Being home to 39 species of mammals, 169 species of birds, and the tallest mountain in North America, the 6+ million acre Denali National Park absolutely lives up to the awe and wonder that it has become synonymous with. We spent 2 days exploring the vast landscape and couldn’t even scratch the surface of just how grand it really is! In our exploring we were able to identify some things that anyone visiting Denali National Park should know before they go! Let’s dive in...
*Be sure to check out our "Alaska: Denali National Park" vlog for a closer look at our time in Denali*
1. There is only one road
That’s right… The United States’ 3rd largest national park only has one road in and out. The 92 mile Denali Park Road is 92 miles long, BUT only the first 15 miles (From Riley Creek Campground to the Savage River area) are open to public traffic. The remaining 77 miles can only be accessed on one of the park's buses. You can find more info on the buses and reservations HERE.
Since we visited in the spring shoulder season (mid-April until May 19), we were fortunate enough to be able to drive Denali Park Road all the way to the Teklanika River rest area at mile 30. They don’t always open up the road to public traffic before the on season. It really just depends on weather, but we were very grateful to have had that privilege!
2. There aren’t many options for food
Along the 92 mile Denali Park Road, you will only find a couple of options for food and those are found at the entrance of the park… Morino Grill and Riley Creek Mercantile. Just like the visitor’s center and gift shop, the grill and mercantile are only open during the on season (roughly May 19-mid September) and the selection is pretty limited. So, take our advice and pack your food and drinks for your time in the park. It will save a lot of time and hangry arguments!
If you’re flying into Anchorage, there are plenty of options for grocery stores to stock up before heading to Denali, but if you need to buy groceries nearby, we recommend the Three Bears that’s 11 miles north of the park entrance in Healy. They also offer some prepared foods, but if you’re looking for a sit-down dining experience, we found Black Diamond Grill to be a great option!
3. The weather changes frequently
One thing that we definitely learned about Denali very quickly is… If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes! No kidding, the weather in Denali can change drastically in a matter of 5 minutes, so be sure to layer up clothes and bring rain gear for hikes. Just because it’s sunny and warm when you start a hike doesn’t mean it will stay that way… even if it’s just a short hike!
When we started our Savage River Loop hike (2 miles) it was grey and rainy. By the time we reached the halfway point, it was sunny with blue skies! Then, before we got back to the trailhead, it was dark and ominous just waiting to downpour! Moral of the story… be prepared for all kinds of weather in Denali!
4. There aren’t many marked trails
When you visit Denali, hiking is a MUST, but you should know… There are only 20 marked trails (around 38 miles of trail in total) and most of them are short (less than 2 miles) and near the park entrance. The good news is that Denali is one of the national parks that encourages off trail hiking! I know it can be intimidating at first, but it can also be so rewarding! If you’re not an avid hiker, we suggest starting with some marked trails before wandering off trail.
Since we only had 2 days in the park, we didn’t get to do as much hiking as we would have liked, but we enjoyed the Savage River Loop trail as well as some off trail hiking near the Teklanika River.
5. Bring bear spray
Bear spray may not seem like much of a necessity to many of us lower 48ers, but in Alaska, it’s a must! You never know what’s lying around the next bend, and whether it’s a grizzly bear, a moose, or some other territorial beast, you’ll be glad you had the bear spray on your side!
Also, it’s worth noting that you can NOT fly with bear spray. Not even in checked luggage, so you’ll need to purchase it when you arrive and either return it, sell it, or give it away before flying out. It’s quite an inconvenience since bear spray costs around $40, but the peace of mind was worth it for us.
We hope that these tips help you in your planning to this awe inspiring park! Be sure to check out our “Exploring Denali National Park” travel vlog for a closer look at our time there. Feel free to reach out to us on social media with any questions you might have (@AdventuresofMattandNat)!