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Hiking

When should you hike a trail? Some hikes lead to fascinating forests, some have tremendous views and others are rich in variety. Share your favorite trails with other hikers and nature lovers.

Summer offers the best and driest weather in July and August. However, bad weather can still occur. Always check the forecast, bring rain gear and dress in layers to be prepared for every kind of weather. If you want to avoid the most snow, don’t go before June. In May even places like Paradise are still covered with snow. In most years the area is usually snow-free from about mid-July through late September.

Avoiding the Crowds

July and August are also the peak tourist months. Paradise and Sunrise will be quite crowded. If you can, visit in June or September: After the first Labor Day weekend (early September) tourist crowds dissipate. However, there are 3 simple ways dodge the crowds and get a parking lot even during peak season in the summer:

  • Be there early in the morning. Preferably before 9 AM. The earlier, the better. Stay at a nearby hotel or lodge (see our tips below).
  • Alternatively, you could arrive late, between 5 PM and 6 PM. Most visitors have left the park at 6 PM. You'd avoid most crowds and enjoy one of the fascinating Shorter Hikes
  • Try to avoid weekends and visit mid-week if possible.

Sweet Spot Months

Sweet spot months with fewer crowds and a high chance of good weather are June and September (immediately after Labor Day crowds disappear). In September it’s even snow free, and the visitor centers and all its facilities are usually open until the end of September. But still, try to avoid weekends in September if possible or start early in the morning.

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Welcome to our unique Denali guide (updated 2019) with tips for each month, hiking insights, and everything you should know about the bus transport service. When is the best time to visit? Denali is open year-round. However, main activities and tours are being offered in summer only. Shuttle busses will get you into the wilderness from May 20 until mid-September. Now, read our season guide below the quick navigation or jump directly to the top hiking and bus tips.

Quick Navigation:

Special Tip: Don't forget to check out our unique Denali Bus FAQ at the end of this article. It's extremely helpful and answers all of your questions!

Weather overview? Find helpful weather details at: Denali Park Weather Monthly averages here: Climate Denali National Park (switch from C to F at the top right. Keep in mind that the temperatures vary depending on the elevation and the part of the park). Check the Denali Webcam at Wonder Lake and read on for more details about a summer, winter, spring or fall visit:


The best time to experience amazing fall foliage in Denali: Late August/early-September
 

Mid-May - late May (spring): May is the driest month and the weather starts to get warmer. Average high: 52°F (11°C). Most tours and the shuttle bus service start around mid-May. However, some snow has still to melt. As a result, the deeper parts of the park are often not fully accessible. Rates are low and there are no crowds.

June (late spring, summer): June is also a very dry month and temperatures climb. Average high: 66°F (19°). Flowers are in bloom and you get the most hours of daylight (Sunrise-Sunset Denali). After the first week of June, the park is usually fully accessible. Early June until mid-June is a great time before it starts to get crowded with tourists coming from cruise ships and everywhere else. Drawback: Mosquitoes are an issue from June until the end of July.

July (summer): July is the warmest months with temperatures climbing to 70°F (21°C) and still a lot of daylight (18-19 hours). There is slightly more precipitation than in June, but no need to worry about long periods of rain. July is the peak month in terms of visitation. Again, small drawback: Mosquitoes are still an issue.

August (late summer): It's still pleasant. However, temperatures already start to drop slightly but it's still a great month temperature wise. Average high: 62°F (17°C). Also, there are slightly fewer daylight hours in August (16-17 hours). August has the highest average precipitation of all months. However, nothing to worry about. You need to bring rain gear regardless of the month. In terms of visitors, it's still very crowded.

Early September - mid-September (early autumn): As temperatures drop it will be cooler in September and there is also less daylight (11-14 hours). Average high: 50°F (10°C). However, it's still a great month to visit as the temperature is still pleasant and all services are being offered until mid-September. After Labor Day Weekend (beginning of September) the crowds dissipate as well. You'll enjoy a much more peaceful park. Looking for the leaf color explosion? Fall foliage starts early in Denali. The peak time for the beautiful fall colors is usually the end of August and early September.

Mid-September - mid-October (autumn) and April - early May (spring): Most services are shut down, restaurants, hotels, and shops are closed from mid-September to mid-May. However, the shoulder season can be quite rewarding as you can experience the 'real' Alaska. In the fall temperatures can still be pleasant or already freezing cold in October. Always check the weather forecast. In fall and spring, you need to rent a car as the shuttle service is not available. More helpful details about visiting in shoulder season: Fall and Spring Visit 

Late-October - March (winter): It gets freezing cold and it's time for Winter Activities. Including skiing, winter biking and snowshoeing. Temperatures are ranging from -40 degrees Fahrenheit and colder, to high 20s on warm days.


Avoiding Tourist Crowds

The summer months experience the highest visitation. Check out the visitation chart below, then our tips for enjoying  a more peaceful visit to Denali National Park.

  • Shoulder Weeks (late spring/early fall):
    To avoid the most crowds at the popular spots (entrance areas, bus tours, visitor centers, famous spots) during peak season, still use the shuttle bus service and enjoy mostly pleasant weather: Visit during either in the very short late spring or early fall season: End of May until mid-June or early September (after Labor Day) until mid-September.
     
  • Popular Tours in Shoulder Weeks:
    The very popular day tours which do not include hiking like the Tundra Wilderness Tour or the Kantishna Experience Tour are usually fully booked during peak months. During shoulder weeks (see above) there is a good chance that a tour bus is less than half full. That means you can spread out. The tours usually run from mid-May until mid-September (Kantishna from early June until mid-September). Read below for more info on bus tours.
     
