Alaska, North America, Travel Tips

Denali National Park Guide and Tips

Denali National Park Guide and Tips

National parks are some of the very best places for the average person to see amazing wildlife, without having to go too far off the beaten path. Our favorite park is in Alaska, about 30 miles from our cabin. We visit Denali National Park every year because we love it that much.  It’s unlike other national parks in that you can’t just get in your car and drive all the way through, thus, preserving the park for the ecosystems that are in place. This Denali National Park Guide and Tips post will hopefully help you make the very most of your trip.


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Basic Facts

Alaska is the largest state in the United States, with a land area of 656,425 square miles (1,700,134 squarekilometers) and a population just under 740,000 people at the last censes.There are thirteen national parks and/or preserves in Alaska, with Denali being the second most visited, after Glacier Bay National Park.

Denali sits just off of the Parks Highway, about 4 hours north of Anchorage and 2 hours south of Fairbanks. Outside of the park entrance, you can find various hotels and trinket shops, as well as restaurants and convenient stores.  The Parks Highway is a mostly two lane paved road that will take you through some of the most beautiful country you will ever see.

If you don’t want to drive all that way, you can take the train or even a bus from Anchorage or Fairbanks. Plan ahead though and be prepared for sticker shock on the prices. I have only driven to the park, but I would love to take the train from Fairbanks to Anchorage someday.

Denali National Park Guide and Tips #denalinationalpark #denali #alaska #nationalparks

Denali National Park Guide and Tips

First Steps:

When you’re planning your Denali National Park trip, your first steps should be: 

  • Determine how much time you have to spend in the park
  • How you want to travel in the park
  • Where you want to stay while you’re visiting the park

These are our tips based on how you want to travel through the park and how long you have to spend. We have done all of them, so we feel comfortable providing this Denali National Park guide and tips post.

Denali National Park Guide and Tips #denalinationalpark #denali #alaska #nationalparks

If You Have About 3 Hours

If you only have a couple of hours, drive your personal car into Savage River Rest Area. It’s about 15 miles into the park.  Keep your eyes open. In this 15 mile drive we have seen black bears, moose and caribou. Of course the scenery is beautiful too.

Denali National Park Guide and Tips #denalinationalpark #denali #alaska #nationalparks

Also near the park entrance, there are the Sled Dog Kennels. This is a must see in our book and the favorite place of our daughter, the animal of any kind whisperer. In this area you can visit and pet the sled dogs, see the equipment the Park Rangers use with the dogs, visit with the Park Rangers and if you’re really lucky, see some puppies.

Denali National Park Guide and Tips #denalinationalpark #denali #alaska #nationalparks
My daughter wanted to adopt Mixis when he retired. Sadly, he died right before retirement. We were all heartbroken. 

Did You Know

Denali National Park Sled Dogs retire after nine years of working in the park. When they retire, they are put up for adoption. There are requirements for the adoptees to meet to ensure the health and happiness of the dog.

If You Have All Day

If you have all day, ride one of the park buses from the Visitor’s Center at the park entrance.  You can’t drive your personal vehicle past Savage River Rest Area. You can ride the bus all the way to Wonder Lake or Kantishna and you can get off and on as many times as you want. 

We have done the Transit Bus several times and saw some amazing wildlife and scenery. Transit Bus rides range from 6-12 hours long and are not narrated. The buses leave from the Bus Depot/Wilderness Access Center, where you can also purchase tickets.  You can find the current rates on the Denali National Park website.   Children 15 and under ride free, but still require a ticket. 

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Tips for Riding the Transit Bus

  • You can get off the bus and hike almost anywhere you want. When you’re done hiking, return to the road and flag down the next green bus.
  • Take your own food and drinks.
  • Bring some paper towels to clean the bus windows.
  • Have a jacket and hat because the weather changes quickly.
  • If your blood runs cold, sit near the heater. There is one on each side, near the back of the bus.
  • Bring a good camera.
  • Bring a good set of binoculars.
  • Wear good, broken in walking/hiking shoes.
  • Get the earliest bus possible. Wildlife are more active in the early morning.
  • Make a list of all the animals you want to see and check the list off.
  • There are restrooms throughout the park, near the roads. I advise to take your own toilet paper and wipes.
Denali National Park Guide and Tips #denalinationalpark #denali #alaska #nationalparks

Tips for Camping

Camping can be loads of fun, especially in an area like Denali National Park.  Reserving a trip on the Camping Bus ahead of time is advisable so you are guaranteed a ride to the place you want to camp. There is space at the back of the bus for your gear.

