Only one road leads into Denali (Denali Park Road) and currently it is closed at mile 43, which is about the halfway point. This road closure cuts off access into the backcountry of the park, which is unfortunate, since some of Denali’s best experiences lie beyond this road closure. However, even with the road closure, there is still plenty that you can do on a visit here. In this post, we cover the things to do in Denali while Denali Park Road is closed.
Overview of Denali Park Road
Denali Park Road is 92.5 miles long. It starts in the east, at the park entrance, and heads west, running parallel along the north side of the Alaska Range. Denali Park Road ends just past Kantishna, deep in the heart of Denali National Park.
At the park entrance, you are very far from Denali. To see Denali from the front of the park, you either have to hike high (to the Mount Healy Overlook) or drive to mile 9. Even from here, you can just barely see the peak of Denali.
The farther down Denali Park Road you go, the better the experience. Not only do the views of Denali get better, but you also have the chance to spot all of Alaska’s Big 5, go on some of the best hikes in the park, and journey deeper into the park.
For most of its length, Denali Park Road is only open to the transit and tour buses that are run by the National Park Service or the backcountry lodges. Private cars are only permitted to drive to mile 15, unless you have a special permit.
For more information about Denali Park Road, with maps, photos, and a mile-by-mile guide to sights along the road, click here to read our Guide to Denali Park Road.
About the Denali Park Road Closure
Denali Park Road is closed at mile 43, at an area called Pretty Rocks.
This part of the road was built over a rock glacier. Recently, the glacier began melting, causing the road to slump. For the past few years, gravel has been added to the road almost every day, to build it back up. In the summer of 2021, the road was sliding down as much as 14 inches a day and it just got to be too much for road crews to keep up with the landslide.
In August 2021, the road was closed at this point. A bridge will be constructed across this section of the road and construction is expected to began in 2023. It could take 3 years to complete the bridge.
In 2021, we drove across this stretch of road four times. It is a beautiful, white-knuckle drive…a narrow gravel road, no shoulder and no guardrail, just a drop off to the river below.
Road crews were constantly pushing more gravel in the place where the road was slumping. Below are photos from this part of the road in summer 2021.
This is the area of the landslide on Denali Park Road. Photo taken July 2021.
Bus traffic on Polychrome Pass, just a few hundred feet from the Pretty Rocks road closure. Photo taken July 2021.
No traffic is permitted beyond mile 43. No buses, no cars, not even bicycles. Flights will be operating between Denali and Kantishna, so you can spend the night in the back of the park, just expect to pay a lot for this experience.
For updates on the road closure, visit the National Park Service website.
Map of Denali National Park and the location of the road closure.
What Lies Beyond the Denali Road Closure?
Before I get into what you can still do in Denali, I think it’s just as important to know what you are missing out on.
As you are sitting here, planning a trip to Denali, you should consider the question ‘should you save your visit to Denali for 2026 or later, once you can travel beyond mile 43?’
Many of the Denali’s best experiences lie beyond mile 43. Without being able to travel deeper into the park, you will be missing out on the best views of Denali and some of the best hiking trails.
If you only plan to visit Denali once in your lifetime, consider postponing your visit for a few years.
Here is what lies between mile 43 and 92 of Denali Park Road:
Polychrome Overlook (mile 46)
Stony Hill Overlook (mile 62)
Stony Hill Overlook
Eielson Visitor Center (mile 66)
Eielson Visitor Center
Thorofare Ridge Trail (at Eielson, mile 66)
Eielson is our favorite area of Denali. The views and the hiking trails are spectacular, and in my opinion, it’s worth the wait for the bridge to be constructed, in order to be able to visit Eielson.
Thorofare Ridge Trail
Another view of Denali from Eielson (taken with a 300mm lens) You can also see the Muldrow Glacier, which was surging in 2021.
Wonder Lake (mile 85)
Wonder Lake. JacobLoyacano/shutterstock.com
Things to Do in Denali while Denali Park Road is Closed
Even with the road closure, there are many things that you can still do in Denali.
Take a Denali Bus Tour
Before the road closure, there were numerous park and lodge buses that traveled up and down Denali Park Road. In 2023, those buses will not travel beyond mile 43.
There are two types of buses: transit buses and narrated tour buses. Transit buses serve as hop-on hop-off buses. If you want to get off somewhere along Denali Park Road, go hiking or exploring, and get back on the bus later in the day to get back to the park entrance, this is the bus that you want.
The East Fork Transit Bus, which goes to mile 42, is the only transit bus that will be operating in 2023.
