It’s true, Denali National Park really is that spectacular! By the end of this post, you will be convinced that a trip to the heart of Alaska to experience the best things to do in Denali National Park should be on your radar in the near future. If you read our recent post on the best way to take a Denali National Park tour, you will know that we took an amazing 11-hour shuttle bus tour to Wonder Lake which in itself was a life-changing experience.
It’s not every day that you have the opportunity to see the tallest peak in North America. Denali National Park is more than just the home of Mount Denali. In fact, we want to share a variety of other top things to do in Denali National Park when you next visit.
Things to Do in Denali National Park
Whether you are inspired to head out and find a wide variety of wildlife or perhaps you just want to learn about the history of this national park, Denali has it all…and more! If you appreciate the concept of an “untouched wilderness”, you are in the right place to explore the finest example around. Denali is a preserved wilderness that continues to thrive as a self-contained sub-Arctic ecosystem.
The drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park is spectacular on its own and gives you a brief insight into what to expect when you enter the park itself. However, the reality is that nothing can quite prepare you for the inherent beauty that can be found throughout this ‘untouched wilderness’.
Where else can you visit a destination and find out the best way to get around the park during the heart of winter? That’s right, Denali is the home of the dog sledding teams that perform admirable work all year round throughout the park, whether it be science/research related or on search missions to assist hikers exploring the hidden depths of the park.
Let’s take a look at five different reasons you may want to visit Denali in the near future.
Breathtaking Natural Scenery
Inevitably a trip to Denali National Park will introduce you to a plethora of breathtaking panoramic views that will leave you mesmerized at the sheer beauty in front of your eyes. Every angle offers something uniquely beautiful regardless of whether you have a fond interest in alpine scenery or perhaps spruce forestry.
It’s near impossible to take pictures that will give Denali National Park the justice it deserves but hopefully, you will be inspired enough to pay a visit for yourselves in the future.
The drive through Denali offers a wide variety of views, not only of Mount Denali which on a clear day is a spectacular sight that you won’t want to miss but also of other iconic peaks in the Alaskan range.
Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter frequently lie in the shadow of Denali but they are equally spectacular as they also tower above the Alaskan mountains. If you are more intrigued by the Arctic tundra throughout Denali, well you will have plenty of opportunities to admire this if you take a shuttle bus tour (more on that later) deep into the national park.
Major rivers such as the Toklat and Teklanika are prominent features on the scenic drive through the park and both of these offers spots to relax or take a self-guided hiking trail to explore more scenery. For the geologists out there, glacial formations such as erratics and even the glaciers themselves offer unique landscapes and different to anything you have probably experienced before.
Our final stop during our journey through the park was Wonder Lake. The lake offers a surreal and relaxing experience for visitors with Denali lurking in the background.
For those fortunate enough to head out to Wonder Lake, you are in the far reaches of the national park where visitors can head to via the shuttle buses. Take advantage of the time allocated here before you head back because this is the ultimate experience of being “lost amidst a profusion of natural beauty.”
Amazing Wildlife Encounters
If the spectacular scenery throughout Denali National Park isn’t enough, I am convinced that when you hear about the amazing wildlife encounters you can expect, you will be raring to visit as soon as possible.
Our morning drive out to Wonder Lake saw us see very little in terms of wildlife, perhaps they were all sleeping or maybe we were just out of luck. However, everyone on the bus was left a little downhearted given that a couple of distant sightings of Dall sheep towards the peaks of the surroundings mountains and a caribou was the extent of our wildlife spottings.
Surely our return trip would be better? Don’t worry, it was far better than any of us could have imagined! When you think about wildlife in Denali National Park, what springs to mind? Grizzly bears, moose, caribou etc.
Well, we saw all of that and more! We spotted seven different grizzly bears on the drive back, including a mother looking after her two cubs and this was certainly the highlight of our wildlife encounters.
An intriguing moment with this family of grizzlies and another bear in the distance caused a slight panic with everyone given that the male grizzly was clearly contemplating an attack. Fortunately, her motherly instincts took over and she ushered her cubs away to safety.
