Alaska is a destination for checking off items on your bucket list. Whether it’s hiking among the Alaskan mountains or seeing the northern lights, seeing a whale or taking a cruise – there’s something for everyone in Alaska.
One of my favorite bucket list-worthy items that many travelers come to do in Alaska is to see the tallest peak in North America: Denali. Formerly called Mt. McKinley, the name was changed back to the Native Alaskan name in 2006. It means “the High One.” At 20,310 feet (6190m), she is the tallest peak on our continent and towers over neighboring mountains in the Alaskan range. The next tallest is her sister peak, Mt. Foraker (17,342 feet/5,286 m).
When visiting Alaska on a clear day, it’s impossible to miss Denali. Her huge silhouette draws the eye like a magnet. Growing up there, I loved days when ‘the mountain was out.’ From certain roads in my hometown of Eagle River, you could see Denali’s permanently white shape on the northern horizon. No trip back feels quite complete until I see that familiar shape, a massive specter both terrifying and familiar.
If you, like me, are drawn to the power of Denali, be sure to add these places to your list. These are some of the best spots you can see Denali near Anchorage, Denali National Park, and on the drive between.
At several points along the Anchorage waterfront, it’s easy to see Denali on a clear day. Two of my favorite spots are:
- Elderberry Park on 5th Avenue
- The Anchorage Market lot on 3rd Avenue
It’s also easy to see Denali at many points along the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, including Earthquake Park and Point Woronzof Park. The Coastal Trail runs along most of the coast near Anchorage including through downtown – plenty of spots to see the mountain, even if you never travel further north!
Mt. Baldy, Eagle River
My favorite Denali viewpoint in Eagle River is from the Mt. Baldy parking lot. Mt. Baldy is one of the fun moderate hikes I recommend for first-time visitors to Alaska, but the parking lot is great if you just want to look out over the Alaskan scenery.
On clear days, you can see Denali as a small mountain on the horizon, along with Mt. Foraker. It’s pretty impressive when you realize the mountain is 129 miles away! (In the above picture, Denali is about 20% of the way from the right border of the picture, and Foraker is the next big bump to the left along the horizon).
Denali Viewpoint South
Parks Highway, Mile 135.2
Whether you drive or take the Alaska Railroad north to Denali National Park, there are ample opportunities to see Denali on the way. For drivers, there are several specific pull-offs and rest areas where you can get a spectacular view, too.
The first, southernmost of these is called Denali Viewpoint South. It is located just inside the boundary of Denali State Park, south of Denali National Park. This large parking lot is on a rise that overlooks the massive, braided Susitna River. It also affords a great view of Denali and surrounding southern peaks on a good day.
There’s a small, paved trail from the parking lot viewing area up the rise to several other viewing areas. If you have the time and want to stretch your legs, this is a great spot to do so. The parking lot also has several informative signs about Denali, viewfinders, and restroom facilities. Many tour buses stop here on the way north to allow visitors to stretch their legs, so the viewing areas can get full of people.
?️ Camping Tip: Denali Viewpoint South also has a small campground, with 9 campsites and picnic sites.
Alaska Veteran’s Memorial
Parks Highway, Mile 147.1
Alaska honors our veterans with several memorials that have a stunning view of Denali. This rest area has large memorials to veterans from each of the five branches of the Military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. There are also memorials for other notable military moments in Alaska’s history.
The view of Denali is impossible to miss; if you turn around from the memorials, it smacks you straight in the face. While there are more trees which obscure your view, the mountain feels significantly closer despite being only 10 miles farther north along the Parks Highway.
The Alaska Veteran’s Memorial rest stop has restroom facilities and is wheelchair accessible. There is also a visitor center open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
?️ Camping Tip: Alaska Veteran’s Memorial is near Byers Lake Campground, which has 73 campsites, 15 picnic sites, a boat launch, and full facilities.
Denali Viewpoint North
Parks Highway, Mile 162.7
Further north still, there’s another good viewpoint and campground called Denali Viewpoint North. As Denali is located in the southern part of Denali National Park, each of these southern viewpoints is closer to the mountain. It almost feels like you can reach out and touch it!
?️ Camping Tip: Denali Viewpoint North has 20 campsites, 20 picnic areas, restroom facilities, and is ADA accessible.
Parks Highway, Mile 201
After leaving the northern border of Denali State Park, you must cross Broad Pass to begin the final drive to the town of Denali and Denali National Park.
