People visit Denali National Park for two main reasons: to see Denali (Mt. McKinley) and to view wildlife. While neither experience is guaranteed, your odds of seeing wildlife are good if you know where to look.
The best chance to view wildlife in Denali is on an excursion, specifically an early morning bus tour down the Denali Park Road. These tours are available in varying lengths from 4 to 12 hours, and the likelihood of spotting wildlife improves the longer you stay on the bus and the deeper into the park you go. The animals you can hope to see include moose, bear, caribou, wolves, dall sheep, other small land mammals like marmots, as well as a variety of birds.
80 to 90% of visitors see bears, sheep, and caribou, though often from a distance. 35% see moose (but your chances double in the late season), and only 20% of visitors see wolves.
We have put together a list of wildlife viewing hot spots in Denali National Park. Most are points along the Denali Park Road that you will see from a bus tour, while others are viewing points from hiking trails and visitor’s centers.
Best Wildlife Viewing Spots in Denali National Park
Denali Park Road ToursPrivate vehicles are not allowed on the park road beyond mile 15. These busses are the way you'll gain access to the park for wildlife viewing.
The best way to get an overview of Denali National Park is aboard one of the park buses, which feature a trained naturalist who both drives and provides narration. Available tours include the Natural History Tour (4−5 hrs), Tundra Wilderness Tour (7−8 hrs), The Eielson Excursion (8−9 hrs) or The Kantishna Experience (11−12 hrs)
Explore all 92 miles of the Denali Park Road and have the entire trip narrated by an experienced driver. Not only will you see legendary landmarks such as Polychrome Pass, Wonder Lake and Reflection Pond, you will have opportunities to see the abundance of wildlife in the park. Enjoy a hot lunch, explore the grounds, pan for gold, or take a short walk along the creek, or relax in a rocker at the lodge and soak up the scenery.
Most people who visit the six-million-acre Denali National Park only see roughly the first dozen — or maybe 50 — miles of the legendary park Road. But this tour takes you all the way to the depths of Kantishna — the heart of the Park where you have the chance to experience postcard-perfect views of Mt. McKinley. This tour makes for a full day — from about 6 in the morning until 7 or 8 in the evening — but it’s an adventure of a lifetime.
This flexible alternative to the standard bus tour is a great option for independent travelers. Get off anywhere, spend a few hours hiking, then catch another bus back to the park entrance (as long as a seat is available). You can take a short ride before starting your adventure, or travel out to Kantishna, at the end of the park road.
This is the only flightseeing company with an airstrip in Kantishna, inside Denali National Park. Because you depart so much closer to the mountain than other tours, in a one-hour flight, you’ll get 40 minutes circling the mountain. You may also combine a one-way park road bus tour with a Denali flightseeing tour for an incredible overview of the park.
Traverse Alaska can craft fully-guided custom adventures, or set you up on a trip into the Alaska wilderness arming you with some know-how — and providing you with the independence to freely explore. Traverse Alaska’s owner, Joe and his local team can help facilitate stays in lodges, cabins, tents or yurts, and provide the necessary gear and instructions..
Best Wildlife Viewing Spots in Denali National Park
Either drive your own car or take the free shuttle 15 miles out the park road to the Savage River check station. This is a popular hiking trail, and you won’t be alone, but at least you’re away from the entrance area and entering the true wilderness of Denali National Park. This is a tundra walk on a developed trail that follows the river. Good hike for kids, with possibility of seeing Dall sheep, marmots, and caribou. You can do a loop walk, ...more
This is the most photographed view of Denali (Mt. McKinley) from the road. You’re up high, at the edge of a mountain pass, and there’s alpine tundra all around, with the road snaking towards the mountain in the foreground. And this is the first spot where you can see the whole mountain from base to summit. On clear days, Tundra Wilderness Tours will extend their trip several miles just to reach this spot. Stony Hill is also a great place to… ...more
This informal hiking area begins at the Primrose rest area and heads up a gentle ridge until you reach the bench, which provides panoramic views of the park. Wildflowers are abundant in this area and usually peak between July 20 and August 10.
The grizzly bears of Denali can be found feeding in almost every corner of Denali National Park. Early to mid summer, these bears can be often observed from Thorofare Pass. What draws these adaptable and persistent omnivores to this high alpine environment? Audio tour by Camp Denali Wilderness Lodge.
Tattler Creek is named for the Wandering Tattler, a large shorebird that you may be lucky enough to spot. The first Wandering Tattler nest known to science was found at Denali National Park. The first nests of the Arctic Warbler and Surfbird were also found here.
A great place to catch a glimpse of Dall Sheep, Igloo Mountain is also where the first dinosaur tracks in the park were discovered. You can see them yourself, if you go on one of the many easy day hikes that start here.
Sable Pass on the Denali Park Road is a wildlife hotspot. The area is designated as critical grizzly bear country in Denali National Park, so it is permanently closed in order to protect wildlife.
Only 33 miles from the summit of Denali, and at an elevation of 3300’, Eielson offers some of the most spectacular views of Denali (formerly Mt McKinley). There are many activities you can do here, including ranger-guided hikes up to nearby Thorofare Pass and self-guided expiration of the high-alpine tundra environment.
This hike does not require crossing any glaciers or dangerous streams, which makes for a good overnight hike for those who carry an overnight camping permit.
Caribou trails weave back and forth across the alpine slopes above Stony Hill. These trails are evidence of the seasonal migration patterns of Denali’s caribou. Find out why caribou undertake this migration, and where you can expect to find them depending on the season. Audio tour by Camp Denali Wilderness Lodge.
Igloo Creek is one of three tent-only campgrounds in the park. Situated right next to the creek, it is a great place to relax and enjoy the wilderness and the area around the campground offers great hiking opportunities.
Pick up the trail right after you cross over Tatter Creek. Follow Tattler Creek upstream for 1⁄4 mile to a steep ravine that comes in from the left. Follow this ravine up until you reach a ridge that overlooks the Sable Pass restricted area. If you only plan to spend time on the ridge without going farther afield you may want to stock up on water in the ravine because there are no sources on the ridgeline. From the ridge you can choose to… ...more
Polychrome Pass gets it’s name from the colorful volcanic rocks that you can see from the overlook, but the name could also be applied to the colorful vegetation, streams, mountains and glaciers that make this spot unique. This high overlook is a great spot to watch bears, moose and caribou from far enough away that you won’t risk disturbing them.
This is an unmarked, unmaintained trail and can be difficult to follow, but is a good example of the real outdoors in Denali National Park.