Hiking opportunities in Denali National Park and Preserve are endless. You can hike on well-trod loops, out-and-back trails, or off-trail forging your own pathways. Beginners will enjoy flat meandering pathways through spruce forests. Well-traveled moderate trails offer stunning panoramic views — a reward for your effort. Experienced, off-trail adventurers will love the freedom of wide-open spaces.
Denali National Park and Preserve has just one road, the Denali Park Road. Running curvaceously from Highway 3 (George Parks Highway) westward to Kantishna, it is 92 miles long. Along the way, the Alaska range juts through the sky producing a magnificent backdrop. The first 15 miles of the road are paved, and personal cars are allowed. The remainder of the road is accessible by national parks-permitted buses.
In the last few years, the ongoing Pretty Rock landslide started to pick up speed, and the park road was closed at Mile 43 in August 2021. The road will remain closed to vehicles while the National Park Service (NPS) engineers a safe way to hold back the rockslides in this area.
Note: Some information in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.
1. Horseshoe Lake Trail
Horseshoe Lake Trail, a popular, easy trail that begins near the Denali Visitor Center, is 2 miles round trip. The loop begins as a wide flat trail that is easily navigable. However, it rapidly becomes a steep, uphill walk then quickly descends down to the lakeshore. The trail meanders around the lake with open views of nature’s wilderness wonderland.
Pro Tip: Like many lakes in Denali, beaver lodges are plentiful. Keep an eye out for one on the lake.
2. Triple Lakes Trail
Something for every hiker, Triple Lakes Trail is 9.5 miles from the southern trailhead on Highway 3 to the northern trailhead near the Denali Visitor Center. It is an up and down hike that will work your legs and lungs.
The longest marked trail in the park, it offers adventurous hikers a chance to view the beauty of Denali in relative solitude. While you can encounter wildlife — bears, moose, and wolves — on any trail, it is important to be prepared on this particularly long trek. Consider bringing trekking poles and bear spray with you.
Start at Highway 3 and hike the 2.5 miles to the first lake, then turn back if that is your comfort zone. The second lake is only an additional half mile and is worth the effort.
Pro Tip: There was snow on the northern part of the trail and icy patches along the entire route when we hiked it in mid-May. Plan your hike and outerwear accordingly.
3. Savage River Loop Trail
The Denali Park Road is only accessible to Savage River Loop Trail with your personal vehicle. At this checkpoint, only buses authorized by the park are allowed to venture into the park where the roads are narrow, winding, and a wildlife crossing zone.
Savage River Loop Trail is 1.7 miles long. It is a gently undulating trail with no steep grades to navigate. The trail mostly hugs the river and offers panoramic views. Watch out for wildlife along the river’s edge. This grizzly was happily munching on roots. You want to give him a wide berth.
Pro Tip: This road may be closed to personal vehicles in the spring and fall depending on the weather conditions.
4. Mount Healy Overlook Trail
The Mount Healy Overlook Trail is an out-and-back trail that travels part-way up Mount Healy in a steady, uphill (or downhill) climb. The 2.7-mile hike has an elevation change of 1,700 feet, testing your knees and lung capacity.
The steep climb and numerous switchbacks make it easy to encounter critters on the path — even large ones like an enormous Denali moose. The trail ends in an open area; reaching the Mount Healy peak is an off-trail hike and is reserved for intrepid and prepared hikers.
Pro Tip: Moose are one of the dangerous animals in the park; they are enormous and will charge when their personal space is invaded. If you encounter a moose, head for the trees, they are not great at navigating the forested area.
5. Rock Creek Trail
Pro Tip: This trail takes about 2 hours to hike, keep that in mind if you are planning on attending a scheduled demonstration.
6. McKinley Station Trail
The short McKinley Station Trail is a 1.6-mile out-and-back hike that connects the Denali Visitor Center to the Riley Creek Campground.
7. Taiga Trail
Taiga Trail is one of the main trails from the Denali Visitor Center. The moderate, 1.6-mile loop trail is a connector for other trails in Denali National Park and Preserve.
8. Eielson Visitor Center
The Eielson Visitor Center is closed for the 2022 and 2023 season due to the Pretty Rocks landslide which has precipitated the closure of the park road at Mile 43. When the Eielson Visitor Center, located at Mile 66, reopens, it will depend on the road restoration. The views from Eielson of the Denali peaks are superb and worth the effort.
Below are three well-traveled trails in the Eielson area.
9. Tundra Loop
This is a quick one-third-mile trail close to the visitor center through a beautiful alpine area.
10. Thorofare Ridge Trail
The Thorofare Ridge Trail is rated hard by Alltrails, and for good reason. It is a steep 2.2-mile out-and-back hike that has over 1,100 feet in elevation gain. However, the reward on a clear day is magnificent mountain views.
11. Gorge Creek Trail
The Gorge Creek Trail is a moderately rated out and back hike that traverses 3.8 miles of backcountry wilderness. This hike is for the skilled hiker.
Pro Tip: Be prepared for a possible creek crossing along this trail. Hiking in soaking wet shoes is not a fun way to spend your time in the Alaskan woods.
12. Wonder Lake
Wonder Lake is located at Mile 85, and, as with the Eielson Center, there are no bus services due to the landslide. The McKinley Bar Trail is an out-and-back trail that clocks in at 4.6 miles. The trail offers beautiful views in a serene and solitary area. It leads from the Wonder Lake Campground (closed for the 2022 season) to the water’s edge of the McKinley River.
Pro Tip: If you hike this trail from Kantishna, be cognizant of the private property in the area.
13. Oxbow Loop Trail
If you need a quiet easy walk with views of the swift Nenana River and a beautiful spruce forest, Oxbow Loop Trail is the trail to take.
Pro Tip: The trailhead is on Highway 3, south of the park entrance. It is close to the large sign announcing you have entered Denali National Park and Preserve.
14. Spruce Forest Loop
The Spruce Forest Loop connector trail is a quarter-mile loop. Perfect to stretch your legs while you are at the visitor center.
Pro Tip: The spruce beetle is working its way through Alaskan forests killing the beautiful trees. If you have an opportunity to meander through these spruce forests, enjoy the trees that are fighting for their survival.
15. Off-Trail Hiking
Off-trail hiking in Denali National Park is part of the charm of this beautiful wilderness. Transit shuttle buses run the park road and drop day hikers along the side of the road. When you complete your hike, simply walk the road and wave down a shuttle to explore the next part of your journey.
Denali is over six million acres. Alltrails offers this list of curated hikes, leaving acres of wide-open backcountry. Exploring the park wilderness on a road less traveled is not for the inexperienced hiker. However, for those who are well equipped, an exciting adventure awaits.
Hiking With A Guide
When you follow the lead of an experienced guide, not only do you have the area knowledge base at your fingertips, but you also have someone skilled in hiking trails, setting a pace, and wildlife encounter management. You don’t want to come upon a bear or moose unprepared. The informational awareness you get from an experienced guide is invaluable, and can, in some cases, be lifesaving.
Denali Park Village offers interpretive guided hikes for trekkers of every skill level. From easy to strenuous, you will find a hike to get your heart pumping. There are multiple payoffs for hiking with a guide; you will learn the area’s history, you won’t get lost, and your reward will be incredible views.
Hiking Trails In Denali
There are so many incredible hikes in Denali National Park and Preserve just waiting for you to explore. The raw wilderness of this gem of the national park system is a must for your ever-expanding bucket list. If you still have a few questions about Denali, check out these Denali Ranger Tips for visiting.