Discovery Hikes are a great way for the adventurous and well-prepared to explore the heart of Denali.
These ranger-led hikes travel everywhere, so expect uneven terrain, small stream crossings, close encounters with dense vegetation and unpredictable weather. Along the way, you can engage the park with all your senses and build memories of this special kind of "walk in the park."
How to Sign Up for a Hike
You may sign up for a hike one to two days in advance, and you can only sign up in person at the Denali Visitor Center. All members of your party must be present during the sign-up process in order to claim a spot. There are no exceptions to this rule. For safety concerns, rangers may turn away unprepared hikers. Unfortunately, if the hike fills up, there is no way to be placed on a waiting list or to ride "stand-by". However, rangers at the Denali Visitor Center will be happy to discuss alternative options for exploring Denali's trail-less wilderness areas without a ranger.
All disco hikes begin with a bus ride into the park, originating from the entrance area between 8 and 8:30am (exact location and meeting time will depend on hike location). Most hikes require the purchase of a bus ticket (same cost as an Eielson-bound transit bus). Plan on a bus ride lasting anywhere from one to four hours, to hike for three to five hours, and then a similar-length bus ride back to the park entrance.You should be prepared to return to the entrance area as late at 7pm.
Please read our preparation guide, below, for more details on how to ready yourself for this special experience.
Where You'll Go
All disco hikes begin with a bus ride into the park, originating from the Wilderness Access Center. Plan on a bus ride lasting anywhere from one to four hours, to hike for three to five hours, and then a similar-length bus ride back to the park entrance. The disco bus leaves at 8 am every morning.
These ranger-led adventures vary from moderate (elevation gain less than 1,000 feet) to strenuous (elevation gain more than 1,000 feet, or will involve large river crossings). They may start from just about anywhere on the Park Road, which is why the bus ride has such a wide range of duration (i.e., the closer to the park entrance your hike begins, the shorter your bus ride will be).
Hikes begin on June 8 each year. One to two occur each day thereafter, until they end in early September.
Locations are typically indicated by what mile they begin on the Denali Park Road. The entrance is 0, the western end of the road is 92, so if a hike begins at Mile 45, you can expect to ride a bus about half the length of the park road before disembarking and starting your hike. You may wish to refer to the park map. You'll use a special bus (the "disco hike" bus) to get to your hiking location, so don't worry about reserving bus tickets before you sign up for a hike. (If you do wish to reserve transit bus tickets in advance, and then decide to sign up for a discovery hike once you are here, you can exchange your pre-paid transit tickets for "disco bus" tickets).
Details of upcoming hikes can be found at the visitor center, where you must sign up. Details will include the approximate duration, distance, difficulty, etc.
How to Prepare for a Discovery Hike
Bring layers for changing conditions
Any day of the summer could be sunny, rainy, sleeting, or snowy. As you travel farther west, the elevation increases. While it might be beautiful at the park entrance, it might be much cooler and windier farther out the Denali Park Road. Bring layers to respond to changing conditions. A waterproof jacket is required, and rain pants are always a good idea because you may be walking through wet vegetation that will soak your clothes even when it is not raining. Wear fleece, polypropylene, synthetic or wool under-layers to wick away moisture from your skin, and continue to insulate even when wet. Avoid wearing jeans, or other cotton layers, since cotton tends to stay wet and has little insulating value.
Wear appropriate footwear
Supportive hiking boots with rugged tread and ankle support are strongly recommended for hiking off-trail because the uneven terrain places more strain on your feet and ankles than hiking on a trail. Low top hikers or running shoes with good tread are acceptable, but not ideal. No sandals or open-toed shoes allowed. Keep in mind that even if the hike is not planning on crossing a river, you are likely to have wet feet by the end of the hike - consider bringing an extra pair of socks or lightweight shoes for the bus ride home.
Start hydrated, stay hydrated
Being properly hydrated will help your body adjust to changes in altitude, temperature, and exertion. Although it may be raining, Denali’s climate is quite dry. As you sweat, you will need to replenish the fluid in your body. Start your day well-hydrated and bring at least two liters of water per person. Bring all the water you may need with you. There are few or no sources of potable water available beyond the park entrance area. Surface water from streams and lakes should be both filtered and disinfected prior to human consumption.
Difficulty ratingsWe describe discovery hikes as being 'moderate' or 'strenuous' in difficulty. These are a little subjective, but here are some general measurements for each:
Gear ChecklistEssential items:
Common termsWhen you speak with a ranger about signing up for a Discovery Hike, expect to hear some of these terms:
Discovery Hikes occur from early June to early September, so prepare for spring, summer or fall weather, depending on when you will be visiting.
Summer is typically cool and wet, with highs typically in the upper 50s to low 60s, and lows in the 40s. On occasion, summer highs reach the low 80s, though this is rare. Snow can fall any month of the year, so be prepared for chilly weather even in summer. Fall colors emerge on the alpine tundra in August and in the low valleys in early September. Winter generally starts in mid-September, with temps often getting down to -40 by January. Spring is a short season in April / May, with highs above freezing.
Last updated: March 14, 2019