Photo: Attilio Pregnolato/Shutterstock

8 Incredible Outdoor Adventures for Your Trip to Denali National Park

Alaska Denali National Park National Parks
by Lily Pinchoff May 23, 2017

Denali National Park is the third largest National Park in the United States, encompassing 6 million acres of wilderness. Park rangers and the National Park Service website are great ways to find the trekking and/or backcountry backpacking option best fit for you. But for those seeking a different way to experience what Denali has to offer, here are some worthwhile alternatives located near the park entrance.

1. Get out on the water.

Photo: Stan Reese/Shutterstock

The Nenana River has half day and full day options for every level of water play, available rain or shine. If you’re around at the end of August, be sure to check out the water races at the annual Denali Wildwater and Blueberry Festival (details for the 2017 event have not yet been released, but check Facebook for updates).

Recommended: Denali Outdoor Center
Price: Prices range from $94/adult and $74/youth for the “Canyon Run,” to $187/adult and $167/youth for a full-day adventure, and includes free shuttle service from local lodging.
Hours of operation: Mid-May through September 15th, with up to 8 daily departures peak season.

Zip through the treetops.

The Denali Park zipline tour will take you through the boreal forest with guides who are knowledgeable about the area. You’ll get great views of the Alaska Range. The impressive course includes 6 sky bridges and 7 lines, including a final “racer” set-up, where you can race an opponent on parallel ziplines.

Recommended: Denali Park Zipline
Price: $139/adult and $99/youth for the tour (3 hours total) and free shuttle service from local lodging.
Hour of operation: May 25th through September 10th, with up to 10 daily departures peak season.

3. Fly high above.

Photo: worldclassphoto/Shutterstock

Seeing Denali from the air is not cheap, but it’s a spectacular way to see parts of the park and the surrounding area that would be otherwise inaccessible. There is one helicopter operation and a few fixed-wing options that offer tours ranging from plain flightseeing to heli-hiking — get dropped off on the tundra with a naturalist guide for a unique backcountry hiking experience (for all fitness levels), to glacier landings, to summit flights.

Recommended (helicopters): Era Helicopters
Price: Prices range from $249/person for the Denali Tundra Express, to $750/person for the customized Denali Pinnacle Experience that includes two landings (glacier or otherwise) of your choice.
Hours of operation: May 15th through September 15th, with multiple daily departures subject to weather and/or passenger minimums.

Recommended (airplanes): Denali Air and Fly Denali
Price: Prices range from $315/person for 45 minutes of flight time over the park, to $524/person for glacier landings.
Hours of operation: May 10th through September 15th, with multiple daily departures subject to weather and/or passenger minimums.

4. Dirty yourself up off-road.

For those that don’t mind mud and a bumpy ride, ATV tours are an easy exciting way to get off the road and into the Denali wilderness. Guided tours are available with different vehicle options, from single-rider 4-wheelers, to side by side ATVs complete with a roof and windshield that can hold up to 6 riders. Keep your eyes peeled for moose and other animals!

Recommended: Denali ATV Tours
Price: Wide range of prices and options depending on vehicle and tour. For their most popular tour, the 2.5-hour Denali Wilderness Adventure, a single-rider ATV runs $115/person, while the 4-6 rider side by side is $315/vehicle.
Discounted combos with other local activities, such as ziplining and rafting, are also available through their site.
Hours of operation: May 19th through September 10th, with multiple daily departures.

5. Get out on the water — in a packraft.

While most people know about whitewater rafting, many are unfamiliar with packrafting. Packrafts are small inflatable boats which fold up into a backpack-like form, with half a paddle sticking up out of either side so that adventurers can hike into a suitable location before inflating their boats and getting on the water. Denali’s rivers offer prime packrafting tour options for beginners and experts alike.

Recommended: Denali Backcountry Guides
Price: Day trips run $350/person with packrafts, drysuits, and snacks included, and a two-person minimum/4-person maximum per trip. The two-night/three-day Maclaren Packraft Trip option costs $4,000 for up to four people.
Hours of operation: Day trips generally run from 9 AM to 5 PM. Inquire about existing trip dates or make a new reservation through their website or by phone.

6. Hang out with Denali’s cutest fuzzy rangers.

Photo: Jay Yuan/Shutterstock

Denali National Park is the only US national park that keeps sled dogs. They are an important part of the park’s history and an invaluable resource. Rangers patrol the park by dogsled in the winter, to access seasonally hard-to-reach places. The kennels are located 3 miles inside the park and are open year-round to visitors. In the summertime, daily demonstrations give people the opportunity to tour the kennels and meet the pups. Tip: the Denali Sled Dog Kennels sometimes have older huskies looking for adoption.

Recommended: Denali Sled Dog Kennels
Price: Free with park entry
Hours of operation: The kennels can be visited year-round from 8 AM to 5 PM, although in winter many dogs may be out running in the park. In the summer, June 1st until September 1st, there are three daily demonstrations at 10 AM, 2 PM, and 4 PM, with free shuttle service from the Denali Visitor Center departing 40 minutes before each demonstration. Plan on taking a shuttle or walking the 1.5 miles from the visitor center, as there is no parking by the kennels. Leave your pet behind. They are not allowed by or in the kennels.

7. Pedal your way to the views.

Photo: Image Source Trading Ltd/Shutterstock

Bring a bike, rent one, or buy a guided tour — bicycles are a great way to get around Denali. Cruise up the park road (there are special shuttles equipped with bike racks if you want to explore deeper into the park), or head out on the Denali Highway, located about 27 miles south of the park entrance, for views of the snowy peaks of the Alaska Range and the Talkeetna Mountains. Keep an eye out for the up and coming Midnight Sun Bike Club (no Facebook page yet, but expect one soon) that will be hosting community rides for the first time this summer.

Recommended: Denali Outdoor Center
Prices: Rental rates are $25/half-day, $40/day, or $35/multi-day. Guided 2.5-hour tours run $57/adult or $47/youth, and have a 3-rider minimum.
Hours of operation: Mid-May through September 15th. Rentals available daily, contact for tour scheduling.

8. Finish off your adventure-filled day with a well-earned beer.

Excellent craft beer (try the Solstice IPA) and delicious food (crab-stuffed jalapeño poppers) await you at the original 49th State Brewing Co. in Healy, a fifteen-minute drive from the park entrance. Take a picture in front of the replica of Chris McCandless’ “Magic Bus,” used in the movie Into the Wild, which presides over the outdoor area in front of the brewery. (And, to read about McCandless’ deep and tragic immersion into this wild country, read Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.) The stage directly beside the bus is a popular spot for live music throughout the summer.

Discover Matador