On a narrated bus, a trained naturalist drives the bus and points out animals, geologic features, ecosystems, etc. These buses are not hop-on hop-off. They have several stops they make along the drive, each lasting 10 to 30 minutes, but you cannot go off on your own, do a hike, and then later hop back on different narrated bus.
In 2022, according to the National Park Service website, two narrated buses will be operating:
Natural History Tour. This bus goes to Teklanika at mile 27. This tour focuses on the history and cultural background of Denali National Park. This bus tour takes 5 hours round trip.
Tundra Wilderness Tour (only goes to mile 42 in 2023). Usually, this bus goes to Stony Hill Overlook at mile 62 (one of the best viewpoints in Denali). In 2023, it will only go as far as mile 42. This bus tour takes 5.5 hours.
The view from the Teklanika Rest Stop at mile 30.
Polychrome Mountains. You will get this view from Sable Pass at mile 40.
Hike the Horseshoe Lake Trail
This short, sweet hiking trail travels along the Nenana River and around Horseshoe Lake. The views are beautiful and constantly changing. It takes about an hour or two of your time (2 miles round trip, easy, 300 feet of total ascent).
LEARN MORE: How to Hike the Horseshoe Lake Trail
Hike the Mount Healy Overlook Trail
This 5 mile out-and-back hike offers 360° views over the front of Denali National Park. On a clear day, you will be able to see the tip of Denali. This hike starts near the Denali visitor center and is moderately strenuous with 1,800 feet of total ascent.
LEARN MORE: How to Hike the Mount Healy Overlook Trail
Mount Healy Overlook
Visit the Savage River Area of Denali
The Savage River Area of the park is located at mile 15 on Denali Park Road. This is as far as you can go in a private car.
On a clear day, you can get a good view of Denali, but you must hike the Savage Alpine Trail, to get high enough to see it.
Hike the Savage Alpine Trail. This hike is 4 miles long. It can be done either point-to-point or out-and-back. With 1,500 feet of total ascent, it is a challenging hike, but it’s your best way to get a view of Denali without riding a park bus or taking a flightseeing tour. Get the full details in our Guide to the Savage Alpine Trail.
Savage Alpine Trail
Hike the Savage River Loop Trail. This easy, 2-mile trail makes a loop around the Savage River. It’s a very pretty hike but just know that you won’t be able to see Denali from this trail.
Savage River Trail
Hike the Mountain Vista Trail. This 0.6-mile loop is located at mile 13 of Denali Park Road. It’s an easy hike with views of the surrounding mountains.
Mountain Vista Trail
HOW TO GET TO THE SAVAGE RIVER AREA: You can drive to the Savage River area. Parking is extremely limited so it’s best to get here before 10 am so you can get a parking space. You can also ride the free Savage River Shuttle from the visitor center.
Go Off-Trail Hiking
In Denali, you are permitted to hike off-trail. Ride the East Fork Transit bus into the park and spend the day hiking through the wilderness. Once you are done, board another transit bus at the end of the day and return to the park entrance. With a permit, you can go backpacking in the backcountry of Denali.
See if You Can Spot Alaska’s Big 5
Alaska’s Big Five are caribou, moose, Dall sheep, bear, and wolf.
Each of these animals live in different parts of the park. Moose are usually spotted near the park entrance. Caribou and Dall sheep are usually spotted on Denali Park Road past mile 30. Bear can be seen almost anywhere. You will have to be extremely lucky to see a wolf, if you can’t travel beyond mile 43.
Your best chance of seeing these animals is on the Tundra Wilderness Tour (for your best chance to see a wolf, you have to travel deep into the park…we saw a wolf at Eielson).
Hike the McKinley Station Trail
This easy hike is conveniently located right next to the visitor center. The trail heads down and then along Riley Creek. It’s a beautiful hike and rather underrated (3.2 miles out-and-back, easy, 100 feet of ascent). Learn how to do it in our post Top 10 Hikes in Denali.
McKinley Station Trail
Hike the Triple Lakes Trail
This challenging trail takes you off-the-beaten-path in Denali National Park. It’s a 9-mile point-to-point hike, which means that you need some sort of shuttle to do this hike (or hike it out-and-back…for a total distance of 18.5 miles). On this hike, you will have views of the mountains in the front country of Denali and the three lakes this hike is named for.
Learn how to do this hike, and how to shorten in, in our Guide to the Triple Lakes Trail.
Triple Lakes Trail
Go White Water Rafting on the Nenana River
The Nenana River forms part of the eastern boundary of Denali National Park. Several river outfitters run half and full-day white water rafting trips during the summer months.
Learn more here.
Take a Flightseeing Tour
For your best chance to see Denali, take a flightseeing tour. Many flights circle around Denali and the Alaska Range and you have the option to add on a glacier landing tour.
