Planning to go to Denali National Park but just realized the park road is closed after mile 43? Here are some ideas for how to still make the most of your trip!
Well, it’s official.
As of summer 2021, Denali Park Road, the 92-mile main route within the national park, is partly closed due to a landslide. And the planned repairs are going to take a little while.
The good news is, the first 43 miles of the road remain open during the summer season! So if you’re planning a trip any time soon, you can still find things to do in Denali. Just know that you might have to adjust your itinerary a bit!
Be sure to check out the National Park’s Service’s Denali page for the latest updates.
Here are our top 10 picks for activities to check out around Denali National Park, even while the road is closed.
1. Hike a Backcountry Unit
It’s true, some of the backcountry units aren’t easily accessible while the road is closed. But a number of them still are!
On the backcountry unit map from the National Park Service, you’ll want to focus on units to the east of East Fork River Bridge (mile 43), which is the point at which bus service currently stops on Denali Park Road.
East Fork River Bridge is not always labeled on maps, so know that Unit 31 and Unit 8 can both be accessed from there, and are therefore the farthest west units from which you can begin a hike at this time.
Need to learn about backcountry permits? Check out our guide to backpacking in Denali.
Be sure to get the right gear for your hiking trip! The Deuter Aircontact Lite Backpacking Pack, Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket, Sawyer mini water filter, and the Marmot mummy sleeping bag are all solid choices for this park.
2. Take a Photography Excursion
Chase the perfect lighting and angles with a skilled photographer guiding you along the edge of Denali National Park.
Denali Photo Guides offer small group excursions (a maximum of four people). They welcome photographers of all skill levels, even if your smartphone is the only camera you bring!
A guide will meet you at Denali area hotels and drive to some of the best locations for landscape photography.
The small-size groups ensure that you’ll have as much individualized instruction as you need along the way. Tours last a little over three hours.
3. Go Whitewater Rafting
The Nenana River, along the east side of Denali National Park, has rapids from Class I to Class IV, so anyone from beginner to expert can find a tour to suit them!
4. Take a “Flightseeing” Tour
This is one of those bucket-list type activities. Imagine yourself high over the mountains and glaciers, awestruck at the fearsome beauty stretching out before you.
Tours take off from the Healy River or Talkeetna Airport. With many of them, you also have the option of landing on a glacier for a quick excursion outside.
5. Take a Discovery Hike
While you can certainly chart your own course in Denali in a backcountry unit, some hikers might want a bit more guidance. After all, navigating unmarked terrain can be daunting!
That’s where the Denali rangers come in. They offer Discovery Hikes (“disco hikes” for short) every day during the summer. The hikes can last several hours, and include a bus ride out and back.
The disco hikes are different every day. When you sign up for one at the Visitor Center, you can ask the ranger for details about where the hikes are likely to go in the next few days.
Disco hikes have an element of security to them since you’re with a ranger, but they can still be extremely challenging experiences. Preparation is a must! The rangers will help you determine if you have everything you need before setting off.
6. Go Ziplining
Denali Park Zipline offers a three-hour tour near the park entrance. It includes multiple ziplines, sky bridges, and a tundra hike.
You’re surrounded by the national park on three sides during this tour, with views of the Alaska Range along the way!
A couple of hours south of the park, Denali Zipline Tours at Talkeetna will take you on a canopy tour through the forest. Viewing platforms let you stop and enjoy the sight of Denali and the other mountains in the distance.
7. Take a Bus Tour
Want a little rest from hiking for a day? Taking a scenic bus tour is one of the things to do in Denali.
Running from mid-May to mid-September, these bus tours take around five hours, with multiple stops where you can get out along the way. You’ll learn about the history and geology of Denali and likely be able to observe some wildlife!
The Tundra Wilderness Tour and the Denali Natural History Tour travel the section of the park road that is still open.
You can book your tour tickets online.
8. Watch a Sled Dog Demonstration
Every day from mid-May to mid-September there are free 30-minute sled dog demonstrations at the Denali National Park Kennels.
The Alaskan husky sled dogs work at the park throughout the winter. They help rangers navigate the trails and check on visitors.
Parking is limited at the kennels, but a bus will bring you over from the Denali Visitor Center. Or you can hike about a mile and a half uphill from the visitor center.
You can visit the kennels even when there’s not a demonstration if you just want to see the dogs and talk to the rangers!
9. Ride the Denali Star Train
Are you starting your Denali trip by flying into Anchorage or Fairbanks? If you’re interested in taking in the Alaskan scenery by rail, here’s your chance!
Alaska Railroad’s Denali Star Train transports passengers from either Anchorage or Fairbanks to the national park, departing most mornings from mid-May through mid-September.
The train includes a dining car, large windows for sightseeing, and even a glass dome car for 360-degree views! On a clear day, Denali itself should be visible.
10. Check Out Talkeetna
As mentioned above, Talkeetna is a couple of hours south of the Denali park entrance, but you can get a great panoramic view of the mountain from numerous vantage points in town (if the weather cooperates).
Talkeetna is a historic village that really leans into its gold-mining, railroad-building, sourdough-making past.
You can stroll through town and check out restaurants, shops, a couple of museums, and the riverfront park.
Plus, there are lots of opportunities for booking outdoor excursions from here.
Have you been to Denali? Let us know in the comments what your favorite experiences were!