How to Visit Denali in Fall or Spring

Learn and Explore

Defining Fall and Spring

  • Fall: From mid-September until snow accumulates (typically between late September and late October).
  • Spring: From early or mid-April until May 19.
 
Most visitors come to Denali in summer, which runs May 20 until the second weekend after Labor Day (so, mid-September) each year. Summer is the only time of year when buses operate within the park.

However, a visit in spring or fall can be rewarding, though services and activities are limited. Mountains are often snow-capped and dramatic, accentuating Denali's beautiful and stark wilderness. Wildlife is either shaking off the deep-freeze of winter or cramming in the last bit of living before winter's return in October.

There is no public transportation in the Denali area outside the summer season, so most visitors in the spring and fall rent a vehicle before traveling to the park. We aim to keep our website alerts up to date concerning road conditions in the park; but keep in mind that it takes nearly five hours to drive to Denali from Anchorage, during which time the weather can turn icy or snowy. Even if the road is closed when you arrive, there are many opportunities to recreate in the front-country of the park.
 
 

Visiting in Autumn / Early Winter

A visitor in mid-September through mid-October could find pleasant fall conditions, or fresh snow, freezing temperatures and the return of winter. Use our zip code—99755—on your favorite weather website to get an idea of the current forecast. You can also check out our webcams to get a sense of what the weather is doing.

Note that this is not necessarily the best time to see fall colors, as they typically peak during what is still considered the summer season. At Denali's high latitude, fall colors can emerge at high elevations in early to mid August, spreading down the mountainsides and into the valleys by the second week of September.

 
A brown mountainside of brush that has lost its leaves. The top of the ridgeline is covered with a light dusting of snow.
Termination dust—the first snow that falls on the mountaintops—signals the end of summer and the beginning of winter.

NPS Photo / Katie Karnes

Accessing the Park

Daily train and bus service to the park from Anchorage and Fairbanks typically ends in mid-September. Fall visitors will almost certainly need to rent a car and drive here on their own, on Alaska Route 3 (the "George Parks Highway").

Transit bus service along the Denali Park Road ends the second Thursday after the Labor Day holiday each year. When buses are running, private vehicles may drive as far as Savage River (Mile 15). After bus service ends, the park road opens to Teklanika River (Mile 30) for all private vehicle traffic as long as conditions allow. Once snow falls, the road is only plowed to Park Headquarters (Mile 3). Snow and ice are possible throughout September, however, so check current conditions and feel free to contact us for weather and road information before journeying to the park.

What to Do in the Fall

  • Hiking
    In fall, there are no guided activities within the park. However, trails are accessible from the Winter Visitor Center for day-hiking, and backcountry permits can be acquired there for overnight trips. Learn more about hiking in Denali.
  • Sightsee
    If snow hasn't fallen heavily, you can drive up to 30 miles into the park, to a place called Teklanika River. Once snow starts piling up, we only plow the park's sole road for 3 miles, from the park entrance to Park Headquarters. When the road isn't closed due to snow, you may drive it any time of the day or night. A late trip out can be a great way to look for aurora borealis! The only restriction is on camping (see below for your camping/backpacking options).
  • Learn
    Stop by the Winter Visitor Center (inside the Murie Science and Learning Center) at mile 1.4 on the park road, open 9:30 am to 5 pm daily. The facility is closed on major holidays. Check our event calendar to see if any ranger-led programs might be available.

Where to Stay in the Fall

  • Camping
    Riley Creek Campground is open year-round, and nightly fees are not charged except in summer (so, it is free from mid-September to mid-May each year). This is the only campground open outside of the summer season.
  • Lodging
    Most hotels in the area close in mid-September. Some year-round accommodations remain open in Healy, a small town 11 miles north of the park entrance. Because these businesses are outside of the park, we cannot make recommendations on where you should stay. The Denali Chamber of Commerce provides more information about accommodation options.
  • Backpacking
    Backpacking is possible year-round with a free backpacking permit. Learn more about acquiring a backpacking permit.

 

Visiting in Late Winter / Spring

A visitor in April or early May could find spring-like conditions, or the lasting grip of winter.

However, snow is possible throughout April and even early May. The road can close temporarily at Park Headquarters (Mile 3) during the spring if conditions deteriorate.

Accessing the Park

 
A wide river covered in thick ice, with brush and trees lining the banks of the river. One channel of water is visible through cracks in the ice and sun reflects off the shiny, bare ice.
Even after the road has been plowed and opened to vehicles, areas like the Savage River may be covered in ice well into the spring. Expect variable trail conditions this time of year.

NPS Photo / Kent Miller

Daily train and bus service to the park from Anchorage and Fairbanks typically begin in mid-May. Spring visitors may need to rent a car and drive here on their own.

Transit bus service traveling along the Denali Park Road does not begin until May 20 each year. Narrated tour bus service begins about a week earlier.

Every year, road crews begin plowing the park road in March. Depending largely on the weather, the road can open to Savage River (Mile 15) for public traffic as early as the first or second weekend in April. The road crews try to open the road to Teklanika River (Mile 30) as quickly thereafter as possible. Check current conditions to find out how far the road is open.

What to Do in Spring

  • Sightsee
    We begin plowing the park road in mid-March most years, working west from Mile 3. You may drive as much of the road as snow conditions allow in the spring, until we reach Teklanika River (Mile 30). The park road remains open to Mile 30, weather permitting, until May 19 each year. On May 20, transit buses begin operating on the road, and private vehicles are restricted beyond Savage River. The road does not open farther than Mile 30 for vehicles—too many vehicles on it before it dries down through the subsurface can result in serious damage.
  • Cycle
    Biking the park road in spring is very popular. By early May, much of the road is snow and ice free beyond Mile 30, allowing cyclists to bike past that point with minimal vehicle traffic. Note that a landslide crossing the road will limit access to all traffic, including bikes, at Mile 43 for summer 2022 and 2023. Check the Current Conditions page for the latest information before making plans.
  • Learn
    Visit the Winter Visitor Center (inside the Murie Science and Learning Center) at Mile 1.4 on the park road. It is the main visitor center from late September through May 14, and is where you can pay your entrance fee. On May 15 each year, the much larger Denali Visitor Center opens just across the park road from the Winter Visitor Center. Check our event calendar to see if any ranger-led programs might be available.

Where to Stay in Spring

  • Camping
    Riley Creek Campground, at the park entrance, remains open during spring and it is free to camp through mid-May. It is the only campground open in spring. In late spring and summer, nightly fees are charged and you can book a campsite through our concessioner.
  • Lodging
    Most hotels in the area remain closed until early or mid-May. Some year-round accommodations remain open in Healy, a small town 11 miles north of the park entrance. Because these businesses are outside of the park, we cannot make recommendations on where you should stay. The Denali Chamber of Commerce provides more information about accommodation options.
  • Backpacking
    Backcountry camping is possible year-round with a free backcountry permit. Learn more about acquiring a backpacking permit.

Trip planning information for other seasons:

 
caribou standing on a dirt road, a green bus in the near distance

How to Explore Denali in Summer

Look for wildlife and wilderness during a bus trip in Denali. Most of the sole road is open only to buses during summer (May 20–mid-Sept.).

two people riding bikes on a snowy trail in a forest

Plan a Winter Visit

Closed in winter? Not Denali! Winter is a great time to explore the park, whether by foot, ski, snowshoe, bike or other means!

Last updated: September 28, 2022

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 9
Denali Park , AK 99755

Phone:

907 683-9532
A ranger is available 9 am—4 pm daily (except on major holidays). If you get to 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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