This is an expensive excursion, but it’s a great way to experience the park, if you can’t travel down Denali Park Road. Flightseeing tours leave from Talkeetna and near the park entrance.
Denali Flightseeing Tour
Visit the Sled Dog Kennels
Once the park becomes snow covered, sled dogs are used by park rangers to travel through and patrol the park.
You can get here by car, but parking is extremely limited. There is also a free park shuttle that leaves from the visitor center about 40 minutes before the scheduled sled dog demonstration.
Learn more and get updated hours on the National Park Service website.
There are numerous campgrounds located around the entrance of Denali National Park and along Denali Park Road.
Campsites cost $20 to $40 per night and most are open from mid-May to mid-September.
Here is a list of campgrounds that are open in 2023:
- Riley Creek Campground: Near the front entrance of Denali National Park. Open all year for tent camping and RV’s.
- Savage River Campground: Mile 14. Open to RV’s and tent camping.
- Sanctuary River Campground: Mile 22. Tent only camping and accessible by park bus. This campground is first-come first-serve and only has 7 sites.
- Teklanika River Campground: Mile 29. Open to RV’s and tent camping. You can drive your vehicle here, but if you do so, you will use the park buses to get around and you will have a 3-night minimum stay.
Denali Viewpoints Outside of the Park
Believe it or not, you can actually get a better view of Denali from outside of the park than on the trails and viewpoints near the park entrance. Both of these viewpoints listed below are on AK-3, between Denali National Park and Talkeetna.
Denali Viewpoint South
Denali Viewpoint South
Denali Viewpoint North
Denali Viewpoint North
How Much Time Do You Need in Denali?
With the road closure, two to three days is plenty of time in Denali National Park.
Here is a sample 3-day itinerary:
- Day 1: Morning bus tour of Denali Park Road, Horseshoe Lake hike in the afternoon
- Day 2: Visit the Savage River Area in the morning, in the afternoon visit the sled dog kennels
- Day 3: Hike the Mount Healy Overlook trail or go white water rafting in the morning; in the afternoon, take a flightseeing tour of Denali
Getting to Kantishna
The Denali Backcountry Lodge is taking reservations for summer 2023. Flights to and from Kantishna are operating several days a week. From the Denali Backcountry Lodge, you can explore Kantishna and Wonder Lake but as far as I know, you will not be able to visit Eielson. Call the Backcountry Lodge for more information.
There is a chance that day trips to Kantishna will be offered in the summer, but this still remains to be seen. This would be done by airplane, with flights running from the Denali Park airport to Kantishna. I recommend checking the National Park Service website to see if this will be offered.
With the Denali Park Road Closure, Is It Worth Going to Denali?
In my opinion, it is worth delaying your visit to Denali until Denali Park Road is reopened. The views and hiking trails that lie beyond mile 43 are the best experiences in the park and not to be missed.
If you have been to Denali and would like to share your opinion, you can do so in the comment section below.
Here is the link to the National Park Service website, where you can get updates on park conditions and important planning information.
To learn more about the Denali road closure at Pretty Rocks, click here.
To learn more about the proposed road construction plan in the Polychrome area, click here.
While in Denali National Park, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
More Information about Denali National Park
BEST OF DENALI: Eielson is one of the most spectacular areas in Denali to visit since it offers some of the best views of Denali. Taking a Denali flight seeing trip is also a great thing to do, as are hiking one of the many trails in the park. Get the full list in our article Best Things to Do in Denali.
HIKES IN DENALI: There is a long list of hikes to do in Denali. Several top hikes include the Savage Alpine Trail, Mount Healy Overlook, and the Horseshoe Lake Trail. Get the full list in our Denali Hiking Guide.
Read all of our articles about Denali National Park in our Denali National Park Travel Guide.
If you have any questions about visiting Denali with Denali Park Road is closed, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information about Alaska and the National Parks
ALASKA ITINERARY: Take the guesswork out of planning your trip to Alaska with our Alaska road trip itineraries.
KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK: Check out our Kenai Fjords National Park Travel Guide for important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.
BEST OF WRANGELL-ST. ELIAS: Top experiences in Wrangell-St. Elias include hiking the Root Glacier Trail, taking a flightseeing tour, and hiking to Bonanza Mine. For the full list, read our article Best Things to Do in Wrangell-St. Elias.
KATMAI NATIONAL PARK: In our article Best Things to Do in Katmai, we cover the top experiences in the park. For a unique experience, take a photography tour to capture the action at Brooks Falls from Brooks River and learn how to see the bears at Brooks Falls. You can also visit the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, the site of one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions in recent history.
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