Sunrise with a purple-hued sky over Mt Foraker in Denali National Park, Alaska, with forest in the foreground
Bob Pool/

Can You Drive To Denali National Park?

Updated by Pat Dorri on December 6 2022

Denali National Park is home to majestic Denali Peak, the tallest summit not only in the US but the whole of North America. Mountaineers flock to this awe-inspiring landscape to scale the peaks, but there are plenty of other activities to enjoy. With bus tours, wildlife spotting, hiking, zip lining, whitewater rafting and camping, it's a perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors.

Denali National Park is remote but is actually part of the mainland, so you can easily drive there. It takes 2 hours 15 minutes to get there from the nearest city: Fairbanks, Alaska. It take around 4 hours to get there from Alaska's capital, Anchorage.

With its dramatic landscape, towering mountains and a chance to see the northern lights, this trip is a chance to get off the grid. Read on to learn about the best way to get there and how to make the most of your journey.

Where is Denali National Park located?

Denali National Park is located in central Alaska, the northernmost state tucked into the northwestern corner of the United States. Land locked and part of the mainland, it is 240 miles north of Anchorage. To the east is the Canadian province of Yukon.

View of Denali, Mt Foraker and the Alaska range from the Parks Highway
The drive from Anchorage to Denali isn't long, but it is incredibly scenic.
Amine Abassir/

To Denali's south is the Gulf of Alaska, which sits above the North Pacific Ocean. To the west is the Bering Sea, the strait that separates Alaska from the Peninsula of the Russian Far East.

Can you drive to Denali National Park?

Comparison of driving routes to Denali National Park in Alaska
RouteMain roadsTravel time
Anchorage to DenaliAK-1; AK-34 hours
Fairbanks to DenaliAK-32 hours

You can drive to Denali National Park from Anchorage, via AK-1 and AK-3. The distance spans 240 miles which takes around 4 hours to drive. The route circumnavigates Mirror Lake, Reflections Lake and the Thunderbirds Falls Trail, before following the Susitna River north into the shadow of Denali Mountain.

You can also drive south to Denali National Park from the city of Fairbanks, which takes around 2 hours of direct driving time. For this route, you'll head south on AK-3 to approach the mountain from the other direction.

The most convenient car ferry from Bellingham arrives in Whittier, which is 1 hour 20 minutes drive from Anchorage. The ferry runs weekly year-round by Alaska Dot, though it is suspended until May 2023. Fares are fairly steep, at $952 for a single adult passenger and $1873 for a car. It takes 4 days to complete the journey of 1,500 miles to Whittier, before commencing the drive to Denali.

There is a second car ferry option that runs from Bellingham to Haines, which takes 2 days 20 hours to cover a distance of 900 miles. From Haines it is a 14 hour drive to Anchorage. This trip will set you back $635 for an adult passenger and $1299 for a car. Three of these ferries run per month.

How to get to Denali National Park from mainland USA

Whether you make your way to Anchorage via car, ferry or plane, you'll be able to make the drive to Denali National Park from there.

The road trip from Anchorage to Denali has sublime mountain views, clear lakes, glaciers, and wildlife. We recommend this road trip as the best way to visit Denali National Park for the stunning scenery of the drive.

Wonder lake in Denali National Park, Alaska, with mountains in the background and a blue sky above
Denali National Park has some of North America's most stunning scenery, including Wonder Lake.
Marc Cappelletti/

In addition to driving the whole way, you also have the option to fly into either Fairbanks or Anchorage airports to reduce the driving time of the overall trip if you are travelling from the mainland.

Commercial flights run from various US cities including Seattle, Portland and Chicago. From either of these cities you can hire a car to drive to Denali National Park.

If you're hoping to fly to Anchorage or Fairbanks, you'll need to hire a car to drive to Denali National Park. There are plenty of daily commercial flights to Anchorage, from major cities including Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and Chicago. You can also fly to Fairbanks from Seattle and Chicago. Flights tend to range from approximately $200 to $360.

