10 Key Ranger Tips For Visiting Denali National Park

A trip to Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska is on many people’s bucket lists for good reason: The scenery is beautiful, and it’s filled with all types of wildlife — from bears and moose to arctic ground squirrels and all-white snowshoe hares.

Now that coronavirus pandemic restrictions are easing and vaccination rates are climbing, record numbers of people are traveling to national parks. If you’re planning a trip to Denali, that presents two challenges. First, the park is enormous, which makes it difficult to determine how much of Denali you can see in a limited amount of time. Secondly, you’ll need to plan for crowds and congestion.

However, if you’re planning a trip to Denali, your work is about to get easier. That’s because “Plan Like a Park Ranger—Top 10 Tips for a Visit to Denali” was recently released by the National Park Service (NPS). 

“Denali National Park and Preserve is high on summer to-do lists and some of our offerings may be filled to capacity,” NPS explains. “However, our park rangers know that with more than six million acres, visitors have many options for a unique and unparalleled visit in the park. Planning for flexibility is the key to an amazing visit this summer.”

So, let’s get to it. Here are the top tips for visiting Denali — from the rangers who know Denali best.

1. Plan For Flexibility

Denali’s rangers explain that it’s always necessary to plan to be flexible. As they note, the weather can change in an instant or a trail may be closed because a grizzly bear has been spotted nearby. You’ll be prepared to suddenly change plans if necessary if you have learned about the park in advance, rangers explain.

You can learn about Denali as well as how to plan your trip here.

2. Check The Park’s Website Daily

Be sure to check Denali’s website often so you have the most up-to-date information. For instance, access to the park and program availability change as guidance about pandemic restrictions shifts, so you’ll need to be prepared for that. Plus, you can also see updated information about everything from weather alerts to hours of operation and road closures.

You can learn about Denali’s current conditions here.

3. Use The Midnight Sun To Your Advantage

“Sleeping in followed by a giant breakfast is a luxury on vacation. However, many find that the bright light and singing birds keep them awake,” the rangers explain. “If you’re wide awake at 4 a.m., head to the park and watch for wildlife on the quieter Park Road. How many places will allow you [to] hike in bright light at 10:30 p.m. at night? Hiking the park at that time of night can reward you with stunning views like the magical ‘Alpenglow’ on the mountains.”

4. Go Off Trail

Denali National Park and Preserve offers fantastic hiking — both on trails and off trail.

“If you’re a little nervous, pack some bear spray and consider hiking the braided creek beds,” rangers suggest. “They can be dry and full of interesting rocks and tracks. Plus, the wide-open space gives you ample opportunity to watch for wildlife coming in for a drink while still keeping your distance.”

You can find guides, maps, and even hiking tips here.

5. Forage The Park

Alaska is known for abundant berries that ripen in August and September. Indeed, you can find blueberries, cloudberries, lowbush and highbush cranberries, and even currants and raspberries in Denali.

Pro-Tip: Prime berry season is in August, but you can find overwintered cranberries in early summer. You can learn more about berry picking in Denali here.

6. Bring Binoculars Or A Spotting Scope

Denali is home to 39 species of mammals and 169 species of birds, but that doesn’t mean seeing them will necessarily be easy.

“Wildlife can be found anywhere in the park between the entrance and Savage River. A favorite activity in spring and fall is to watch Mount Margaret,” rangers explain. “Watch for small patches of snow that appear to be moving. With binoculars or a scope, you could find some Dall Sheep. This is also a great way to search for willow ptarmigan, moose, white-winged crossbills, bears, and golden eagles at a distance.”

You can learn more about wildlife at Denali as well as viewing tips here.

7. Take In The Soundscapes

“Creeks can be flowing with water, wind can wail on the tundra, and varied thrushes and Swainson’s thrushes serenade you with haunting tones among the spruces,” rangers explain. “Plus, if you find yourself within a few miles of headquarters in the evening, you have an excellent chance of hearing the eerie howls of the kennel dogs — a truly unique Denali experience. In early summer, you can also hear the ridiculous sounds of willow ptarmigan as the males display for the females.”

You can learn more about what wilderness sounds like at Denali here.

8. Bring A Bike

If you are an avid cyclist, enjoy a casual bike ride, or fall somewhere in between, you’re in luck. 

Visitors can cycle the entire 92 miles of the park road if it is open — even with an e-bike. When cycling, the rangers note that you should carry bear spray and wear a helmet.

You can learn more about everything from trip ideas and suggested itineraries to rules of the road in the park here.

Pro-Tip: Can’t take your bike to Denali? Don’t worry, there are numerous companies that offer bike rentals.

9. Engage In Citizen Science

If you enjoy birdwatching, you’re in for a special treat at Denali. There are 169 species of birds to see, and you can even assist rangers with a research project.

“We need your help! We have a couple of projects that rely on your sightings. You might notice color banded birds within the first five miles of the park road,” rangers explain. “If you find a Canada jay with color banded feet, note the colors on each foot — and report your sightings in iNaturalist.”

You can learn more about Canada jays, the Canada jay project, and how you participate in the project here.

10. Grab The App

Rangers say they love the NPS App, which provides interactive maps, tours of park places, and on-the-ground accessibility information about more than 400 national parks to make trip planning easier. The free app is available for iOS and Android devices.

Pro-Tip: The NPS App has all the information you need about visiting Denali National Park and Preserve. Plus, rangers point out that you can even download the information for Denali in advance so you can still use the app if your phone doesn’t have cellular service.

Finally, while you’re planning your trip, be sure to check out all of our Denali coverage as well as all of our Alaska coverage.

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