After seeing the grizzly bears in action, everything else was a bonus. A close-up and personal interaction with a caribou and moose offered an enjoyable experience but honestly, nothing could quite compare to seeing the bears wander around their natural habitat.
It’s the one animal that everyone wants to see when they visit Denali National Park, so hopefully you will be as fortunate as we were!
Dog Sledding Experiences
We arrived at Denali mid-afternoon and although our intentions were to visit the Wilderness Access Center to book our shuttle bus tour for the following day, our immediate plans changed the moment we arrived. A quick visit to the visitor center introduced us to a free demonstration of the Denali dog sledding team.
Three times daily, shuttle buses take visitors a short distance into the park to the dog kennels where you can not only interact with the huskies but also see a short demonstration of the sled dogs in action.
Arriving at the kennels, we were given ample time prior to the main show to walk around and interact with the dogs.
We were told in advance that there were different categories of dogs, some which are incredibly friendly, others that prefer to be left alone and then those that would rather spend their time being mischievous and “eating rocks” (quoting the park ranger there!).
We had a great time at the kennels but the experience of watching the dogs switch from being calm and relaxed to a boisterous bunch was unbelievable when they realized their show time was about to start.
The dogs were clearly excited to be hooked up to the sled and the park ranger shared with the audience just how much great work the dogs do out in the “wilderness” of Denali National Park.
We were given a short demo of the dogs leading a sled around a loop and then watched as the dogs were sent back to their kennels. It’s a really cool experience and definitely well worth taking some time to pay Denali kennels a visit!
Check out our video on this epic dog sledding experience in Denali National Park to well and truly fall in love with these gorgeous huskies!
Guided Bus Tours
Visiting Denali wouldn’t be the same without taking an adventurous ride on board one of the rickety looking shuttle buses to explore beyond the limits of private vehicle access.
Whether you hop on a green shuttle bus which is the cheaper option or perhaps reserve a seat on board the tan colored tour bus which offers an experience with a knowledgeable guide, it really is a no-brainer that you will want to explore one of these options.
It’s feasible that you could hop on a bicycle and head out into Denali National Park to explore or perhaps set out on foot to see where your exploring takes you, but for the majority of visitors, the guided bus tours will be the most feasible and affordable option.
We put together a detailed post on what we considered to be the best Denali National Park tour options but I think it’s going to be purely personal preference. Our visit to Wonder Lake was nothing but awesome given our experiences with wildlife that we discussed above along with the breathtaking scenery that will long live in our memories.
The only disadvantage of taking a bus tour is that you are restricted to the time of year that they run. Primarily between May and September, anything outside of this peak season would require you to have your own bicycle or two feet to get around the park.
Alaska may not be the first place you think about visiting in order to see the Northern Lights but following our experience at Denali National Park, we can attest that this SHOULD BE a place you will plan on visiting for this amazing sight.
We wrote about our experiences chasing the Aurora Borealis in Iceland courtesy of Time Tours Iceland and we had an amazing time though with the naked eye it was a little difficult to pick out this amazing phenomenon in action. However, we had no problem at all in Alaska.
We stayed overnight in the town just outside the entrance to Denali at McKinley Chalet Resort which offered a wake-up call should the ‘Northern Lights’ become active. At 1:45AM we received our call and heading outside we were literally amazed at the sight. For about the next 30 minutes we just stood there outside of our hotel and gazed into the night sky admiring the gorgeous sight of the Northern Lights performing for us.
Your camera lens will always pick up the more dramatic images that we stereotypically associate with the Northern Lights but it was nice to actually see them rather than relying solely on a piece of technology. If you are interested in experiencing the Northern Lights, you could certainly find a lot worse places than Denali National Park!
As you have probably established by now, there are plenty of things to do in Denali National Park. You can quite easily spend several days here experiencing everything this natural landscape has to offer and each visit will provide something unique in terms of your wildlife sightings and panoramic views across this idyllic wilderness.
If you are considering national parks across the United States, we can highly recommend paying Denali a visit. Alaska is a beautiful state with a plethora of other attractions but if you plan on visiting, it won’t surprise us if the majority of your time is spent enjoying this beautiful landscape.
Have you visited Denali National Park? What do you enjoy doing while visiting national parks?