The Denali National Park and Preserve: Your Ultimate RV Guide
The Denali National Park and Preserve is a gigantic six-million-acre swathe of land, and one of the must-see destinations in Alaska. There is only one road, which is 92 miles long and largely dirt and gravel, but most travellers won’t ever pass mile 15 (more on this shortly). The big attraction in the park is Denali - previously known as Mt McKinley - which is the highest mountain in North America at 20,310 feet above sea level.
Taking a motorhome into Denali National Park and Preserve is the perfect way to enjoy a comfortable camping experience and explore the wilderness. Read our ultimate RV guide to Denali to learn about what you can see in the park, where you can camp, and a few important notes to keep in mind during your visit.
Things to see with your campervan in the Denali Park and Preserve
Mount Denali: The highest mountain in North America and, if you take the height of Denali from ground level (as opposed to sea level), it is ‘taller’ than Everest at 18,000 feet (compared to Everest’s 12,000 feet from its base). Some experienced mountain climbers visit to make the ascent, but countless visitors explore the park to enjoy the spectacle of this enormous mountain.
Wonder Lake: Wonder Lake is sometimes called the crown jewel of Denali Park. You’ll need to take a shuttle to get here, but on a clear day, this lake acts as the perfect mirror, reflecting the towering Denali peak in its waters. It is also a gorgeous sight in its own right, and well worth a visit even on cloudy days.
Kahiltna Glacier: The Kahiltna Glacier is the longest in Alaska at 44 miles long, and is home to the Denali Base Camp where mountain climbers begin their ascent of Denali. For the best views of the glacier, take a scenic flight overhead and watch as daring climbers make their way out of the glacier and onto the mountain.
Mount Foraker: Mount Foraker is the second-highest peak in the Denali National Park and Preserve at 17,400 feet. It’s just 8 miles from Denali, and thanks to its closeness and lower height, is playfully known as Denali’s wife.
Hiking: The main reason to visit Denali National Park and Preserve is for its hiking and breathtaking vistas. Trekking will give you exceptional views of the many mountains, lakes and glaciers in the area, and there are dozens of trails to accommodate all skill levels. You can use the shuttle services to get a ride to the starting point of any of these trails and spend each day exploring the park on foot without worrying about where to park your campervan.
Where to camp with a motorhome in the Denali National Park and Preserve
There are a total of six campgrounds in the Denali National Park, but only three of them offer RV access. Sanctuary River, Igloo Creek, and Wonder Lake are for tents only and require shuttles to get from the park entrance to these spots.
The three campgrounds open to motorhomes are:
● Riley Creek
● Savage River
● Teklanika River
Riley Creek is well-equipped with a general store that stocks some camping supplies and food. It also has a shower block and a dumping station. Bear sightings are generally rare in the campground, but there are often other animals such as rabbits and moose. Riley Creek is the only RV-friendly campground that offers non-reserved spots, but there are only 20 in total, so if you missed out on booking and are looking to find a spot on the day, be sure to arrive as early as possible. Riley Creek is also the only campground that has cell phone reception.
Savage River offers potable water and toilets on site but does not have shower or laundry facilities. There are also picnic tables and fire grates in each spot. This site is also known for offering one of the better views in the park, as you can see Denali on clear days, and campsites are sitting amongst spruce trees. Birdlife is especially prominent here, and bear sightings only occur a few times per year.
Teklanika River is found further into the park, and while most visitors cannot drive farther than mile 15 on the park’s only road, you can do so if you have a reservation at Tek. A booking here will have you driving 29 miles into the park, and while you can stop and take photos on your way there and back, you cannot move your RV once you are in the campground. You must stay a minimum of three nights and will be able to use the shuttle to sightsee during your stay. There is potable water at Tek, but no shower or laundry. Larger animals such as bears and moose are occasionally seen in this area.
No matter which campground you are staying in, you will need to check in and check out at the Riley Creek Mercantile (open May 11 - September 18, 7am-11pm), or the Wilderness Access Center (open May 10 - mid-September, 7 am - 7 pm daily). Check in and check out times are at 11 am for all grounds.
Keep in mind that none of these campgrounds have water hookups or electrical outlets, but they do all have toilets (not all of them are flushing, however), so a self-contained motorhome may be the best option. There are also a couple of water fountains in the park, including one at the Visitors’ Center, but it’s easiest to bring plenty of water with you, so you don’t need to rely on these sources. You can also bring your own generator, but note that most campgrounds have time restrictions for use.
How to book a campsite in the Denali National Park and Preserve
To book, go to Reserve Denali. Reservations are not required but strongly recommended as sites sell out well in advance throughout most of the year. You can usually book as far in advance as December of the year before you plan to travel. You can also call 1 800 622-7275 (domestic) or 1 907 272-7275 (international) to make your reservation.
You can also look outside the park itself. There are a number of campgrounds outside of Denali National Park and Preserve, and not only do they allow for larger motorhomes of 40 feet or more, but they often have more facilities and amenities if you would prefer this convenience.
Important Denali RV notes
● You are allowed to bring pets with you into Denali, but they are only permitted in the campgrounds and not in the wilderness areas.
● Be sure to rent a motorhome that is smaller than 40 feet in length, as this is the maximum size allowed in Denali RV parks. It is also cheaper in some campsites to book a smaller lot (less than 30 foot).
● Bears and other wildlife have a keen sense of smell, so you cannot leave food anywhere outside. Instead, keep all food items (and anything with a scent such as toothpaste and coolers) locked inside your motorhome with the windows closed. You can also use the bear-safe lockboxes in your campground.
● Be VERY wary when pulling over, as the shoulders of the road are soft, especially after wet weather, so you do not want to pull too far over to the edge when stopping for photos or hikes.