10 Reasons Why You Need To Visit Denali National Park This Summer (Slideshow)

See North America’s tallest summit

The highest mountain peak on the continent, Denali, is obviously a highlight of this park. The mountain's summit elevation is 20,310 feet above sea level. Originally named Mount McKinley back when the park opened (after former U.S. President William McKinley), the name drew some debate over the years, and in 2016, President Barack Obama and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that the peak's name would be changed to Denali, or "high one" in the native Athabaskan language. Even if you don't choose to climb the mountain (for experienced mountaineers only), Denali and the entire Alaska Range serve as a stunning backdrop for your other park adventures.


The wildlife

A stunning variety of wildlife roam free throughout the park—that includes 39 species of mammals (grizzly and black bears, wolves, caribou, moose, beavers and Dall's sheep) and 169 species of birds (golden eagles, bald eagles). It's an exciting chance to see some big game in its natural environment.

Millions of acres of untamed wilderness to explore

Denali is made up of 4.7 million acres of national park and 1.3 million acres of national preserve, with a solitary 92-mile road cutting through the landscape. It's larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon combined, so it's an ideal place to connect with nature—whether you hike, ride your bike, camp or mountaineer, you'll feel like the only one out there.

Really long days

Summer days in Denali can last more than 19 hours (the state is called "Land of the Midnight Sun" after all). If you've never been far north enough to experience this phenomenon, Alaska's wilderness is a majestic place to enjoy it for the first time. 

Hiking through the Alaska wilderness

If you choose to explore Denali on foot, you can take either a marked trail or go off-trail in whichever direction you want. Denali exists to provide people with a place to explore wilderness, says the park's website, so it was intentional that only a limited trail network was created. If you want to take on a longer hike, make sure you're prepared and download your route ahead of time as you likely won't have cell service within the park. (Also, bring your winter hiking gear, as the weather tends to vary drastically.)

The wildflowers in bloom

While Alaska's wildflowers only get a short time to bloom, this subarctic wilderness is home to a wide variety of plants (more than 1,500 species of vascular plants, mosses and lichens). The long list of colorful wildflowers that blanket the park every summer includes arctic lupine, bluebells and alpine forget-me-nots. (For the botany nerds out there, the free DenaliFlora app helps you identify more than 300 different species of plants found within the park.)

Best bus ride ever

Cars aren't allowed past mile 15 on Denali's Park Road, the only road in the park, so a bus ride (both narrated and non-narrated options) will be your best bet for wildlife viewing and seeing a variety of landscapes within the park. The buses travel through low valleys and high mountain passes, and they're actually better for spotting wild animals—you sit so much higher than in a normal vehicle, enabling you to see over the brush along the roadside, plus you can relax without worrying about navigating the serpentine Park Road.   

Join the park’s Human Hundred Challenge

In honor of the park's 100th birthday, Denali is challenging its visitors and staff to log 100 miles of human-powered travel outside. Whether you join a ranger-led event in the park or log the miles on your own, you can join the challenge on your Denali trip this summer (then claim your participation sticker at a park visitor center!). 

Meet actual sled dogs

Even in the middle of summer, you can stop by the dog kennel to meet the park's Alaskan huskies. Or, better yet, see a ranger-led 30-minute mushing demonstration with the working sled dogs (held three times per day in the summer). 

You can’t take a bad photo

As long as the weather isn't too rainy, you can point your camera (or phone) in any direction and you'll have an Instagram-worthy shot. (And apparently it needs to be said: Don't take selfies with hungry bears.)