“You went camping in Denali National Park?”
Yes. We did.
And no. We did not get eaten by a bear.
That pretty much sums up the start of every conversation we’ve had about our 2017 stay in Denali National Park. For whatever reason, our camping trip in the shadow of “The High One” has mystified our friends and family.
Maybe it’s the ‘cruise-ship’ mentality. That idea that all roads to Denali (and there’s not many!) should come directly from a five-star cruise ship and not a two-man ultralight tent.
Maybe it’s because the only time a mainstream book or movie features the park it’s to tell a horrific story of untimely death or destruction.
We don’t really know.
But what we do know is that camping in Denali was easy, affordable, and one of the best parts of our 2017 Alaskan vacation. We saw and did more within the park because we stayed within the park boundaries. And we could plan everything without the help of a travel or cruise agent.
Today we’re sharing some tips that will hopefully dispel some myths and answer some questions about the park. We want everyone to know about the terrific experience and how to make sure you’re prepared for your own Denali camping adventure.
4 Myths About Camping in Denali
Myth #1: “You camped in Denali National Park? You had to freeze in a tent!! It is Alaska after all.”
While it has been known to snow in every single month of the year in Denali, the weather should not be your biggest worry. Often while we were there, we described the weather as “October in New England.”
In the popular summer months of early June through late-August, Denali sees warm days (highs temps in the mid-50’s F) and cooler evenings (low temps in the mid-30’s F). It’s also relatively dry compared to other areas of Alaska.
Be ready for anything, but don’t just assume that Alaska is always cold.
Myth #2: “You camped in Denali? I wonder how many bears almost confused your tent with a soft-shelled taco!?!”
Again, while it’s good to be prepared for anything, we saw far more bear warnings and precautions during our stays in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. The bears in Denali National Park have millions of acres of protected wilderness to roam. In general, they keep their distance from the busy roads and busing areas near the park entrance.
A bigger wildlife risk in the campground is an encounter with a moose. Many cow moose choose areas around the campgrounds to give birth and to raise newborn calves in the spring. In some cases, they choose the developed areas because there are no bears.
Cow moose with calves can be very dangerous and are known to charge anything that’s threatening to their young. Multiple times during our stay we would have to take a different route back to our tent or to the bathrooms to avoid disturbing a resting mamma and babies.
Myth #3: “Wait a minute. There’s bathrooms? I thought you’d be roughing it in Denali?”
There is something for every type of camping adventurer in Denali. There are wilderness, permit-only areas of the park where you can truly “rough it”. Or during the summer months the Riley Creek Campground near the park entrance has all the amenities of a developed campground including a camp store, heated flush toilets, and showers. Riley Creek also has cell-phone reception if that’s a deal-breaker for your group.
If you’d rather have something in-between, the Savage River or Teklanika River Campgrounds might be a better choice. Both offer unique experiences of more remote camping in the interior of the park while still in a developed campground.
Myth #4: “You must have had to plan years ahead or get a travel agent to figure all that out.”
While planning an Alaskan vacation takes a bit more effort than a summer weekend road trip, we did all the planning and reservations ourselves. We didn’t use a cruise line or travel agent. Just Google and a pencil-and-paper itinerary.
But we did make an online reservation and are glad we did. We saw lots of people turned away at the ranger station because they didn’t plan ahead and expected to show up and get a campsite. While it’s possible to get one of the first-come first-serve sites, it’s not a myth that Denali is busy in the summer. Planning 30-60 days or more ahead is not a bad idea, potentially even longer if you plan to stay on a summer or holiday weekend.
There are other campgrounds outside of the park (we stayed in the Denali Outdoor Center) that can also be good options if reservations fill up.