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Plan Like a Park Ranger—Top 10 Tips for a Visit to Denali

As the pandemic shrinks its grip on the world, people are anxious to get outdoors and fulfill bucket list items that were put on hold. Denali National Park and Preserve is high on summer to do lists and some of our offerings may be filled to capacity. However, our park rangers know that with over six million acres, visitors have many options for a unique and unparalleled visit in the park and planning for flexibility is the key to an amazing visit this summer.
  1. Plan for flexibility. This is solid ranger advice for any situation outdoors. Weather can change in an instant. Access to a trail can change if a grizzly bear decides to wander on it. The more you know about what you can do in the park, you’ll be ready to shift your plans when the unexpected happens.
  2. Check the website daily. As the guidance regarding the pandemic for parks rapidly shifts, so will access and programs. Check our calendar while you are here for weather alerts or for the possibility of pop up ranger programs.
  3. Use the Midnight Sun to your advantage. Sleeping in followed by a giant breakfast is a luxury on vacation. However, many find that the bright light and singing birds keep them awake. If you’re wide awake at 4am, head to the park and watch for wildlife on the quieter Park Road. How many places will allow you hike in bright light at 10:30pm at night? Hiking the park at that time of night can reward you with stunning views like the magical “Alpenglow” on the mountains.
  4. Go off trail. Denali National Park and Preserve has relatively few trails and you are allowed to go off trail. If you’re a little nervous, pack some bear spray and consider hiking the braided creek beds. They can be dry and full of interesting rocks and tracks. The wide open space gives you ample opportunity to watch for wildlife coming in for a drink and still keep your distance. Learn more about hiking on and off trail.
  5. Forage the park. Please pack snacks, but there are many berries for snacking to be found in the park throughout the summer and fall. Denali has blueberries, cloudberries, lowbush and highbush cranberries, and even some currants and raspberries in a few spots. Prime berry season is in August, but in early summer there are still a few overwintered cranberries around. Rangers and wildlife aren’t big fans of lowbush cranberries in the fall, but after being frozen all winter they can be sweet and delicious. Be sure to know your berries before you forage.
  6. Bring binoculars or a spotting scope. Wildlife can be found anywhere in the park between the entrance and Savage River. A favorite activity in spring and fall is to watch Mount Margaret. Watch for small patches of snow that appear to be moving. With binoculars or a scope, you could find some Dall Sheep. This is a great way to search for willow ptarmigan, moose, white-winged crossbills, bears, and golden eagles at a distance. Learn more about wildlife viewing in Denali.
  7. Take in the soundscapes. Creeks can be flowing with water, wind can wail on the tundra, and varied thrushes and Swainson’s thrushes serenade you with haunting tones among the spruces. If you find yourself within a few miles of headquarters in the evening, you have an excellent chance of hearing the eerie howls of the kennel dogs, a truly unique Denali experience. In early summer you can hear the ridiculous sounds of willow ptarmigan as the males display for the females. Learn more about soundscapes in Denali.
  8. Bring a bike. Biking is allowed where cars are allowed in the park. Visitors can cycle the entire 92 miles of the park road if it is open, even with an ebike. Consider riding a bike on the Park Road. As always, be prepared and bring bear spray and a helmet. There are many companies that will rent bikes for those who did not travel with their personal bike. Learn more about biking the park.
  9. Engage in Citizen Science. We need your help! We have a couple of projects that rely on your sightings. You might notice color banded birds within the first five miles of the park road. If you find a Canada jay with color banded feet, note the colors on each foot and report your sightings in iNaturalist. We also have our Alpine Wildlife Project to track changes in the wildlife n a shifting climate.
  10. Grab the App. The new NPS App has all the visiting information for Denali National Park and Preserve ready to go. You also have the option to download the information for Denali before you arrive so you can still use the app even if your phone doesn’t have any cellular service. Our app is free on either the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store.

Get top 10 tips for other parks across the country!

Last updated: May 28, 2021