Denali National Park & Preserve Operating Hours & Seasons

Denali National Park & Preserve is in Alaska, I know I keep saying that but it’s important, because in Alaska life is governed mostly by the weather. Seasons don’t generally start on a particular date in Alaska, they start when Mother Nature decides it’s a good time for them to start.

The many wild animals in Denali National Park & Preserve don’t rely on the date to know that summer has arrived, they rely on the weather. The snow doesn’t arrive and leave on a given day, it’s all down to the weather. The spring flowers don’t look at the calendar, they wait for the weather. Right, I hope that’s clear, here are a few ideas of what might happen in each season at Denali National Park & Preserve – weather permitting, obviously.

Spring in Denali – Road plowing in Denali National Park & Preserve usually gets started in March, meaning that the roads will hopefully be open for access to visitors by the middle of April. If you contact the park late in the winter time they may be able to give you a more accurate indication of just when the park roads will be open for business.

Summer in Denali – The bus service around the park opens every year on May 20th, but it’s not unusual to have to wait until June before the entire park is accessible by bus. The shuttle bus service ends on the second Thursday after Labor Day every year, which will be September 12 in 2013, September 11 in 2014 etc. That’s one thing which does rely on the calendar, regardless of the weather – unless the weather means that it has to stop sooner than that of course.

Fall in Denali – Denali National Park & Preserve run an annual Road Lottery which always falls on the weekend after the shuttle buses have concluded. You can apply for this Road Lottery from June of that year. Winners of the Road Lottery may purchase a single, one day permit and drive for as far as the Denali National Park road will allow them. Some years, when the snow is early, this could be no further than the 15 miles to the Savage River, however in milder years it may be the 85 mile trip to Wonder Lake. That’s why it’s called a lottery. The Road Lottery runs from the second Friday through Monday weekend after Labor Day.

During the rest of the Fall, in the Shoulder Season, private vehicles are permitted to drive up to 30 miles into Denali National Park & Preserve – weather permitting of course. This starts immediately after the Road Lottery each year and last until the snow makes travel impossible.

Winter in Denali – Once the snow has started falling in Denali National Park & Preserve the road is only plowed between the entrance and mile 3 at the Park Headquarters.

Denali National Park Visitor Center

The Denali Visitor Center is on the Park Road at mile 1.5. It’s open daily between May 15 September 17 – 2013, between the hours of 8am and 6pm. Other facilities close to the Denali National Park Visitor Center include a book store and gift shop, restaurant, bus stop and railroad depot.

What to Expect at Denali National Park & Preserve 

In Denali National Park & Preserve the summers are short (which means there’s lots going on, the animals in particular have much to do in the short summer months), the winters are harsh, the spring may only last for a few short days, the same for the fall. The tundra plants can change from green to red within days, and before you know it they’ve faded to brown

Generally speaking, the “core” summer is between June 8 until mid September, and it’s during this period that not only is access to the park at its easiest, it’s also when most of the activities are going on.

  • Wildflowers – generally begin to bloom early in June and last until the end of July.
  • Animals – are definitely more active and therefore visible between May and September.
  • Mosquitoes – can be a problem early in the summer but have usually disappeared by the beginning of August, from everywhere barring the very wettest parts anyway.
  • Winter days are very short with less than 5 hours of daylight at Christmas time.
  • Aurora Borealis is sometimes visible from late August, but your chances of catching a glimpse do increase as the daylight hours decrease.
  • The mountains can be covered in a fresh blanket of snow from as early as September.
  • Fall colors can start as early as the beginning of August.

Magical, mystical, unbelievable, incredible . . . definitely one for the “bucket list”.