Seasons, Fees, Permits and Reservations
Technically, Denali National Park is open all year round, but visitors during the winter should take the region’s lack of daylight, low temperatures and extreme weather into account. Once heavy snow starts to fall, the road is only plowed to the park headquarters, restricting access to the interior. Visiting in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall mean waived campground fees, but limited services and the possibility of sudden snow.
Late spring — from the end of April to early May — tends to have more high-pressure days, which makes for calmer mountaineering weather than summer, even if the average temperature is colder. The Fall Road Lottery is a popular event that gives visitors the chance to explore Denali Park Road by private vehicle.
The standard entrance fee is $10 per person, but visitors younger than 15 pay no fee. The park’s six auto-friendly campgrounds are organized into different categories, with fees and reservation structures pertaining to each. Backcountry camping requires a permit, and should involve more than a little planning on the park of the visitor.
Visiting in Summer
Summer is a short season at Denali, lasting only from late May until September, but the days are long and many activities abound. Bus trips during summer months are a great way to take in Denali’s scenery and wildlife. Because private vehicles are generally not allowed past the 15-mile-mark of Denali Park Road, tour and shuttle busses accommodate travelers, providing guided day trips or just dropping them off at various rest stops, overlooks and points of interest.
Hiking and backpacking are also popular during summer months. Wildlife and their young come out with the warmer temperatures. Due to wind and elevation, mosquitos tend to be less of an issue at Denali than elsewhere in Alaska, but be sure to bring some repellent if you’re visiting at the height of summer.
Visiting in Winter
Denali’s long winter might seem inhospitable to most, but the adventurous at heart will find a variety of soul-stirring activities in the park during the winter. Peak winter activity for visitors and researchers alike occurs at the end of the season, around late February into March. Answer the call of the wild on a dogsledding expedition, provided through a local concessioner. The park also maintains its own kennel, but those dogs are specially trained to help patrol the park and aid researchers. Winter is also the best time of year to see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. Activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular, and particularly hardy sorts may enjoy the rigor of winter camping.