Marked hiking trails in Denali generally cover areas close to visitor centers and points of interest. Many of them are located near the Denali Visitor Center near the park entrance, and connect it with the dog sled kennel, Riley Creek campground and the Wilderness Access Center. Other trails deeper inside the park can be found at the Eielson area, the Savage River day-use area, and at Wonder Lake, near the end of the Park Road. These areas can be accessed via shuttle bus during summer months.
Off-trail hiking at Denali is another popular activity. Although the lack of a marked path can intimidate some hikers, proper preparation can open up opportunities for awesome, one-of-a-kind adventures through the tundra. The park service recommends hiking in groups, and mapping a route before setting out on a hike. Other recommended safety measures for off-trail hikes include bringing plenty of water and carrying water purification tablets, as well as respecting wildlife closures.
Shuttles and Bus Tours
The park road is closed to most private vehicular traffic beyond Savage River, so from May through September, the most convenient way to venture deeper into Denali is by shuttle bus. Fares vary according to passenger age and destination. Kids younger than 14 ride for free. Tour buses are also available through the park’s concessioner, and offer a series of narrated trips with themes like natural history or tundra wildlife. Bicycling is a fun, challenging alternative to exploring the park road, either as a day trip or an extended bike-and-camp excursion. Backcountry permits are required for bike camping. Bikers can hop on select rack-equipped shuttle buses, too.
Denali National Park’s open backcountry is subdivided into 87 units, 41 of which limit the number of hikers that can camp in them per night. You can’t reserve spaces in advance, so make sure to come prepared with several itineraries when picking up a permit at the park’s backcountry office, particular during peak summer visitation periods. Backcountry permits aren’t required for day trips, even off-trail hikes. Visitors should review the park’s tips for backcountry travel when planning a trip. Bear-resistant food containers are necessary when camping in the wilderness.
The history of mountaineering in the Denali region predates the establishment of the park, but not by long. Several parties of brave individuals attempted to summit Mount McKinley before the Stuck-Karstens expedition succeeded in 1913. The struggle to ascend the tallest peak in North America speaks volumes about the challenge involved in the task.
Temperature, altitude, wind and equipment are just some of the considerations that have to be addressed when undertaking a mountaineering trip in Denali, whether you’re planning to scale Mount McKinley, Mount Foraker or the rock-and-ice walls of Ruth Gorge. Visitors must obtain special mountaineering permits and pay special use fees ($250 or $350 per climber) if they are planning on climbing Mount McKinley or Mount Foraker. If you choose to book a guide, make sure that it is through one of the park’s authorized services.
Looking for a shortcut to the top? Consider booking a “flightseeing” airplane or helicopter tour through one of the park’s concessioners. On a clear day, expect spectacular views of the Alaska Range and the many small glaciers that cover approximately one-sixth of Denali National Park.