There is also the option to take a car ferry from Bellingham, Washington up to Alaska and make the drive from there. There are two different ferries, one of which arrives in Whittier, and the other of which arrives in Haines.

From Whittier it's a 5 hour 20 minute drive to Denali, and from Haines it takes 13 hours and 45 minutes. Both ferries take a number of days: 4 days to Whittier and 2 days 20 hours to reach Haines. Note that these ferry trips come with a hefty price tag, from approximately $1000-2000.

The most affordable method is driving the whole distance, though the miles can rack up if you're driving from mainland USA. For efficiency, a flight and a rental car could be a decent compromise, though you'll miss out on some of the fantastic scenery along the drive through Canada.

Whittier, Alaska with Prince William Sound in the foreground and mountains behind and boats on the water
Arriving at Whittier, Alaska is a great option if you're traveling to Denali National Park.
SJ Brown/

Conditions on the road can be variable in the event of a snowstorm or other adverse weather, so be prepared for a longer drive and ensure your car is properly prepared.

Navigating to Denali National Park once you are in Alaska

From Anchorage, take AK-1 up to the walkable Mirror Lake, which is a beautiful spot for a picnic. Continue on AK-1 up to Reflections Lake, with the option to stop and hike the Thunderbird Falls Trail, which is great for families or beginners.

Turn off AK-1 to join AK-3, and continue north up the Susitna River to reach Denali Viewpoint South for your first impressive view of the mountain. Continue on this road to reach Denali View North, to get a different aspect. Keep on AK-3 to reach the entrance of Denali Park at Mile 237.

There is only one road into the park, though during the summer private vehicles are restricted. Visitors can take advantage of the free shuttle and transit system of buses within the park, while pedestrians and bicycles are free to wander anywhere in the park.

How long does it take to drive to Denali National Park?

As mentioned above, it takes approximately 4 hours to drive the 200 miles from Anchorage to Denali National Park. This is the most popular route as Anchorage is the biggest major city nearby.

From Fairbanks, the drive to Denali takes 2 hours 15 minutes to cover a distance of 120 miles. While this drive is shorter, Fairbanks is a smaller city and less accessible arrival point than Anchorage.

The car ferry from Bellingham, Washington, has two arrival ports in Alaska, Whittier and Haines. From Whittier, the drive to Denali covers a distance of 300 miles and takes 5 hours 20 minutes. You'll drive to Anchorage and then join the main route. From Haines, the drive to Denali is 13 hours 45 minutes via Fairbanks.

Grizzly Bear walks through colorful fall shrubbery in Denali National Park, Alaska
If you're lucky, you may well spot a grizzly bear in these parts!
Tom Tietz/

The length of these routes also depend on ferry timings and duration of the passage, depending on which ferry you choose.

If you are driving from Canada, you might want to start out from Beaver Creek in the eastern province of Yukon. It takes 5 hours 40 minutes to cover the 320-mile distance. From Juneau, Alaska's state capital, it is a 740-mile drive, which takes 17 hours 30 minutes, and from Vancouver it is a 30 hour drive over 2080 miles.

If you are driving all the way from Seattle, it's a whopping 2150-mile drive, which takes 39 hours of direct driving time.

If you're looking to travel from another city - and are combining modes of travel - we've laid out the relevant travel times in the following table:

Comparison of routes and transit times to Denali National Park in Alaska
RouteModeTravel time
Bellingham, WA to Whittier, AKCar ferry4 days
Bellingham, WA to Haines, AKCar ferry2 days 20 hours
Seattle, WA to Anchorage, AKFlight3 hours 45 minutes
Portland, OR to Anchorage, AKFlight3 hours 50 minutes
Los Angeles, CA to Anchorage, AKFlight5 hours 40 minutes
Chicago, IL to Anchorage, AKFlight8 hours 20 minutes
Seattle, WA to Fairbanks, AKFlight3 hours 50 minutes
Chicago, IL to Fairbanks, AKFlight10 hours 10 minutes

Which entrance should you arrive at Denali National Park?

