Denali National Park is not a four-season destination. Tourist facilities, such as hotels and restaurants, are only open from mid-May through mid-September, though the park is technically open year-round. The most popular time to visit is the summer, when the weather is warm, the wildlife is most active, and the parklands shed their winter browns for seasonal colors. A photographer's wonderland, Denali first wakes up in June with spring greens, bursts into an array of colors when the wildflowers bloom in July, and shows off fiery hues when the leaves change colors in August. You can pick your travel dates by what colors you want to see in the Denali landscape.
The most favorable time to visit is during the spring, when the days are clear with warm afternoons, and there's a good chance to view wildlife. Summer is the most crowded, when the park is packed with cruise passengers on extended land packages. Although popular, these months can be rainier than the spring. The fall brings cooler temperatures, but also the chance to see the Northern Lights.
- high season: mid-June to mid-August
- low season: mid-September to mid-May
- shoulder season: mid-May to mid-June, mid-August to mid-September
Denali National Park experiences four distinct seasons. Summers are warm, with average temperature highs in the mid-60s, and bouts of rain in July and August. The spring and fall see cooler weather and clear days. Winters can be cold, with temperatures dropping to minus 40 degrees and below. It's best to dress in layers and always bring rain gear. The wide-open spaces of the park don't offer much shelter to hikers in a sudden rain shower.
The busiest time to visit the park is from late June through August. You'll want to make reservations for hotels, tours, and activities far in advance if you're there during this time. Many of the summer visitors are cruise ship passengers who never venture farther than the tour bus. You can easily avoid the crowds by getting off the shuttle buses and heading into the Denali wilderness. Just make sure you apply for camping permits and book bus tickets well ahead of time.
The town of Denali essentially closes down for the winter. Hotels, shops, and restaurants shut their doors from mid-September through mid-May. The park technically remains open, and brave out-of-towners can try snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and other winter activities in sub-zero temperatures and darkened days. Off-season visitors should contact the park for winter hours and will need to be more resourceful in finding accommodations.
When to Save
Prices are the highest from mid-June through mid-August; travelers can save money by visiting during the shoulder seasons. Once in the park, you can often avoid high prices by going where the cruise passengers are not. Look for more local eateries rather than dining in hotel restaurants, or pack your own lunch rather than paying for a hotel's boxed meals. A night in a tent will always be cheaper than a night in a hotel.
When to Book
Book in February and March, when hotels and airlines have more availability and offer lower prices. For park activities, it's best to make reservations as early as you can. For example, bus tickets go on sale December 1 for the following summer. To get your first choice of shuttle times, you might want to reserve a spot as soon as you make your vacation plans.