The Seasons of the Denali National Park

Mt. McKinley, the highest peak on the Alaska Range is called Denali, meaning “the High One” in the native language of the area. The Denali National Park encompasses over 6 million acres and over 9,400 square miles. Formerly the Mt. McKinley National Park, when 4 million acres were added to the park in 1980 it was renamed the Denali National Park.

Since Denali National Park is in the subarctic zone winter is the longest season. The park sees fewer visitors in the winter since it is covered with a mantle of snow and ice. Many of the animals are hibernating or have migrated southward, the quiet beauty of the park and the stillness of the landscape make it a striking time to visit. Winter activities in the park include cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and dog mushing. One of the most popular winter events is Winterfest in February. A chili cook-off, a quilt show, storytelling, concerts, crafts and an ice sculpting contest are held during the week of Winterfest. You can also join a ranger for a snowshoe walk on the weekends beginning in February.

Spring doesn’t last long in the park and with a few warm days the park landscape transforms from brown and somewhat barren earth to lush and green.

Summer is the season when most people visit and the most activities are available in the park. Wildflowers can be seen in June and July. Animals are also more visible in the summer months. Daylight can last as long as 20 hours when it peaks at the solstice in June. Campgrounds are open by the second week of June until early September. This is the perfect season for day hiking, cycling, wildlife viewing. Lucky visitors may spot a grizzly or black bear, moose or caribou. Animals more often seen are the squirrels, marmots, and foxes throughout the park. Bird watchers can see some of the 169 species of birds that fly in the skies over the park. Eagles, ravens, mew gulls, gray jays and ptarmigan are some of the inhabitants.

Fall really begins in August when the foliage begins to turn. In late August as the days are shortening there is an increasing chance of seeing the Northern Lights. It can snow anytime in the park but the snows that come in September stay for the winter. Park hours and activities begin to lessen during September as extreme cold weather begins.

One note to hunters, hunting is not allowed in the Denali National Park only in the Denali National Preserve and a license is required. Fishing is difficult in the park because of the poor habitat of the rivers. However, some trout are caught in the lakes in the western part of the park.