7 Adventurous Things to Do in Denali

Mt. McKinley- Alaska
Enn Li  Photography / Getty Images

Alaska has a whopping eight national parks, and Denali National Park and Preserve, with its six million acres of pure wilderness, is one of the most stunning in all of America. The Alaska Range, created by tectonic forces, form the jagged spine of the park and in the center sits Denali peak, once called Mount McKinley, which rises to 20,310-feet above sea level. Travelers can explore diverse terrain comprised of vast tundra, flat and frozen, as well as spruce forests, low-elevation swampy taiga woods, and glaciers. The big five—grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolves, and mountain sheep—make their home here and only one snaking road, with one single entrance, cuts through the park. Adventures abound in Denali, and below are several things to do while in Alaska's bush country and beyond. 

01 of 07

Stay at an Authentic Lodge

Talkeetna Mountains

 

Getty/Greg Hensel

Begin your adventure on the last frontier by flying in to Anchorage and then taking the Alaska Railroad to Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge (by car, the lodge is 115 miles from Anchorage). Talkeetna, your home base for a night or two, sits on the south side of Denali and offers guests awe-inspiring views of Denali and the Alaska Range. The lodge is loaded with local village art, and the 46-foot natural river rock fireplace is the perfect spot to sip a glass of wine at the end of a full day. While at the lodge, a complimentary shuttle can transport guests to/from downtown for further exploring. 

02 of 07

Shop in a Small Town

Talkeetna Town

 Getty/Greg Hensel

At the base of Denali peak sits one of the most charming towns in Alaska. Talkeetna is known for being the basecamp for Denali adventures. Stroll through Village Park, down Main Street, and along Talkeetna River; shop for local art or handmade goods and—in the summer—enjoy round-the-clock sunshine. Once in a Blue Moose, Talkeetna Gifts and Collectibles and The Mountain Gift Shop are all worth visiting. Make time for the Talkeetna Historical Society and Denali Images Art Gallery. When you’ve had your fill, and you’ve worked up an appetite, pop into Flying Squirrel Bakery & Café. Or, take a brewery tour and toss back a pint at Denali Brewing Co. 

03 of 07

Get Wet on a Rafting Trip

Denali Raft Adventures

 Denali Raft Adventures, Alaska

Fish for Rainbow Trout or Salmon with Brewer’s Fly Fishing Tours—you’ll want to go with a pro since they’ll know where to go. Fishing in parts of Denali National Park isn’t great due to glacial silt and poor habitat. Take a kayak out on the water with Denali Southside River Guides. You’ll love exploring the peaceful Alaskan wilderness, surrounded by glassy water. And, if you want a more thrilling adventure, go on a river rafting trip with Nova River Runners. Denali Raft Adventures, another great outfit, will take you down Denali’s Nenana River in Denali National Park on a two-hour Canyon Run rafting experience. 

04 of 07

Go On a Wildlife Safari

Denali Back Country Adventure, Pursuit

Denali Backcountry Adventure, Pursuit, Alaska Collection

 

Take advantage of Denali Backcountry Adventure’s full-day wildlife safari, an adventure you can arrange through Pursuit—you won’t regret it, we promise. You’ll pass Toklat, Polychrome Pass and the Eielson Visitors Center on your way to the end of Denali road, where access is limited and restricted. Your onboard guide will inform you about what you’re seeing and why preservation is so important. Take photographs, spot wildlife rustling off in the distance, try your luck at panning for gold and breathe the fresh air. You’ll end the tour at Denali Backcountry Lodge, all-inclusive cabins set along a river in the historic Kantishna settlement, and have an experience like no other. 

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05 of 07

See Denali from the Air

Chieftain-approaching-Denali, Denali Air

 Chieftain Approaching Denali, Denali Air

Book an Alaska Collection tour and experience a 200-mile Denali Peak Experience Flight, which will get you within one-half mile of Denali. Denali Air will fly you over timeworn canyons, with views of the Alaska Range, en route to see the highest point in North America. You’ll see firsthand why Denali is called “The Great One” on this aerial tour of Denali National Park. 

06 of 07

See Alaska via Rail

Alaska Railroad

Getty/A&J Fotos 

Go on a six-day, five-night Alaska Railroad adventure of a lifetime with Pursuit, a tour company that takes you deep into Alaska to see the interior region of America’s 49th state. You’ll board in Fairbanks, travel through Denali National Park, and experience Anchorage, Alaska’s most populous city. Perfect for traveling with a multi-generational family, this tour is narrated by informative guides and is a comfortable way to see some of the wildest landscapes in Alaska. Go on a guided hiking excursion, visit an Alaskan homestead, pan for gold, and even indulge in a yoga session in Denali National Park. 

07 of 07

Hike with a Ranger

Denali National Park

 Getty/Jeff Schultz / Design Pics

The National Park Service offers guided hiking experiences for travelers during the summer months. You’ll learn about the park through the expert-led two-hour Morning Nature Walk, which begins at the Denali Visitor Center at 9:30 a.m., June 1 through Sept. 12. For about three miles, you’ll explore various ecosystems and learn about animal habitats.

The Eielson Stroll, offered June through mid-September, is another great ranger-led hike, which begins at Noon each day and lasts for about 45 minutes. This hike is easier and shorter at about a half mile.

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