For many folks, a trip to Alaska isn’t complete without seeing Denali (Mt. McKinley), and with good reason—North America’s tallest peak (20,320 feet), commonly called Denali, is beautiful. From afar, it’s massive. And up close, the sheer granite walls, alpine glaciers, and pillowing snow cornices are otherworldly.
But actually seeing the mountain can be difficult; Denali is so big it makes its own weather, and it’s completely shrouded by clouds roughly 1/3 of the time. Still, with clouds, storms, fog, and sunny high-pressure systems all battling it out around Denali, the peak can appear at any moment. And you can even see it from Anchorage, 125 miles away! You might see it from downtown, from a river rafting trip outside Talkeetna, driving the Parks Highway from Anchorage to Fairbanks, or while on a flightseeing trip or Alaska Railroad tour.
Here are the best places and ways to see the peak. Now you just need the weather to cooperate!
Flightseeing tours leave from Anchorage, Talkeetna, or Denali Park, and other than climbing the mountain, there’s no more intimate and impressive way to see Denali. Tours fly over the mountain, around it, or up to its edge; either way, you’ll get up close to its snowfields, alpine glaciers, deep crevasses, and sheer granite walls. You can even select a flight with a glacier landing, where you’ll land on a glacier and walk through Denali’s icy alpine world! In a couple hours you’ll probably see more beautiful, dramatic, and savage mountain scenery than anywhere else in your life. It’s not cheap, but it’s one of the best things you can do in the state. Click here for a comparison of the top flights.
The Denali Park Road offers several opportunities to see Denali. This famous road, closed to private vehicles after Mile 15, runs 91 miles into the heart of the park and the flanks of Denali. There are several viewpoints within the first 20 miles, but the farther you travel, the bigger the mountain gets. And after the Eielson Visitor Center, the summit is in view for 15 miles. Tour buses and park shuttle buses are permitted to drive the road, which ends at Kantishna, an old mining town turned lodging enclave.
There are a few good places in Anchorage to see the mountain, and here
are the most promising locations:
Point Woronzof - The best free spot. Here, you’re looking across Knik Arm and the view is completely unobstructed. It’s not a wilderness experience, since you’re under the flight path of the airport, but the view is clear and makes for great photos in soft evening light.
Earthquake Park - Provides a similar, but often less crowded view than Point Woronzof.
The Crow's Nest - Feast on fresh Alaska seafood while overlooking Anchorage & Denali.
Flattop Mountain at Glen Alps - Either hike to the top of Flattop for expansive views of Anchorage and Denali or follow the relatively easy Glen Alps View Loop for a equally breathtaking view.
JC Penney Parking Garage - On clear days, take the stairs or elevator to the top of the garage and look north to spy Denali poking above Knik Arm and Point MacKenzie.
UA Museum of the North - The top of Denali, as well as the Alaska Range, can be seen from the huge lobby window most mornings.
George Parks Highway
The Drive From Anchorage to Fairbanks, commonly referred to as the Parks Highway, is not to be confused with the “Park Road” that cuts through Denali National Park. This highway connects Anchorage to Fairbanks, and supplies several views of Denali along the way.
From Alaska native art to polar dinosaurs, you'll find something interesting on exhibit here. Head to the centerpiece of this museum, the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery, to see the full spectrum of Alaskan art, from ancient Eskimo ivory carvings to contemporary paintings and sculptures.
A great spot for a hike, this open, high alpine area gives you a good chance to see Dall Sheep. The ridge gets it’s name from a wildflower, the Primrose, and in the spring and early summer it’s also a great place to see a variety of unique alpine wildflowers.
This is a great picture in the fall, when the foreground is ablaze with red-leafed dwarf birch trees and More...
Although most viewpoints along the Park Road can only be accessed by private tour buses or park shuttle buses, you can drive to this viewpoint (the first 15 miles are open to private vehicles). The dense spruce forest opens up here, giving you the first view of Denali, as it is called in the native Athabaskan language (formerly Mt. McKinley). The mountain is roughly 72 miles away and you’re only seeing the top 8,000 feet or so. Still, it’s a great view, with taiga forest giving way to tundra and distant foothills. This is also a great place to view wildlife.
Only a few miles from the end of the Denali Park Road (85 miles in, about 5 hours by bus), this is the classic McKinley view from the north side, made famous by Ansel Adams’ photographs. Only one tour bus travels this far (park shuttle buses also come here), and the best photos are from the north end of the lake, where you get the perspective immortalized by Adams. You can also 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 More...
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.
