres make it the third largest of all the National Park Service (NPS) units. The park is approximately three times the size of Yellowstone National Park. 

It has impressive features like Denali, a mountain standing over 20,000 feet as well as wildlife like grizzly bears, wolves, moose, and caribou. This park provides a chance to see some of nature’s magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

You can enjoy both the natural beauty and wildlife by hitting the trails. For its size, the park has very few marked trails, and those marked are typically less than three miles.

This is to encourage visitors to explore the park in a raw state. However, the park has a dozen marked trails for those who prefer traditional hiking.

Denali National Park is the place to explore Alaska’s natural and untouched beauty. You’ll discover infinite possibilities when it comes to opportunities for adventures. Unless you pick one of the strenuous trails, the most challenging part will be deciding where to start.

When Is the Best Time to Visit Denali National Park?

Unfortunately, while Denali National Park stays open year-round, most facilities shut down from early September through late May. However, in a typical year, all facilities will open back up by the first week of June.

The best time to visit Denali National Park is between mid-June and mid-September. Although we hate to be the bearer of bad news, sections of the park will be extremely crowded. 

Can You Tour Denali on Your Own?

Getting around some national parks can prove challenging due to the complex road infrastructure. 

Many guests get excited when they hear this park only has one road. However, the road is 92 miles long, and the park prohibits personal vehicles after the 15-mile mark. 

Visitors can explore the first 15 miles of the road as much as they like. As we mentioned, officials encourage off-trail hiking. However, you should always take the proper precautions to maintain safety from wildlife and the elements.

Once you reach the 15-mile marker, you must use the park’s bus system. These buses require reservations because of the park’s tremendous popularity and short season.

However, you should know that Denali Park Road near mile 43 closed in August 2021 due to the Pretty Rocks landslide. Officials estimate it will remain closed until the summer of 2025.

View of denali national park.

Are There Bears in Denali National Park?

Denali National Park has many brown and black bears. According to data from the park, officials estimate between 300 and 350 grizzly bears live throughout the northern portion of the Alaskan Range. However, the southern side has more salmon streams, which likely means slightly more grizzlies.

The research indicated roughly 2,700 black bears in a single game management unit. It’s safe to say thousands of bears roam freely in Denali National Park.

As a result, you must practice bear safety throughout the park and surrounding areas. Need some bear safety tips? We wrote Will a Bear Break Into Your RV? and Do They Make Bear Proof Tents? to help you stay safe.

Things to Do In Denali National Park

We mentioned earlier that Denali National Park was full of opportunities for adventure. Here are some things you should do while exploring all that Denali offers.

Explore Denali Park Road

Because Denali Park Road is the only road in the park, many attractions require you to drive on it.

However, as we mentioned earlier, to experience all that the road has to offer will require a reservation on the bus system.

You’ll find both narrated and transit buses. The transit buses allow you to hop on and off and spend as much time as you wish. However, you’ll want to ensure you know how often they run and plan accordingly. Additionally, like most public transportation, there’s always a chance they’re running ahead or behind schedule.

View of denali national park.

Visit the Denali Visitor Center

The National Park Service built the Denali Visitor Center in 2005, and every guest should experience it. If you have questions or need information, rangers here almost always have the answers, and they’ll likely point you in the right direction when they don’t.

This facility only opens in the summer. When it is open, you can chat with rangers, pay the entrance fee, watch an educational film about the park, and learn from the many exhibits.

If you visit during fall, winter, or spring, you must visit Murie Science and Learning Center. It’s the park’s makeshift visitor center during the off-season.

No matter when you visit, grab the Junior Ranger booklets if you’re traveling with kids. This will keep them entertained and educate them about the park. When they complete the packet, rangers swear them in and present them with an official Junior Ranger badge unique to the park.

Hike the Trails

You have two types of hiking in Denali National Park, trail hiking and off-trail hiking. If you’re new to hiking and exploring, stick with trail hiking. These are shorter trails with markings indicating where to proceed. Most of these trails sit within the first 15 miles and near the park entrance.

Those up for more of an adventure may consider off-trail hiking. This unique hiking experience allows you to forge your own path and customize your adventure.

Whether you want to leisurely walk along a river or climb thousands of feet, the possibilities are endless.

Keep in Mind: Have you seen X’s painted on trees while hiking? Click to find out what it means!

View of a trail at denali national park.

Attend Ranger Programs

Some of the smartest and friendliest people we’ve ever met are park rangers. These incredible people do an excellent job sharing their love and knowledge of the parks with guests. You can find ranger-led programs like hikes, sled dog demonstrations, and talks.

We’ve attended many of these ranger programs during our travels. Honestly, we’ve never regretted attending a single one. They’ve always been an incredible way for us to learn about the park and discover something new.

Camp in the Wilderness

If you love camping in nature, you’ll find few better places than Denali National Park.

The park has six defined campgrounds, half of which are tent-only camping and only accessible via bus. Only one campground, Sanctuary River Campground, stays open year-round.

In addition to established campgrounds, you have many opportunities for backcountry camping. You can usually only do this from mid-May through mid-September, and you must obtain a permit from the Backcountry Information Center.

In addition, everyone must attend an orientation to get their permit. Backcountry camping provides a great way to connect with nature and experience the park in a unique way.

Keep in Mind: It’s no secret Alaska is huge! So How Big is Alaska Compared to the USA? Click to find out!

Take a Wildlife Tour

We mentioned that Denali is packed full of wildlife. Luckily, you can attend a variety of wildlife tours and see many of these beautiful creatures.

The Tundra Wilderness Tour is available seasonally and takes roughly five hours. However, because wildlife roams freely, some trips see more of nature than others.

Wildlife roaming denali national park in Alaska.

Capture the Scenery

With such a large park, you have so much to appreciate. Do yourself a favor and take every opportunity you can to enjoy it. Take plenty of pictures and videos to share with friends, family, and social media.

The landscapes of Denali are nothing short of spectacular. Snow-capped mountains, rugged peaks, and vast tundras lie just about everywhere you look. Few places can compete with the natural beauty of the remarkable landscape.

Fall in Love with Denali National Park

For many, visiting Denali National Park is love at first sight. It’s easy to see why so many people have this park on their travel bucket list. Despite a few years of low visitor numbers, they’ll likely break records soon. 

Will you be one of the guests to help them do it?

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