hiking Denali National Park- Horse Lake Trail

Best Hikes in Denali National Park

Are you looking to visit Denali National Park?  Awesome! We just went and I am so excited to share all the best hikes in Denali National Park as well as the best tips to plan your trip. 

Denali National Park is one of eight National Parks in Alaska.  It is largely untouched by humans besides one road that leads into the park.  

We will primarily focus on the first 15 miles of Denali National Park because that is the area that is accessible by car. We will also give you tips and tricks so you can plan a trip to Denali National Park.

Let’s explore all of the best hikes in Denali National Park! 

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Where is Denali National Park?

map of Anchorage to Denali National Park
Map of Fairbanks to Denali National Park

Denali National Park is located about 2 hours away from Fairbanks.  You can rent a car, rent an RV, take a shuttle, or enjoy a relaxing train ride to Denali National Park.  

Anchorage, Alaska is about 4 hours away from Denali National Park.  The best way to get to Denali is to drive, or take the train.

Visit Denali National Park

Denali National Park in Alaska

I always find myself asking a few questions before I plan any trip.  I will try to help you answer some of the questions that I had, so you can plan a trip to Denali National Park. 

When is the Best Time to Visit Denali National Park?

June – August is the peak season.

We went in June and the weather was perfect for hiking.  We also had the midnight sun on our side.

May – September is the cruising season.   Many cruisers take time before or after their cruises to explore Denali National Park. May and September are less busy and some discounts and lower prices for hotels can be found.

How Many Days Do You Need at Denali National Park? 

1-3 days

If you decide you only want to explore the first 15 miles of the park you can hike most of the marked trails in one day.  I would allow myself 2 days if you decide to book a bus tour deep into Denali.  3 days would be ideal for those who want to take it easy and hike a little each day.  

Can You Drive through Denali National Park?

Yes.  There is only one road that goes through Denali National Park.  Cars are allowed to drive until mile 15.  After mile 15 only bus tours are allowed.  However, permits for cars can be obtained but are very hard to get.

Normally, there is a shuttle bus that runs to the different Denali hiking trails within the first 15 miles. However, when we went the shuttles were not running.  We drove to the designated parking lots and did not have any trouble accessing the hiking trails. 

What is the Best Way to See Denali National Park?

A bus tour is the best way to see Denali National Park.  There are typically many options for bus tours.  When we went there was only one 8 hour option. (Our kids would have died) so we decided to just drive the first 15 miles and do everything we could.  

The bus tour takes you down the 92-mile road deep into the backcountry of Denali National Park.  You can observe wildlife and hit some of the best hikes in Denali that are only accessible by bus.  

Do I Have to Book a Bus Tour to Enjoy Denali National Park?

No, we decided just to explore the first 15 miles of the park.  There is plenty to see and things to do in Denali.  If you are short on time or like us do not think your kids will survive 8 hours on a bus, you can still have a wonderful time at Denali National Park. 

Is Denali National Park Dangerous?

I did not feel in danger when I visited Denali National Park.  We stuck to the trails and made sure to have bear spray.  The park rangers will let you know if bears or other wildlife are in a certain area so you can be prepared.  

How Much is Admission to Denali National Park? 

Unlike most national parks, Denali does not have a “price per car” entrance fee.  Admission is $15 per person (children 15 and under are free) The America the Beautiful pass is accepted.  

Do you Need A Reservation for Denali National Park?

Yes and No.  If you want to go on a bus tour make your reservation well in advance. If you plan to just tour the first 15 miles you are good to just show up.

Hopefully, this helps you plan a trip to Denali National Park, let’s learn a little more!

Facts about Denali National Park

Facts about Denali National Park

Denali National Park is larger than the state of New Jersey. It consists of  6.1 million acres of land.  It is known for its vast wilderness and wildlife.  

Mt. Denali is hard to see from Denali National Park.  Unless you have a clear day without a cloud in the sky, you probably won’t see it.  Denali is the highest mountain in North America.

There is only one road that goes through Denali National Park.

There are two visitor centers; one is located by the entrance of the park, the other is only accessible by bus and is located at mile 66. 

Accommodations for Denali National Park

Camping at Denali National Park

One of the first things you will want to do when planning a trip to Denali National Park is find lodging.  There is some great lodging near Denali National Park. 

We booked early and felt very lucky to find a fantastic cabin that could fit our family of 6.  If you have a smaller group you should still book early but will most likely be able to find great accommodations nearby.  

Princess Cruise Lines

Princess Cruise lines has some amazing properties near Denali National Park.  They offer land excursions which include lodging at their Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge.

Denali National Park Lodges

There are many locally owned lodges surrounding Denali National Park.  They are a little tricky to find online but hotels.com actually has a lot more options than other search engines. 

Cabins in Denali

If you are looking for Cabins there are quite a few options as well. We were able to find the McKinley Creekside Cabins.  They were perfect. The cabins were able to accommodate a family of 6.  We thought they were clean and the area was fabulous.  

They also have bigger vacation homes available.  

