Denali is open year-round, though facilities and services are more limited in winter than in summer.
Summer: The Highlights
Summer: May 20 through mid-September
Summer is the main visiting season. Summer bus service begins May 20 each year, although the entire road is not open to buses until June 8. Transit buses operate through the second week after Labor Day each year. The exact day bus service ends will vary year to year. Sightseeing by bus on Denali's sole road is a major activity in summer.
Spring and Fall: The Highlights
Spring and Fall
Spring: April to May 19.
The spring season in any year is dictated by weather. We begin plowing Denali's sole road no later than March, so ideally visitors can drive up to 30 miles into the park by early / mid April. However, heavy snow can fall in April, so vehicle access in the park is variable until more reliably warm weather arrives in May. There are typically no ranger-led activities until May 15, so the main activity during an April or early May visit is sightseeing along as much of the road as weather allows you to drive.
Fall: Mid-September, until snow accumulates
The annual Road Lottery event always occurs the second weekend after Labor Day, after transit bus service ends. This is an event wherein winners of a lottery system may buy a permit to drive the entire road (if weather allows) on a specific day of that weekend. Applications to the lottery are accepted in the month of May for that fall's lottery.
Once the lottery weekend is over, it is fall in Denali. At this point, all private vehicles may once again drive up to 30 miles into the park (if weather allows). Your ability to drive 30 miles into the park will last until snow closes the road. This might occur as early as September or not until some time in October. It is always a good idea to contact us in the fall to get an update on conditions before traveling to the park. Once snow closes the park road, winter has arrived.
Winter: The Highlights
Winter: September or October through April
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 Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day).
In late winter (late February / early March), we begin plowing the Denali Park Road. Ideally, this opens the road for travelers to go as far as Mile 13, Mountain Vista Rest Area. This is a beautiful spot, with views of Denali during clear weather; but beware that rapid changes in weather can result in temporary closures at Park Headquarters (Mile 3).
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 transit 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.
Visitor Center Operating Hours and Dates
Campground Operating Hours and Seasons
Last updated: September 14, 2018