  • Take the Bear Aware class at the park entrance.
  • Camping spots at several campsites can be reserved ahead of time.
  • If you choose to camp in the wilderness, you must register with the rangers so they know what area you will be in. There are a limited amount of people allowed in each area each day. Also, they need to know where to look for you if you don’t return on time. 
  • Bring everything you need. There isn’t anywhere to purchase anything after you leave the park entrance.
  • Practice leave no trace camping. Pack it in, pack it out. This includes solid human waste.
  • Bring sunglasses, bug spray, sunscreen and a hat. 
  • Everything you wear or bring should be as unscented as possible.  Bears love the smell of spring scented baby wipes and they have excellent noses.
  • While camping you can take day hikes to discover the area adjacent to your campsite.
  • Do not put anything with a scent in your tent.  Again, bears have excellent noses. 
  • Bring bear spray. 

Animals in Denali National Park

Denali homes 39 varieties of mammals including

  • Moose
  • Caribou
  • Dall Sheep
  • Wolves
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Black Bear

For a complete list, visit the parks mammals checklist

There are also 160 species of birds living in the park.

  • Willow Ptarmigan
  • Yellow Billed Loon
  • Bald Eagle
  • Osprey
  • Golden Eagle

For a complete checklist, visit the park’s bird checklist

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Visitor’s Centers Throughout the Park

Denali Visitor’s Center – This is the main visitor’s center near the park entrance. Here you can watch the park film, check out some Denali specific exhibits, join in some ranger walks and talks and obtain required backpacking permits.

Denali National Park Guide and Tips #denalinationalpark #denali #alaska #nationalparks

Main Denali Bus Depot (Wilderness Access Center) – Here you can purchase your bus tickets, arrange for camping in the park and check in for existing reservations.

Murie Science and Learning Center – This center promotes science and stewardship on behalf of the national parks in northern Alaska. This center is operated in conjunction with the Alaska Geographic organizations. This also serves as the winter Visitor’s Center for the park.

Eielson Visitor’s Center – This center is reached by bus and showcases art work  inspired by the beauty of Denali National Park. On clear days, you also have wonderful views of Denali and the Alaska Range.

Did You Know

Since 2002, Denali National Park has had an Artist in Residence program. The artist applies for a spot in the program and if selected, spends 10 days in residence creating artwork of the park. For more information about this incredible opportunity, visit the Artist in Residence page on the park website. 

Denali National Park Guide and Tips #denalinationalpark #denali #alaska #nationalparks

Showers and Laundry

Riley Creek Mercantile at the Riley Creek Campground – If you’re in need of a hot shower and laundry facilities, the Riley Creek Mercantile is your best bet. Step into the store to purchase a coin for a 10 minute shower and towel. After your shower, you can do your laundry and purchase a snack from the Mercantile.

When we’re in Alaska working on our cabin, we sometimes go to this mercantile to take our weekly showers and do our laundry. We haven’t yet got our water system running at our place.

Denali National Park Guide and Tips #denalinationalpark #denali #alaska #nationalparks


Do not approach the wildlife.  Please. The animals in Denali National Park are wild. They are not pets. If they feel threated, they will hurt or even kill that by which they feel threatened. That includes people. If you see a cute little baby animal of some sort, the mom is not far away. She will hurt you. If you’re taking photos of the animals, keep their proximity to you in mind. Things in the camera lens are not always where you think they are. Be aware of your surroundings at all times.  In case you didn’t read the first sentence of this paragraph, DO NOT APPROACH THE WILDLIFE!

I hope that you will plan a visit to Alaska and then to Denali National Park while you are there. It’s quite likely that you will see some of the most incredible sites you have ever seen. 


Pin one of these images for later! 