Camping at Denali National Park 

During the summer the weather is perfect to plan a camping trip.  Denali offers a variety of camping sites.  They also have RV sites. We seriously considered renting an RV.  They include:

Campgrounds in Denali National Park

  • Riley Creek Campground
  • Savage River Campground
  • Teklanika River Campground
  • Wonder Lake Campground
  • Sanctuary River Campground
  • Igloo Campground

Riley is the most popular campground in Denali. 

Campgrounds near Denali National Park

  • Denali RV Park
  • Brushkana Campground
  • Dispersed Camping along the Denali Highway
  • Cantwell RV Park
  • Midnight Sun RV & Campground

Planning ahead is important during peak season.  

Denali Bus Tour

Bus Stop at Denali National Park

Finding the correct information about Denali bus tours was not easy.  Hopefully, I can lay it out so you know exactly if or which Denali bus tour you would like to go on. 

There are transit buses that do not offer a guide or narrative; these buses are cheaper and will allow you to go past mile 15. 

You can also book a tour bus which will come with a tour guide. They are more expensive. The following are offered through a third party site that is recommended by Denali National Park.  

Tour NameDatesAdults Children
Natural History TourUnavailable for 2021$101.75$43.50
Tundra Wilderness TourMay – September$162.50$73.75
Kantishna ExperienceUnavailable for 2021$240.75$113

Things to Do in Denali & Best Hikes in Denali

Denali National Park hike

Hiking in Denali National Park is one of the best things to do in Denali.   Denali National Park is beautiful and there are many hikes to explore. We will explore these hikes in detail below. 

Ranger Led Hikes

Park Ranger at Denali National Park

At the Denali Visitor Center, there are park rangers who will take you on a free guided tour.  This hike is a short walk through the woods behind the visitor center.  We really enjoyed learning from the park ranger. 

Some of the things we found interesting is that there are no poisonous bugs or snakes in Alaska.   Also, we were able to walk off the path and it was unlike anything we had ever felt before.  The ground of the forest is spongy. 

This was one of the best hikes in Denali for kids!  It is interactive and entertaining.  

Dog Sled Team

Dog Sled Team at Denali National Park

One awesome thing to do in Denali is checking out the Dog Sled team.  This is a functional dog team that provides transportation to the backcountry of Denali.  You can drive to the kennel and pet the dogs.  There is also a little museum to check out.  

Our kids loved seeing the dogs and learning their names.  The park rangers walk the dogs along the road at Denali National Park. 

There is a short hike to see the dogs. I wouldn’t say it was the best hike in Denali but it is a good walk from the parking lot to the dogs.  And in the end, it is worth it because you get to see the dogs.

Become a Junior Ranger 

Denali National Park Junior Ranger Program

One of our favorite things to do at all National Parks is to participate in the Junior Ranger Program.  These programs help kids enjoy and learn to love the outdoors.  Denali National Park has a fun book that kids can complete and return to the park ranger.  They then will receive a badge.  This is a great souvenir.

Hiking in Denali with Kids

As you are journeying on some of the best hikes in Denali it helps keep the kids distracted, which if you have children you know is important when you are hiking all day! The kids don’t complain because they are engaged with the book! 

Hiking in Denali National Park - First 15 miles

hiking at Denali National Park

There are actually not many marked trails in Denali.  Denali National Park is a place where you can explore the wilderness and a part of that is going off-trail.  However, I am not an adventurous hiker.  I much prefer a marked trail. 

The following hikes are located within the first 15 miles of the park. This allows you to drive to the designated parking lots or to take the free shuttle. (the shuttle wasn’t running because of Covid when we went) 

Savage River Loop Trail

Savage River Loop Trail at Denali National Park 

Miles: 2 miles round trip

Difficulty: Easy

Located: Mile 15


This hike is located at mile 15 which means that anything beyond this point is not accessible by car.  There is a parking lot available at the trailhead. 

We thought the hike was pretty easy.  It is a nice walk down the river.  As you approach a mile, there is a bridge that will allow you to walk on the opposite bank of the river for your return trip.  The total hike takes about 60 – 90 minutes depending on how slow or fast you move. 

This is one of the best hikes in Denali National Park that we did! 

Savage Alpine Trail

Hiking at Denali National Park

Miles: 4 miles one way

Difficulty: Hard

Located:  Mile 14


This hike connects the Savage River and the Mountain Vista area.  There are parking lots located on both sides of the hike.  

We did not complete the entire hike but walked down the path a little ways and decided to just drive to the Mountain Vista area.  It would probably take around 3 hours to hike one way.  The Mountain Vista area has some fun hikes so we thought it best not to be tired before we arrived. 

Mountain Vista Trail

Hiking at Denali National Park

Miles: .6 miles round trip

Difficulty: Easy

Located: Mile 13


The parking lot and rest area are at mile 13.  The trailhead begins at the parking lot.  This is the best area to see Mt. Denali. It has to be a very clear day to get a good view.  This trail is a circular path. There are signs located along the path with some historical insight into the area.  You can also veer off the path and explore a little more.  

This is a great short hike but also a great area to have a picnic and rest.  This is the best hike in Denali National Park to view Denali (if she lets you see her.)

