How to Spend One Epic Day in Denali

Many people visit Alaska with the hope of traveling everywhere. However, they quickly realize how truly difficult it is to travel within Alaska due to very few roads. They also discover that Denali National Park is easily the most accessible of all the national parks in Alaska. Many times, visitors have only one day in the park.

So, how to spend one day in Denali

Many visitors will ride one of the park buses. This is the best way to see Denali, since most of the 92-mile road is closed to private vehicles. These buses take time, with the shortest option lasting 4.5 hours and the longest 12 hours. I highly recommend going as far as the Eielson Visitor Center, 66 miles into the park, for some of the best scenic views. This ride takes 8 hours round trip and will be one of the most memorable bus rides you’ll take in your life. Wonder Lake is another popular trip, which is 85 miles into the park with an 11-hour round trip ride. Chances of viewing wildlife along the way are also higher the farther you travel.

Photo courtesy of Riley (The Parks Expert)

If you want to do more than ride a bus, but still seek to see the park from the traditional bus window viewpoint, check out Discovery Hikes offered by park rangers. These hikes take you off-trail hiking through Denali’s 2-million acres of designated wilderness. This probably sounds terrifying to anyone who isn’t used to it, which is why park rangers are there to help. They’ll serve as your guide, practicing wilderness etiquette and bear safety while showcasing the best of Denali National Park. You’ll still ride one of the buses for 1-4 hours before you begin your hike, offering the best of both worlds.

Photo courtesy of Riley (The Parks Expert)

If you don’t want to ride a bus or spend hours hiking in the wilderness, fear not. There is something for everyone to do at Denali. Check out Denali’s hiking trails and go for a “front country” hike instead. Most of these are located in the first 15 miles, where private vehicles are permitted. If you don’t have a car, the free Savage River Shuttle runs along this route as well. After your hike, stop by the sled dog kennel, the only kennel in the entire National Park Service. You can stop in any time they’re open to pet and visit the dogs, but it’s best to visit during a sled dog demonstration; three times per day in the peak of summer, park rangers will present a 30-minute program on the importance of working sled dogs in Denali. You’ll also get to see five of the dogs pull a ranger around a small track. This is usually one of the main highlights of any visit to Denali. 

Photo courtesy of Riley (The Parks Expert)

With plenty of things to do in Denali, it’s easy to see that one day simply is not enough. Combine some of the above suggestions for a memorable long weekend or multi-day trip in one of America’s largest national parks.

Header photo: By Claire Abendroth/Courtesy of NPS

Riley is a lifelong traveler who has been visiting national parks as long as she can actually remember. Her newest passion is sharing her love of national parks with the world by planning trips, writing about travels, and offering advice. One day, she hopes to visit all 419 national parks.


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