The entrance to Denali Park is located at Mile 237 on Alaska Highway 3. The best way to find the entrance if using GPS is to input the coordinates (63.728443, -148.886572).

Moose crossing road in Alaska with mountains in the background
A drive across Alaska is bound to be an adventurous one, with plenty of wildlife at every turn!
Real Window Creative/

There is only one road into the park, though during the summer private vehicles are restricted. Visitors can take advantage of the free shuttle and transit system of buses within the park, while pedestrians and bicycles are free to wander anywhere in the park.

Destinations within the park are also measured by mile markers, so you can navigate to the visitor center, sled-dog kennels and campgrounds using these distance guides.

Things you need to know about driving to Denali National Park

Driving from Anchorage to Denali National Park is pretty straightforward, as you're primarily following one highway. That said, here are some things it's useful to know or prepare in advance of setting off.

  • The road has two lanes (one in each direction) so it can be slower to travel down than predicted times suggest.
  • Though adverse weather conditions may affect your drive, the Alaska Department of Transport lists the road leading from Anchorage to Denali National Park as a Priority Level 2. This means that it's a high priority, so after a snowstorm, it can be clear as soon as 18 hours after.
  • The route hugs the river so is mainly at ground level, though upon arrival in the national park there are some more intimidating cliffside roads to take via car or bus, particularly if you're scared of heights.
  • Make sure you book your ferry tickets in advance, as the Bellingham to Alaska car ferry is a popular trip. Prices get a lot more expensive closer to travel time, and especially so in the summer and during school holidays. Please note this route is suspended until May 2023.
  • The price for the car ferries doesn't include private cabins, so if you want your own bed space and restroom then book this separately. There are public restrooms and showers, and it's even acceptable for travelers to camp on the deck.
  • Some car ferries stop in Canada and you'll pass through if driving from the USA. If this is the case then you'll need proof of identity such as a NEXUS card, or passport to enter Canada. You'll need a passport to re-enter the USA.
The Northern Lights shine over Denali National Park in Alaska. Green light shining above cabins
Seeing the Northern Lights is a real once-in-a-lifetime experience

Things to see once you reach Denali National Park

Driving to Denali National Park is a chance to immerse yourself in the pristine scenery of this part of the world, with the prospect of stunning mountain views on arrival. In the park, there are a whole host of activities to enhance your experience even further.

  1. Denali Tour Experience - To preserve the ecosystem, the rangers limit access to the roads in the park, so the best way to see the park is by hopping on the tour buses. Guides will talk you through the park so you can sit back and enjoy.
  2. Spot the "Big 5" - The Big 5 is a collection of Denali's most prominent wildlife. These are grizzly bears, Dall sheep, caribou, wolf and moose. The guided tour is a good way to try to catch a glimpse.
  3. See Denali from the sky - There are two choices if you want to see Denali from a bird's-eye view, by plane or helicopter. Helicopters are the cheapest and Temsco runs charters starting from $250.
  4. Bike and hike - The Denali National Park has plenty of trails to explore, tour operators even run guided hikes and you can hire bikes too.
  5. AVT Hire - If hiking isn't for you, hire an AVT. The All-Terrain Vehicles can take you off the beaten track and are available with tour guides.
  6. Ziplining - Denali Park Zipline is a unique way to fly through the trees. A fun and adventurous way to see the Alaska Range.
  7. Rafting - From May to September, you can raft the Nenana River. As you fly down the rapids, the surrounding snow-capped peaks set the scene.
  8. Learn about the area and Alaskan history - Take time out and scope out the informative visitor centers. On the night enjoy the Cabin Nite Dinner Theater, a restaurant come stage show telling tales of gold-rush era Alaska.

This overland journey to Denali National Park is a real adventure, with an incredible climb waiting at the other end. Make sure you're prepared for winter weather, and then head out to experience this natural wonderland to its fullest.