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The Ultimate Guide to Denali National Park Camping

Ready to camp at Denali National Park, but not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered! With this comprehensive guide to Denali National Park Camping, we have all the information you need to have an awesome experience in the breathtaking Alaskan wilderness!

What to Expect at the Park

Denali National Park, Alaska
Denali National Park, Alaska

If you choose to drive (you can also arrive by private plane at select landing strips!), you’ll enter the park by a single road that runs through six million acres of mostly untouched wilderness. As you travel deeper into the park, signs of civilization will disappear. Low elevation forest near the park entrance will give way to high alpine tundra and snowy mountains until you finally reach North America’s tallest mountain: the 20,310-foot tall Denali. Beauty, solitude and the wonders of nature will great you, but Denali National Park camping is not for the unprepared!

Camping at Denali National Park

Grizzly Bear in Denali National Park
Grizzly Bear in Denali National Park

Denali National Park is a popular place to camp, and some of the campgrounds have very few available spots, so it’s important that you make reservations at one of the park’s campgrounds before you arrive. Only three of the campsites at Denali—Riley Creek, Savage River, and Teklanika River—allow vehicles and RV Camping, and cars without permits are not allowed past mile 15 on the park road, so don’t forget permits for your vehicles if you plan to use them!

No matter where you choose to camp, you will arrive and check in at Riley Creek Mercantile, and your check-out time will be at 11 AM at the end of your reservation. Denali is a beautiful but rustic place to camp; there are no hook-ups at any of the campgrounds. Be safe and remember that even on sites where fires are permitted, they are only allowed in established grates.

Denali National Park has a diverse assortment of wildlife, including wolves and bears, so you should consider the safety of your pet and the park before bringing them along. Leashed pets are allowed at all campgrounds, but are not allowed on any of the hiking trails except the Roadside Trail and the Bike Path. They must be kept secured if left behind at a campsite.

Best Spots to Camp

Denali National Park autumn colors

While Denali National Park Camping can normally be enjoyed at one of six campgrounds, Igloo Creek and Wonder Lake— the two campgrounds furthest from the park entrance— are closed for the 2022 season. There are pros and cons to camping at the remaining sites.

For the novice camper, Riley Creek is by far the best place to camp. But for the camper looking for a more rugged experience, Sanctuary River has the peace and serenity you cannot find at any other site. 22 miles into the park, this campground is tent-only and cannot be accessed by private vehicle. You will need to board a shuttle bus at the park entrance to reach your site. This site is not for the novice camper, but with higher difficulty comes great rewards!

Pros of Riley Creek:

  • Located less than a mile from the park entrance
  • Cellphone and internet access are available
  • Easy access to the outside
  • From Riley Creek, you can board a bus to take a park tour, bike and hike along a park trail, or visit the Murie Science and Learning Center or the Denali Visitors Center.

Cons of Riley Creek:

  • Proximity to the entrance means this campground is close to the highway, so traffic noise can be a bother.

Pros of Sanctuary River:

  • This beautiful campground is close to the Savage River and has easy access to the four Savage River Area Trails as well as off-trail hiking opportunities.
  • Far from the entrance, so there’s no risk of traffic noise interfering with your peace and quiet!

Cons of Sanctuary River:

  • As there is no potable water, you’ll need to bring a water filter to Sanctuary River.
  • There are no fires allowed in Sanctuary River—only stove cooking. Be sure you come prepared!

What to Bring When Camping at Denali National Park

Camping at Denali National Park

When it comes to Denali National Park camping, you can’t be too prepared. This may seem like a lot of gear, but trust us, you’re better off safe than sorry!

What to Bring for Hiking:

  • A backpack for all your gear
  • Much of the hiking at Denali is off-trail, so be sure to bring sturdy boots that can hike through rivers or streams
  • A rain jacket and warm, quick-drying clothes
  • A compass and map
  • Emergency gear such as a first aid kit, a knife, and a signaling device if you plan to go off-trail (most of the park does not have cellphone service)

What to Bring for Your Campsite:

  • Fuel
  • Cookware
  • Bear-resistant food containers
  • Sanitary items such as toilet paper and a disposal bag that can be packed out
  • A sleeping bag and pad
  • Insect repellent
  • Waterproof cases and bags for your gear
  • Sun protection
  • Toiletries
  • Bear spray

Things to Do While Camping at Denali National Park

Railroad track to Denali National Park
Railroad track to Denali National Park

No matter what time of year you camp, there is so much do to at Denali. You can hop a bus or van tour at Riley Creek to go further into the park than you are allowed by private vehicle. You can also set out on an unguided hike on one of the park’s trails, or choose to adventure off-trail and into the untouched wilderness that is the true highlight of the Denali National Park experience. For the more adventurous there are zip-line tours that will have you flying across the treeline!

If you’d like a more curated experience, you can find out more about the land at the Murie Science and Learning Center, or drop by the Denali Visitors Center to join up with a guided hike or bus tour of the park. Park Rangers are happy to inform you about the history of the park and the animals and plants that live there!

Wildlife

Grizzly bear in Denali National Park

If you’re hoping to see wildlife while camping at Denali National Park, you’re in luck. The unfenced Alaskan wilderness of Denali provides access to all kinds of animals, from little squirrels and marmots to great grizzly and black bears! With few manmade trails across the park, you’ll be able to experience animals in their natural habitats all through the park.

In addition to predators like wolves and bears, large mammals like caribou, moose, and Dall’s sheep can be spotted. For the bird watchers, the rare bald eagle is sometimes sighted as well as golden eagles, mew gulls, gray jays, ravens, and ptarmigan!

However, keep in mind it’s important to respect the wildlife at Denali! Campers are advised to secure food in airtight containers, and you should never leave waste outside. If you spot moose in the wild, be prepared to run, but never run from wolves or bears. Always remember to stay 25 yards away from all wildlife, except for the bears—you’ll want to stay 300 yards away from those!

Vegetation Geography

Denali National Park Camping

The beautiful wilderness of Denali National Park is mostly forested at elevations less than 2,500 feet, with scrub vegetation and spruce woodland in higher elevations up to 3,500 feet, and low tundra above 3,500. This rugged, hard-to-access landscape will require lots of gear and preparation! If you’re going to experience Denali National Park camping, you’ll need to be ready for every possibility, especially if you camp at a site further from the entrance without access to a vehicle or the camp store.

History of the Park

Moose in Denali National Park
Moose in Denali National Park

Originally known as Mt. McKinley National Park, Denali National Park was opened in 1917. Originally a wilderness area, the park was created to protect wildlife and wildlands and has stayed true to this mission over the last 100 years. In 2015, the mountain and park were both renamed to honor the Athabaskan people who were native to this area. Denali means “mountain-big” in the Koyukon language.

Reviews for Camping at Denali National Park

Northern Lights, Denali National Park
Northern Lights, Denali National Park

Rated 4.8 stars on Google, the beauty of Denali National Park is striking to visitors. Reviewers rave about the natural beauty, the solitude, and the wonder of nature untouched by human hands. Though many regretted not being fully prepared with all the gear necessary for this kind of wilderness camping and hiking, none of these visitors thought wet feet or a difficult night wasn’t worth it to experience the majesty offered to them by Denali National Park camping.

Wrapping Up Denali National Park Camping

With so much to see and do, Denali National Park is a must-visit for any national park aficionado! The majesty of the Alaskan wilderness is worth the difficulties of living and hiking in untouched nature. As long as you prepare and plan your trip before you head out, you are sure to have an amazing experience exploring one of the largest areas of untouched wild left in the United States!

Looking for more Alaska camping? Check out more camping guides below!

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