What to Know About Hiking Off TrailDenali National Park and Preserve has very few formal trails for a park of its size, but hiking off trail offers limitless opportunities for recreation and exploration. The terrain and bus system in Denali make hiking off trail less intimidating and more approachable than it may seem at first.
Tree line in Denali is around 3000 feet in elevation, so much of the park is open tundra with excellent visibility. This means that in many places it is possible to hike off trail for several hours while staying within view of the Denali Park Road the entire time. The transit bus system gives you the freedom to get off the bus wherever you would like to begin your hike (provided you are not in one of the few wildlife closures).
At the end of your hike, you can make your way back to any point on the Denali Park Road to wave down and board a bus.There is always the possibility that the first bus or two that passes by will be full, so be prepared to potentially wait on the side of the road for a bus that has space for your group.
Where to Go?That’s up to you!
Do you want to climb up steep terrain in search of expansive views, or take a more leisurely stroll along a river? Are you willing to do some bushwhacking as you hike, or would you prefer to avoid dense vegetation?
One strategy for choosing a hike location is to take an early transit bus into the park, traveling to either Eielson Visitor Center or Toklat River, and scouting the terrain from the Park Road. On your return towards the park entrance, you can tell your driver to let you off at whatever area looked most appealing. Note: Buses going to Wonder Lake and Kantishna probably take too long to incorporate a decent hike into your day.
If you don’t want to use the bus system, it is possible to start an off trail hike from somewhere within the first 15 miles of the park road, which is the section that you can drive in your own vehicle. This part of the park is generally lower in elevation than areas that you reach by bus, so you may encounter more brush if you hike off trail within the first 15 miles.