Along the way, there’s a stunning Denali viewpoint near the apex of the pass (elevation 2,500 feet). There are two small pull-outs, one on either side of the road, where you can stop for another leg stretch opportunity and snap views of the mountain. From this angle, the mountain has changed shape, and you’re now looking at the northeastern face of Denali.
Note: Facilities and rest stops in Broad Pass are limited between Denali Viewpoint North (Mile 162) and Cantwell, Alaska (Mile 209).
Denali National Park
Parks Highway, Mile 237
Of course, there are stunning views of Denali from within Denali National Park. The entrance road to Denali National Park is at Mile 237 of the Parks Highway.
Here are some of the best spots to see Denali within the park (you can see it most of the road, but there are important logistics to consider. Read on for more info.).
- First Denali Viewpoint – At roughly Mile 9 of the Denali Park Road, you’ll get your first view of Denali on a clear day.
- Savage River – As mentioned in my guide to hiking, you can see Denali from the Savage River Alpine Trail outlook (Mile 15). This is the farthest point in the park which you can drive to in your private vehicle.
- Polychrome Pass – Though this part of the Park Road makes many visitors nervous, the stunning view of the National Park – and potentially Denali – at Mile 46 makes it all worth it.
- Eielson Visitor Center – Before descending down into the valley, Eielson Visitor Center offers one last overlook at Denali. Located at Mile 62 of the Park Road, Eielson is 33 miles from the mountain and offers informative displays about Denali National Park and the namesake mountain.
- Wonder Lake – At Mile 85, Wonder Lake is the most picturesque spot from which to view Denali – and the closest, at just 26 miles away from the mountains. This is where Ansel Adams snapped his famous shot. On a clear day, the mountain will feel within arms reach.
How to Visit Denali National Park
Unfortunately, as mentioned, you cannot access most of these Denali viewpoints by private vehicle. The Denali Park Road is restricted and the easiest way to visit the park is by booking a tour at the National Park Service Visitor Center. These tours come in two forms:
- Day Trips – Bus routes ranging from 3-8 hours that take you varying lengths into the park.
- Multi-Day Trips – Bus tickets that allow you to ride into the park on one bus, stay in the park overnight at a campground or at the Kantishna Lodge, and then ride out on another bus later. You will need a backcountry camping permit and to register with the Visitor Center before staying overnight in Denali National Park.
The most popular way to visit Denali National Park is to stay in the nearby town of Denali and do the 8-hour day tour into the park, but this will not get you all the way to Wonder Lake. The 8-hour tour makes it as far as Eielson Visitor Center on the best day. However, it may not make it that far depending on the number of animals you see and stops your driver makes.
To see the view from Wonder Lake, you will need to book accommodation at the Kantishna Roadhouse or Wonder Lake Campground (or arrange for backcountry camping and get requisite permits).
Bonus – Take a Denali Flightseeing Tour
If your time in Alaska is limited but you still want to try and see Denali, consider a flightseeing tour. These are expensive at $250-$500 per person depending on the tour operator.
Grainy photos from my FlyDenali flightseeing tour in 2007.
There are three cities from which you can book a Denali flightseeing tour:
- Anchorage – Flight operators such as Rust’s Flying Service offer a 3-hour Denali Flightseeing Tour from $425 per person.
- Talkeetna – Located between Anchorage and Denali, several flight operators such as K2 Aviation and Talkeetna Air offer comparable flight routes around Denali. Flights range from $210-$345 per person, and K2 offers a glacier landing option for an extra $90 per person.
- Denali – Several tour operators offer flights from the town of Denali. I flew with Fly Denali in 2007 and highly recommend them to anyone. Their Glacier Landing tour is a steep $524 per person but is my favorite memory from a summer spent in the park. Kantishna Air Taxi offers a 1-hour flightseeing tour from within Denali National Park from $270 per person; this is a great option if you’re already staying in Kantishna or at Wonder Lake.
Remember: no flightseeing tour can guarantee you’ll see Denali. As with on land, your ability to see the mountain depends on the weather. Denali is only visible about 30% of the time, so if you do see Denali on your visit to Alaska, consider yourself lucky!
If you have questions about how to see Denali, feel free to post them in the comments.
[info] This post was originally published in September 2014 and was updated in 2017.[/info]
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