One of the things that makes Denali unique besides its majestic scenery, and unrivaled vastness, is that it’s a destination that without a doubt has an optimal time for visitation. Unlike many of the vacation destinations of the world that have resorts operating year-around, you’ll find that a lot of the activities that would be available in the summertime in Alaska’s interior, just aren’t in operation in the winter. Does that mean that Cantwell, Denali, and Healy are closed in the winter completely? No not necessarily, depending on what you are wanting to do. Certainly, you can find your way here for amazing opportunities to see things like the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), push yourself to do backcountry or cross-country skiing, ride snowmobiles or mush a dog team around the snowy landscape. For those people who have those resources or desires, you’ll find that the winter may be the time for you to visit Denali! But for those who are coming in hopes of seeking the normal adventure tourism or access to the park that you see in the summer, you might find yourself regretting the impulsive plane ticket you bought instead of taking some time to research. And that brings us to the main purpose of this article, to outline when the best time is for you to visit Denali, and Alaska based on what you hope to do with your time here.
Most people visit in the summer. The busiest time of year for the hotels, cruise lines, and adventure companies, as well as the National Park, is mid-June through mid-August. This time of year has the most reliable warm weather, and approaching solstice (late June) has maximized days of sunlight that for most people will be a once in a lifetime experience! With this comes a few caveats to keep in mind. One, this is also typically the most expensive time to find flights, as well as rates on hotels. Adventure companies in the area have a steady rate for bookings (though if you pay attention to their social media, you can find deals and coupons, especially around the holidays in the winter). But it is undoubtedly the best time for hiking, camping, and all the outdoor excursions that are so synonymous with the area. Additionally, this is when live music is at its height, as well as summer festivals all throughout the state! For the average traveler, this is what you would consider the best time of year to come up to Alaska, but with that said most companies and hotels are starting to open and fully function around mid-May! If you have any question about the availability of something that is high on your list of things to do while you are here, the first step is to call that company or excursion and make sure that they will be open, therefore guaranteeing that you will get to do what you traveled all this way for.
For people who are looking to spend a little less money, with the tradeoff of risking cooler weather, then start thinking about booking your trip for mid to late August. This is when we start to see a decline in business on average, and you’ll likely be able to find cheaper rates on flights, and in some cases on lodging. Sure, the risk of some inclement weather becomes more of a reality in late August, and early September, but what you get in return is well worth it. The chance to see the Northern Lights, as well as the early autumn onset and the changing of the foliage is amazing. Additionally, the night sky in general starts to bloom, meaning great opportunities for astronomic photography besides the aurora borealis. In my opinion this is also still a great time to hike, and camp because the cool weather is conducive to the strain you put yourself through when climbing mountains with a backpack on. The summer season usually is ending around the beginning of September, so make sure if you are thinking about looking to book around this time, that you call ahead to any lodging and adventure companies to make sure that you are arranging your trip during a time where they are all still operating.
For those who are dead set on visiting Alaska in the winter, all we can say is do your homework, and make sure that you are prepared to contend with limited services in the rural interior areas of Alaska. Ice climbing, skating, nighttime photography, back country skiing and snowmobiling are all available for those with the prowess and resources. Just make sure you call ahead! Don’t come to Alaska in the winter planning to wing it, or to be spontaneous – it’s just not one of the places in the world where impulsivity is fun or productive in the winter.