TRIP IDEA

Two Nights, Three Days in Denali

misty landscape with mountains visible in the distance
Duration Multiple Days
Topic(s) Lakes, Wilderness, Trails, Animals, Birds, Wolves, Tundra, Climate Change, Foothills, Plains and Valleys, Coniferous Forests, Glaciers, Mountains, Natural Sounds, Scenic Views, Unique Species, The Gold Rush
Activities Front-Country Hiking, Hiking, Bus/Shuttle Guided Tour, Dog Sledding
Type Inspirational
Parks Denali National Park & Preserve


Located far from any airport or large city, Denali is a wilderness park. Reaching the park can take several hours (or even most of a day), so we recommend that you plan a minimum itinerary of 2 nights in the area, which gives you one full day and part of two others.

The suggested activities (below, separated by day) are the highlights of a visit. Day 1 and Day 3 could be easily swapped with each other, but we suggest Day 2 should be dedicated to a sight-seeing trip by bus along the sole park road.

Which Bus Do I Choose?

Day 2 of this itinerary suggests a bus trip of some kind. There are many options; the table below will help you decide whether a shuttle bus or tour bus is best for you.

Bus type I want to hike or camp I want to
learn about the park
I want to maximize my chances to see wildlife Round Trip Duration
Natural History Tour No Yes No; wildlife viewing may occur, but chances are slimmer than with other trips 4.5 hours
Tundra Wilderness Tour No Yes Yes 8 hours
Kantishna Experience Tour No Yes Yes 12 hours
Shuttle Bus Yes; passengers may disembark to day hike No; drivers are not required to narrate Yes; the longer the shuttle trip, the better your odds of seeing wildlife Several choices, ranging from 6 to 12 hours
Camper Bus Yes; only passengers camping or backpacking in the park can use this bus No Varies depending on how long you spend on the bus before disembarking to camp. Variable


Additional trip-planning resources:

Day 1
  • Denali National Park & Preserve

    Visit the Denali Kennels

    • Activity Fee: No (Entrance fees may apply)
    • Reservations: No
    • Activity: Dog Sledding
    • Pets: No
    • Location: The Denali Sled Dog Kennels
    • Duration: 30 Minutes
    • Season: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
    • Time of Day: Day
    three large puppies standing on their hind feet at a gate

    Open year-round, the Denali Kennels are home to the only working sled dogs in a national park. Whether you come for a summer-time mushing demonstration or a quiet visit in fall, winter or spring, the dogs are always eager to meet new people and make new friends.

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  • Denali National Park & Preserve

    Explore Savage River

    • Activity Fee: No (Entrance fees may apply)
    • Reservations: No
    • Activity: Hiking
    • Pets: Yes with Restrictions
    • Location: Savage River
    • Duration: 2–6 Hours
    • Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
    • Time of Day: Any Time
    a shallow river flowing between mountains

    While most of Denali’s sole road is restricted just to bus traffic, anybody can drive out to Savage River. Located 15 miles inside the park, the area is scenic, featuring several trails (some short, one long) and a picnic area.

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Day 2
  • Denali National Park & Preserve

    Sightsee on a Denali Shuttle Bus

    • Activity Fee: Yes
    • Reservations: Yes
    • Activity: Bus/Shuttle Guided Tour
    • Pets: No
    • Location: Wilderness Access Center (Mile 0.5, Denali Park Road)
    • Duration: 6–12 Hours
    • Season: Summer
    • Time of Day: Day
    a green colored bus traveling a dirt road on a mountainside

    Summer sight-seeing in Denali is mainly done by bus, and there are several trips to choose from. Shuttle bus trips are the cheapest and most flexible option, although they aren't narrated. From high up in a bus, it becomes possible to look over roadside brush, allowing you to enjoy the incredible scenery (and wildlife sightings, too!).

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  • Denali National Park & Preserve

    Sightsee on a Denali Tour Bus

    • Activity Fee: Yes
    • Reservations: Yes
    • Activity: Bus/Shuttle Guided Tour
    • Pets: No
    • Location: Varies
    • Duration: 4–12 Hours
    • Season: Summer
    • Time of Day: Day
    a bus driving on a dirt road on the side of a mountain

    Summer sight-seeing in Denali is mainly done by bus, and there are several trips to choose from. Narrated tour bus trips are more expensive than non-narrated transit buses. From high up in a bus, it becomes possible to look over roadside brush, allowing you to enjoy the incredible scenery (and wildlife sightings, too!).

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Day 3
  • Denali National Park & Preserve

    Early Morning Hike to Horseshoe Lake

    • Activity Fee: No (Entrance fees may apply)
    • Reservations: No
    • Activity: Front-Country Hiking
    • Pets: No
    • Duration: 2–3 Hours
    • Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
    • Time of Day: Any Time
    people sitting on a forested lakeshore

    Horseshoe Lake is a lovely destination about 2 miles from the Denali Visitor Center. A trail loops around the entire lake, which is occasionally home to moose, beavers and a variety of bird-life. An early-morning visit to the lake is particularly pleasant, though any time of day is great to hike to the lake.

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    • Activity Fee: No (Entrance fees may apply)
    • Reservations: No
    • Activity: Front-Country Hiking
    • Pets: No
    • Location: Denali Visitor Center
    • Duration: 1–3 Hours
    • Season: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
    • Time of Day: Any Time
    a trail leading through a forest of spruce and aspen trees

    At 6 million acres in size, Denali is incredibly vast, and hiking is possible almost anywhere in the park. However, there are only a handful of established trails in the park, and here you'll find a few suggestions for one or more short hikes from the Denali Visitor Center.

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Last updated: May 7, 2017