Denali National Park Guide and Tips #denalinationalpark #denali #alaska #nationalparks
Denali National Park Guide and Tips #denalinationalpark #denali #alaska #nationalparks
4 Day Dalton Highway Road Trip pebble #alaska #daltonhighway #roadtrip #nature
4 Days on the Dalton Highway


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  • Fairuz December 16, 2018 at 9:26 pm

    I love spending time in nature. Denali National Park sounds like the kind of place I would visit. I adore seeing animals in their natural environment, and to know that there’re 39 varieties of mammals and 160 species of birds live in the park makes me want to go there even more. It’d be awesome to see a grizzly bear (but not before taking the Bear Aware class)! I think it’s great that you’ve pointed out the importance of preparation before going camping there.

    • ppadmin December 17, 2018 at 3:02 pm

      Thank you so much. I’d hate for someone to go unaware of the necessary things they need. I hope you get to Denali soon.

  • Stevo Joslin December 17, 2018 at 6:27 am

    Great advice on leaving the wildlife alone. And all the bear advice, I had no idea they liked the smell of baby wipes so much or that they were such good smellers. The transit bus sounds like the best way to see the park, I love the chance to hop on and hop off to see the sights! And, if I’m lucky, some puppies! Thanks for sharing!

    • ppadmin December 17, 2018 at 3:00 pm

      I hope you will be able to experience Denali Park someday. It’s such an excellent experience.

  • Lisa December 18, 2018 at 5:23 am

    Ah, I must agree that the Sled Dog Kennels would be a must see! And I would just LOVE to see a grizzly bear as well as some wolves! 😍 Thanks for reiterating the point of not approaching the animals – that’s so important to remember!!

    • ppadmin December 19, 2018 at 7:57 pm

      Thank you. I think people get excited to see the animals and don’t think before they approach them. I hope you make it to Alaska.

  • Medha Verma December 18, 2018 at 5:26 am

    Just the other day I was researching Alaska because I was trying to decide if I should take a cruise there or spend 1 whole week just exploring the country. I would love to rent a car and drive around rather than just spend a day in every city while the cruise is docked there. Denali National Park is sure to be on my list, I’d love to go for some moderate hikes and camp there overnight. Good tip that cars cannot go beyond Savage River Rest Area and we need to board the transit bus. Will bookmark your post to refer to it later!

    • ppadmin December 19, 2018 at 7:56 pm

      You won’t regret visiting Alaska and exploring it. It’s such an amazing place. I’ve taken a cruise to Alaska and enjoyed it a lot. However, you can see so much more and the real Alaska by renting a car and just exploring.

  • Indrani December 18, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    You are right about National Parks, we get to see wildlife so close. Thanks for the great tips for camping at Denali Park. We have a Bannerghatta National Park in the outskirts of Bengaluru City. The artists residence program is new though.

    • ppadmin December 19, 2018 at 7:52 pm

      I really enjoy visiting national parks. I like them better when it’s less crowded. I think you see more that way.

  • Ami Bhat December 20, 2018 at 2:53 am

    National parks are a raw pleasure. You never know what you can see. The birds, the greenery and well, insects too. Loved those huskies at the gate. And you say you can see puppies too…wish I get lucky if I ever get there.

    • ppadmin December 21, 2018 at 4:01 pm

      We love seeing what all animals we can see. Of course, the huskies are amazing.

  • Holly December 20, 2018 at 6:55 pm

    Great tips. Didn’t know much about any of this. I would love to visit Alaska. How much time between each green bus if you do decide to get off and explore a bit?

    • ppadmin December 21, 2018 at 4:00 pm

      I hope you get to Alaska soon. The buses run every half hour until 11 am and then every hour thereafter. The last bus leaves the entrance at 3 pm.

  • Melanie December 21, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    National park are amazing and I think Alaska would be worth a trip. It must be something really special. Denali national park sounds beautiful. I think you guys are lucky to have an own cabin, that must be comfy and to take day trips from the cabin. By doing so you can really explore the area.

    • ppadmin December 21, 2018 at 2:39 pm

      I’m so glad that we have national parks. I almost always love visiting them. We are so glad we have our place in Alaska, although it is a work in progress, it’s still a great escape from the realities of every day life.