Where to See and Photograph Denali and Wildlife

Denali offers a world-class setting for photography enthusiasts. From beginner to professional, photography is one way to capture the beauty and immensity of this magnificent place.

If you are involved in a commercial enterprise, please review information about our commercial filming & still photography program.

Whether you are photographing wildlife or wilderness, please be considerate—for many visitors, this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Please do not interrupt other visitors as they experience the park.
landscape of snowy mountains, with one mountain particularly huge in comparison to the ones around it
Denali and the Alaska Range, as seen from near Eielson Visitor Center (Mile 66 on the Denali Park Road)

NPS Photo / Emily Mesner


Where to See and Photograph Denali

Standing head and shoulders above the crowd, "the Mountain" dominates the landscape of central Alaska. On clear days, it can be seen from as far away as Anchorage and Fairbanks. Within the park, however, it appears and disappears as the Denali Park Road winds its way among the smaller mountains along the north edge of the Alaska Range.

While clear skies are common in deep winter, with intense cold locking up moisture, summer skies are often cloudy. Veteran bus drivers in Denali say that only one in three days offers glimpses of the mountain. If you are lucky enough to catch good weather, however, you can view the mountain from many places along the park road.

Viewpoints to Which You Can Drive or Take a Free Shuttle

The mountain is not visible from the park entrance—the road sits too low, and is hemmed in by other mountains. You may, however, take the free Savage River Shuttle in summer, or drive as far as Mile 15 on the road in spring and fall with hopes of seeing Denali along the way. The free shuttle service is offered from approximately mid-May to mid-September. Using the bus is highly recommended, as parking fills up rapidly at Savage River and Mountain Vista.

Mile 9 is the first place where the road rises high enough, and has the right angle, to potentially see the mountain. Mile 11 features a pull-out and interpretive waysides. The Savage River area itself sits too low to see the mountain, but from the parking area at Mountain Vista (Mile 12) a short, accessible trail brings you to a good vantage point for the mountain on clear days.

Viewpoints Accessed by Bus

As it travels westward beyond Mile 15 (past the paved and publicly open section), the Denali Park Road offers many views of the mountain—if there are clear skies.

All bus trips pass a viewpoint on Primrose Ridge (Mile 17). Longer bus trips (the Tundra Wilderness Tour and East Fork Transit buses), will have another chance for views at Sable Pass (Mile 39). Other bus stops (at campgrounds, the Teklanika Rest Area, East Fork turnaround, etc.) are located at lower elevations near river valleys where the mountain cannot be seen.

Reflection Pond

One of the most iconic and often-photographed images of the mountain is from Reflection Pond, just beyond Mile 85. Due to the Pretty Rocks Landslide, buses are only traveling as far as Mile 43, so it is not possible to reach Reflection Pond.

Wildlife Photography

While wildlife can be theoretically seen just about anywhere in the park, the most common wildlife viewing opportunities occur during a bus ride along the park road.

A few very general thoughts and tips for those looking for wildlife during their visit:
  • The longer a bus trip you choose to take, the better your odds will be of seeing wildlife. If you have the time to spend several days in Denali, taking bus trips on multiple days is a great way to maximize your chances of seeing wildlife.
  • The park entrance-area is thickly forested. While many species are present in this area, you may be more likely to spot animals where tree cover diminishes. Tree-line in Denali is roughly 3,000 above sea level, and the park road travels through a number of transition areas and alpine passes where lines of sight are extensive. Compare the bus options with the park map, looking for which landmark alpine passes (e.g., Sable Pass) you'll pass through.
  • The Wonder Lake area is fairly boggy, with many small kettle ponds and other bodies of water near the road - making it one of the better sections of the park road to look for water-loving birds.
The thrill of seeing wild animals in their natural environment provokes varying reactions from us all. Often, the excitement and happiness at this special kind of experience can make us forget our responsibility to keep ourselves, and the animals, safe.

When photographing wildlife from outside a vehicle, please follow the distance regulations listed below:
  • Grizzly bears
    Pedestrians and bicyclists: do not approach to 300 yards (meters) or less. If you are adjacent to a vehicle (i.e., within 2 yards of entering it): do not stay outside of the vehicle if the bear is 25 yards or closer to you.
  • Raptor nests and occupied dens (lynx, fox, wolverine, coyote, wolf, etc)
    Pedestrians and bicyclists: do not approach closer than 100 yards. The park will institute and post temporary closures of at least one quarter mile around known wolf dens; and appropriately-sized closures around other sensitive den/nest sites.
  • Other animals and active bird (non-raptor) nests
    Pedestrians and cyclists: Maintain a minimum distance of 25 yards.

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Landscape Photography

Though Denali may be shrouded in clouds, the vast and inspiring landscapes seen from the Denali Park Road can be enjoyed in all but the dreariest weather.

Mountains of seemingly every size and shape can be seen. Older, rounder ancients, called the Outer Range, march along the north flank of the road and offer an interesting contrast to the younger, sharper and, at times, intimidating mountains lying in the center of the Alaska Range. The Outer Range is almost entirely free of snow and ice by mid-summer, while the taller peaks of the Alaska Range keep their shoulders crystalline white year-round. Snow line is generally around 6,000' above sea level here.

Glaciers can be spied from the road, though many are in decline compared to their size ninety years ago. They are also much smaller than glaciers seen on the coast of Alaska, which are loaded with immense amounts of winter snow - however, the Alaska Range's rain shadow prevents dramatic amounts of snowfall north of the mountains. To the inexperienced eye, glaciers on the north side of the Alaska Range often blend in with the snowline when seen high in the mountains. Glaciers at low elevations can be disguised, too, as dirt and even plant life covers them.

Fall colors emerge at high elevations as early as the first or second week of August, spreading down the mountainsides and into the valleys by the second week of September.

If you wish to spend significant time photographing landscapes in the park, you may wish to consider one of the many transit bus options. Transit buses allow you to disembark from your initial bus, and re-board later transit buses on a space available basis.

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Last updated: March 15, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 9
Denali Park, AK 99755


907 683-9532
A ranger is available 9 am to 4 pm daily (except on major holidays). If you reach the voicemail, please leave a message and we'll call you back as soon as we finish with the previous caller.

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