• pond surrounded by green brush, reflecting a distant range of snow-covered mountains that are dominated by one massive mountain

    Denali

    National Park & Preserve Alaska

Operating Hours & Seasons

Spring
The spring "shoulder" season in any year is dictated by weather. Road plowing will begin sometime in March, ideally offering access by private vehicle into the park by mid April. Contact us in late winter to learn more or follow our spring road opening updates.


Summer
Summer is the main visiting season. Summer bus service begins May 20 each year, although the entire road is not accessible by bus until June 8. Shuttle buses operate through the second Thursday after Labor Day each year. Thus, shuttle bus service ends:

September 11, 2014
September 17, 2015
September 15, 2016, etc.

Most summer visitor services and activities are available between late May and early September. During this time, the park's main visitor center is open daily, 8 am - 6 pm.


Fall
The annual Road Lottery event always occurs after shuttle buses conclude. Reference the above shuttle season end dates to calculate lottery dates for the next few years. Applications to the lottery are accepted in the month of June each year, for that season's lottery.

The fall season, when all private vehicles may drive up to 30 miles into the park - weather permitting - begins after the Denali Road Lottery each year. The fall driving season will last until snow closes the road. It is always a good idea to contact us in fall to get an update on conditions before traveling to the park.


Winter
Once significant snow falls, the road may frequently close at Mile 3, Park Headquarters. The first snow may fall in July or August, but true winter doesn't set in until September or October. At that point, winter activities become possible, like skiing or dog mushing. The winter visitor center is open daily, except major holidays, 9 am - 4 pm.

Starting in February, 2014, the park will begin a test period of plowing the Denali Park Road as far as Mile 12.5, the Mountain Vista Rest Area. This is a beautiful spot, with views of Mount McKinley during clear weather; but beware that rapid changes in weather can result in temporary closures at Park Headquarters.
 

Deciding When to Visit

Denali is a land of extremes. Winters can be harsh, though starkly beautiful. Summers are short, packed full of intense activity for animals and humans alike. Spring is so brief that a matter of days can be the difference between hillsides looking drab and brown versus verdant and green. Fall is equally brief, with tundra plants changing from green to brilliant reds and oranges, and then fading back to brown a week later.

Whether you plan to visit in summer, winter or the "shoulder seasons" between the two, there are many adventures to be had here.

For a visitor to Denali, the summer is when most services and activities are possible, and is when access into the park is easiest. The "core" season runs June 8 - mid-September each year, with some bus options available both before and after those dates. Mid-June to mid-August also sees the largest number of visitors to the park. Look a few paragraphs above for the precise end dates in September for shuttle bus service.

Expect the land to turn from brown to green in just a few days, at the end of May or beginning of June - depending on how mild the weather is. Wildflowers begin to bloom in early June, and can be seen until late July. Most flowers have gone to seed by early August, making way for a variety of berries and fall colors. By early August, tundra plants at high elevation will change color first; brilliant reds, oranges and yellows march downhill into the valleys, where trees change color in turn by early September. By then, the mountains will be brown again, if not blanketed in fresh white snow.

Animals are at their most active and visible from May to September, as they squeeze in as much living (and eating) as they can before the onset of another cold winter. Mosquitoes, too, are active in early summer, although by early August they have disappeared from all but the wettest parts of the park, like Wonder Lake.

The days are also at their longest in summer, with the solstice in late June offering over 20 hours of daylight. The summer sun provides so much light, the Aurora Borealis is unlikely to be seen until late August. As daylight hours rapidly decrease in the fall, however, chances of seeing the Northern Lights increase.

While snow can fall even in summer, snow that arrives in September tends to stay rather than melt away. Winter announces its arrival not just with snow, but with extreme temperatures and ever-less sunlight. Access into the park and services offered are limited between late September and late April, though self-sufficient folks will find plenty to do in winter. Temperatures can be well below 0 F by November, and on the winter solstice - just before Christmas - Denali receives less than 5 hours of true daylight.

Did You Know?

Image of fossilized, three-toed dinosaur print

In the summer of 2005 a footprint of a dinosaur was found in Denali National Park. The print has been identified as belonging to a three toed foot of a Cretaceous Theropod.