Julie United States 9 Comments

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 begin in 2022. It could take 1 to 2 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.

Pretty Rocks Road Closure

This is the area of the landslide on Denali Park Road. Photo taken July 2021.

 

Denali Park Road Closure

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. There is a chance that flights will be operating between Denali and Kantishna, so that you can day trip into the backcountry, but this is still being worked out at the time that I am writing this post.

For updates on the road closure, visit the National Park Service website.

Denali Map with Road Closure

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 2023 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)

Polychrome Overlook

Polychrome Overlook

Stony Hill Overlook (mile 62)

Things to do in Denali

Stony Hill Overlook

Eielson Visitor Center (mile 66)

Eielson Visitor Center

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.

Best Denali Hikes

Thorofare Ridge Trail

 

Muldrow Glacier Denali

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

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 2022, 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 ($30 per person), which goes to mile 42, is the only transit bus that will be operating in 2022.

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 ($104 per person). 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 2022, $128 per person). Usually, this bus goes to Stony Hill Overlook at mile 62 (one of the best viewpoints in Denali). In 2022, it will only go as far as mile 42. This bus tour takes 5.5 hours.

Teklanika River

The view from the Teklanika Rest Stop at mile 30.

 

Polychrome Mountains

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).

Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake

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.

Mount Healy Overlook

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 Denali

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 Denali

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.

Denali Trail

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). 

Caribou

Caribou

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

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

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

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.

Sled Dog

Sled dog demonstrations are held June through August several times a day (10 am, 2 pm, and 4 pm). The sled dogs are open to visitors from 9 am to 4:30 pm.

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.

Go Camping

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 2022:

  • 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 South Viewpoint

Denali Viewpoint South

Denali Viewpoint North

Denali North Viewpoint

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 2022. Flights to and from Kantishna are operating on Wednesdays and Sundays. If you fly in on Wednesday, you are committing to a 4 night stay with a departure on Sunday. If you fly in on Sunday, you are committing to a 3 night stay, with a departure on Wednesday. Only 12 cabins will be open (the superior cabins and the creekside cabins) and prices start at $1650 per person per night. This price includes lodging, flights, and meals but does not include the spa or alcoholic drinks. 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.

At the time that I am writing this, Kantishna Roadhouse is not taking reservations for 2022.

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.

Important Links

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.

BEST NATIONAL PARKS IN THE USA: Looking for your next big adventure? Read our article about the 15 Best National Parks, where we narrow down the long list into 15 must-see parks.

 

Denali National Park Road Closure To Do List

 

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Comments 9

  1. Avatar for Magdalena
    Magdalena

    I was just in Denali and did the bus tour 2 days ago. Not worth it. It was rainy, foggy, cold and windy. We just saw a moose, a caribou and some small bird (that looks like a chick). Disappointing. The best way to see Denali is taking the scenic flight without the landing, which is what I did. Some of my tour mates did the scenic flight with the landing.

  2. Avatar for Risk
    Risk

    Agree re delaying. Best views of Denali are actually on road to Talkeetna and from Denali State Park, so no need to take a bus tour if seeing Denali is main goal. Besides, it is cloud enshrouded the majority of the time, so if you take a reserved tour, your chance for getting even a distant view of the mountain not good. Spend your money hanging around Talkeetna and when the clouds break you won’t be disappointed.

  3. Avatar for Joy
    Joy

    Wow this is exactly what I needed to read when I found out the road is closed beyond mile 43. The pictures you included on what I’d be missing has convinced me to postpone my trip. Thanks so much for this write up.

  4. Avatar for Tymm
    Tymm

    Wondering how NPS plans to restrict access via vehicle or bike to the folks who can afford the $1000+ night’s stay in Kantishna? The road corridor itself is not designated Wilderness and can be used by any wheeled vehicle. Previous court rulings have allowed bicycles to be carried across “Wilderness Designated” lands so one would assume you could ride to East Fork River, carry your bike around Poly chrome and then continue back on Park Road to Kantian na or vice versa. Any thoughts on that?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      That area around Polychrome Pass will be the site of a major construction project. You already can’t drive past Savage River because there is a guard station on the road here. Maybe there will be a park ranger around mile 42? But with the amount of construction going on, I don’t think a biker would be able to carry their bike through the construction zone, past the construction workers, past the equipment, and over the slumping road. Right now, you can fly to Kantishna and spend a few days here. But that’s the only way that I know how to get there. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Paul
    Paul

    🙁 was planning to Cycle form entrance to wonderlake and the next day back on my bikepacking trip from Alaska to Mexico….
    Gues I ride how far I can and fit in a hike and ride back to the entrance

    Thx for all the info here 🙂 ps also from Holland

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Wow…Alaska to Mexico. That’s quite the journey!!
       
      Unfortunately, no travelers are permitted beyond mile 43 of Denali Park Road. My understanding is no buses, no bikes and no pedestrian traffic past this point while they construct the bridge. So, you will be able to go as far as mile 43, which is about the halfway point to Wonder Lake. It is still possible to see Wonder Lake this year, but it is very expensive as it requires a helicopter flight and a 3 night stay in Kantishna.
       
      Good luck on your epic journey! Cheers, Julie

  6. Avatar for Richard
    Richard

    Thanks for all of the great information. We have a land/sea cruise planned for this May (it was cancelled last May due to covid). We are disappointed over the road closure but are planning to make the most of it. It is a Holland America trip.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author

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