At Camp Denali, you’ll immerse yourself in a remote backcountry, but with a cozy bed to settle into each night. Take in the quiet of the surrounding wilderness and enjoy the simple, sustainable amenities for around 38 guests. Here, the balance of “light touch on the land” and providing a comfortable stay is perfected. Refined rustic guest cabins, each of which claims a unique view of Denali, sleep from two to six people.
This lodge, like Camp Denali, was homesteaded in the 1950s, but unlike the cabin style lodging, The North Face Lodge is quaintly decorated like a casual country inn. The lodge can hold about 36 guests, who all enjoy multi-day stays complete with cultural history, guided hikes, field trips and evening programs.
During clear weather, there are excellent views of North America‘s highest peak on this six-mile section of the Denali Highway. Approximately 80 percent of its 20,320’ elevation rises above the surrounding landscape, making its base-to-summit rise greater than that of Mount Everest.
Just after Petersville (at Mile 34) the road gets rough, but you can head less than one mile to this turnaround where a “trail” heads into Denali State Park. It’s used by four-wheelers and looks like a road, but it does turn into a trail. Hike it, away from the mining activity and river, and you’ll see Denali. This view was made famous by Alaska landscape More...
Where else can you walk to the end of Main Street and find yourself at the confluence of three wild rivers, overlooking a 20,000-foot peak? Close to downtown, this large, river-centered park offers wide open, untouched spaces, along with great panoramic view of the Alaska Range.
Come here to see the mingling of 3 swift glacial rivers: the Talkeetna, Susitna, and Chulitna More...
Get a glimpes into the lives of Alaska's earliest pioneers amidst artifacts, pictures and stories depicting the rugged life of local gold miners, fur trappers, homesteaders and other adventurers. The museum is in a log cabin built by the Donaldson family who were members of the Michigan 59'ers, pioneers that were some of the area's first settlers.
Trapper Creek is a major intersection of the Parks Highway and Petersville Road, with gas stations, restaurants, and a post office. Known locally as the southern gateway to Denali State Park, Trapper Creek only had 423 residents at last count. Excellent outdoor recreation opportunities in both the summer and winter draw visitors from all over the state. Of course, More...
Before you get to town, you’ll get your first glimpse of Denali (Mt. McKinley). About 13 miles down the Talkeetna Spur Road just across from the entrance to the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, there’s a pull-out on the left. You’ll get great views with the Susitna River and foothills in the foreground. The peaks in the foreground are 3,000–4,000 feet high, More...
Mushers and their dogs lead off from Willow on the official start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race during the second week in March. The grueling 1,049 mile journey to Nome promises below-zero temps, sleep deprivation and soul-searching over a 9-15 day period.
Given its vast size and rugged terrain, it’s logical that Alaska has had a long love affair—and even dependence—on aviation. It was July 4, 1913, that the first flight took place in Alaska, and today there are more planes here, per person, than anywhere else in the world.
Named for the late U.S. Senator, who was also a World War II pilot, Ted Stevens More...
This 191.7-acre Anchorage park, which was created in 1994 as Municipal dedicated parkland, is highly valued for its wildlife habitat, coastal tidelands and recreational value. The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail runs through it and the area has spectacular views of the inlet and surrounding mountain ranges. You can spot whales in the inlet and watch the jets land and take off from the Ted More...
Located atop Tower 3 of downtown Anchorage's Hotel Captain Cook, this AAA-four-diamond fine dining restaurant—the only one in Anchorage—offers a blend of French and New American cuisines, a 10,000-bottle wine cellar and stunning views of Downtown, Chugach Mountains, and Cook Inlet. Dishes reflect local resources, such as venison loin and Bering Sea king crab More...
You may be in the last frontier, but even up here, parking can be difficult. Luckily, Anchorage has plenty of parking lots and garages managed by EasyPark. Affordable ($1 per hour), well run, and with locations near the city’s top attractions, these parking areas are an easier option than on-street parking—and they’re cheaper by the hour than meters. (EasyPark also More...
This 134-acre park is set in the woods where, in 1964, an entire neighborhood slid into the ocean during last century's most powerful earthquake. The earthquake was measured at a 9.2 on the Richter scale and lasted 4 minutes. Today, this tragic event is commemorated in Anchorage’s Earthquake Park, where you’ll find signs explaining the circumstances of the quake and its effect on the area.
Flattop is Alaska’s most visited peak. Ascend the 1.5 - mile, 1,350 vertical foot trail to the rocky, football field-sized summit in about an hour and take in panoramic views from Denali (Mt. McKinley) to the Aleutian Islands. If you want vistas without the hike, walk the short path from the parking lot to the overlook.