Horseshoe Lake Trail

Horse Shoe Lake Trail at Denali National Park

Miles: 2 miles round trip

Difficulty: Moderate

Located:  At Railroad Track a few miles from the entrance


This hike is located at the front of Denali National Park. (before you even get to the visitor center)  This was the best hike in Denali National Park that we did.  It was beautiful.  

Horseshoe Lake Trail is a popular trail for a reason.  The scenery is unbelievable.  

Once you arrive at the lake you can decide if you would like to continue on to the beaver dam.  It is well worth it to hike a little farther to get a few! 

Beaver Dam Horse Shoe Lake Trail at Denali National Park

I had never seen anything quite like this beaver dam.  It was huge! I’m so glad we decided to check it out.  

Taiga and Mount Healy Overlook Trail

Hiking at Denali National Park

Miles: 2.7 miles one way

Difficulty: Hard

Located: Two access points; one by the visitor center and one by the railroad tracks.  If you go to the railroad tracks you will be on the Taiga Trail and then switch to the Mount Healy Overlook Trail.


Access to this hike is near the railroad tracks. (Before you get to the visitor center)  There is a small parking lot located just off the side of the road.

This is a steep uphill climb through the forest.  It is another great place to see Mt. Denali. However, you can only see Mt. Denali if the sky is clear. 

This was the first hike we went on.  I think we were really excited to be hiking in Denali so we enjoyed it!

Hiking in Denali National Park - BackCountry

Denali National Park

If you want to explore the backcountry of Denali you will have to reserve a bus ticket.  There are only a few marked hikes beyond mile 15.  

Eielson Visitor Center

These hikes are only open June 1 – mid -September 

Located: Mile 66

Trails Located Nearby:

Tundra Loop: Short hike around visitor center .5 miles

Thorofare Ridge Trail:  It is about a 1-mile steep incline of 1000.  Very impressive views.  

Gorge Creek Trail:  This is the main trail you will want to access if you plan to do backcountry hiking.  There is a river crossing if you plan to do a long day hike or overnight camping trip.  

Wonder Lake Trail

Open June 8 – Mid September

Located: Mile 85

McKinley River Bar Trail:  This hike is about 2 miles but is plagued with mosquitos so if you do want to attempt it bring a head net. Mosquitos in Alaska are huge!

Tours in Denali National Park

Tours at Denali National Park

We tend to hike and explore on our own but there are options for guided hiking tours available.

If you are looking for adventures within the Denali area there is paddle rafting on the Nanana Gorge. (although if you go to Talkeetna the river rafting is a little less expensive, but you might not have as high-class levels)

You can also go on an ATV/Polaris ride through the backcountry of Denali.

Search For Wildlife at Denali National Park

Wildlife at Denali National Park

As I was planning my trip to Denali National Park, I read a lot of reviews about wildlife.  Some people were able to view lots of different animals.  Others didn’t see anything. 

We were lucky enough to see a moose and a calf cross the street.  It was incredible.  They are so big.  As we hiked in Denali along the trails, we did not see any wildlife.  Some of the wildlife to look for are: 

  • Moose
  • Caribou
  • Dall sheep
  • Wolves
  • Grizzly bears
  • Collared pika
  • Hoary marmot
  • Red fox
  • Arctic ground squirrel
  • Snowshoe hares
  • Wolverines
  • Black bears

Gift Shop at Denali National Park

Souvenirs at Denali National Park

We love going to the gift shops at the National Parks in the USA.  I recently started collecting cute bags from each national park gift shop.  

Some things I like to purchase ahead of time such as shirts or guide books, or other practical things I can actually use within the park. 

Best Hikes in Denali National Park?

Denali National Park

Hopefully, this gives you enough information to plan a trip to Denali National Park.  We loved hiking and discovering what the best hikes in Denali National Park were.   

Denali National Park is beautiful and worth a visit!  

More Adventures in Alaska

We did an amazing road trip in Alaska.  We started with all the fun things to do in Fairbanks, including a Riverboat tour, and a trip to the North Pole to visit Santa. Then headed to Denali National Park.  We stopped in Talkeetna and took a flightseeing tour that actually landed on Mt. Denali.  We also spent some time in Anchorage.  We took a beautiful drive from Anchorage to Seward making Seward the final destination. It was incredible and we loved visiting.  We love Alaska and highly recommend planning a trip! You might enjoy this Alaska itinerary. If you need help packing for Alaska, I have you covered there as well. 

Facebook Community

If you have any questions join my Facebook Travel Community. You can ask any questions you have about upcoming trips and everyone is happy to help you plan your trip.  I also try to give exclusive travel deals that companies send me.  It is a great group to join.

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  1. We loved our visit to Denali! Stopping in to see the sled dogs was a definite highlight. We took one of the free shuttle buses through the park, and were fortunate enough to see a mother grizzly nursing her cubs close to the road from the safety of the bus!

  2. Denali National Park is gorgeous! Greatly appreciate this guide to the best hikes. Loved that pic of the beaver dam…it’s huge!

  3. Denali National Park looks amazing. These hikes look great. I look forward to do hiking them some day.

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