  • Own Activities / Trail Hiking:
    You can avoid crowds in peak season by planning your own activities. And even if you only drive to Savage River (by free bus shuttle or with your own car) for the short hike and to spend time there, you'll avoid tourist groups by starting early. Check the list of trails: Denali Trail Details. Always start early, and you'll avoid the crowds. If you take a shuttle bus: Make an online reservation and book the earliest departure.
     
  • Off-Trail Hikes/Walks:
    Even in the summer, it's quite easy to get away from every group of tourists and spend time in solitude: Book a transit shuttle bus early in the morning departing from the WAC (Wilderness Access Center). Get off the bus wherever you like and start hiking or walking. Regardless of your fitness level or age! If you feel intimidated, you can stay close to the park road the whole time and still experience stunning wilderness and wildlife. Get back on the bus to WAC whenever you like for free. Find more details about easy off-trail hikes (even short 1-2 hours hikes/walks) below in the hiking and shuttle text section.
     
  • Stay at a Hotel Outside the Park:
    The entrance area is always filled with thousands of people in the summer. The same applies to the hotels very close to the entrance (Princes Lodges, Bluffs Hotels, …). The easiest way to avoid those heavily crowded areas is to take advantage of the more quiet lodging alternatives in Healy (17 Minute Drive - Google Maps). You'd need a rental car in case the hotel doesn't offer a shuttle service (UBER is also available now), but the hotels there are also less expensive. Check the best prices and book well ahead: Healy - Recommended Hotels
 

Wildlife / Flora / Northern Lights

The best time of day to spot wildlife is in the morning or late afternoon/evening. Being on a bus long enough increases your chances. Best season is during the warmer summer months. There is not much wildlife in the winter due to hibernation. Denali also has a rich and amazing flora. Wildflowers begin to bloom in early June till late July. How to spot the Northern Lights? Since the Denali region is almost free light pollution,  it's an excellent area to see the aurora borealis (Northern Lights).  The sky must be dark enough and clear. With a partly clouded sky, it's less likely to experience it. Time of day? Usually, you can start looking after 1,5 hours after sunset. It's possible to see the Aurora here between mid-August and early-May. However, the highest chance to spot Northern Lights is in March/April and September/October.

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The best time to visit Acadia National Park in terms of pleasant weather is between late spring and fall. However it's often crowded. A less busy time with great weather are the two weeks after Labor Day in September until mid-September, just before the leaf peeping crowds arrive. Read our complete overview for every season below with many useful tips. Tip: If you'd like experience something special in Maine and get away from the crowds, check out these great tours: Lighthouse, Coastal & Sailing Tours in Maine. And one of the best guidebooks out there for Acadia N.P.: Acadia - The Complete Guide (via Amazon)

We also collected the the best tips for short hikes and walks, as well as insider tips on how to avoid the crowds during peak season and fall color tips (direct navigation):


Season Tips for Acadia National Park

May - June | Spring 

Both months bring warmer and drier conditions. However, in May the trees aren't green yet and it might be too cold for water activities. Temperatures: Up to 51-75°F / 11-22°C in June. It’s pleasant weather for hiking and other outdoor activities. The downside is, depending on how rainy it has been before, there are biting bugs from mid-May until mid-June. Many facilities are open and May is still a quiet month, except for Memorial Day Weekend (end of May). In June it gets already busier but not as crowded as in July and August.

July - August | Summer 

Warm, most pleasant temperatures. Peak season. It gets very busy, even more in August. Booked accommodations, waiting lines, crowded parking lots, congested Park Loop Road and busy view points. To avoid the crowds during peak season, get to the park early in the morning or in the late afternoon around dinner time. More tips on how to avoid the crowds can be found below. 

September - October | Autumn - Fall Colors 

Early September after Labor Day until mid-September is a nice time to visit the park: The weather is pleasant (49-68°F / 9-20°C), it's not super quiet, but the heavy summer crowds are gone and the 'leaf peeping' crowds haven't arrived yet. It gets very busy again from late September until mid-October as thousands want to see the leaf color explosion in fall. The best time to experience the amazing colors is usually mid-October. Tip: Read our '7 Must-Know Fall Color Tips' below in the main text. Book ahead of time if you need accommodation during the ‘leaf peeping’ weeks. After Columbus Day in mid-October crowds dissipate and rates drop. This is another sweet spot time without the heavy crowds. The last week of October ist often still ok for watching the fall colors, but it also gets cold and rainy. 

November | Late Autumn 

Even in early November, it's usually too late for spotting the beautiful fall colors. Temperatures drop (33-48°F / 1-9°C ), try to visit until mid-November. It’s colder, but still worth to visit the park without the crowds, almost in solitude. Many facilities are closed though. Definitely, drive the Loop Road which is usually still open in November.

December - March | Winter 

It’s off season and very cold. Average temperature in January: 14-32 °F / 0-(-)10 °C . Time for snowmobiling and skiing. Most hotels, restaurants, campsites and attractions are closed. The scenic Park Loop Road is also closed from December until mid-April (weather dependant). More winter activity info: NPS Acadia Winter Activities

April | Early Spring

Many visitors would say that April ist is still not pleasant with melting snow and muddy ground. Average temperatures are between 25-41° F / 1-11° C. However, we'd definitely recommend this month. You might be wondering why? First of all, from mid-April the scenic Park Loop Road usually opens. Second, it's still quiet without any heavy crowds of other tourist. You'll have no issues with parking and can enjoy some places almost in solitude. While there are still signs of winter, the scenery is just breathtaking. Some say the views are even more amazing with no leaves on the trees. Bottom line: We think a visit between mid and late April is a great time!


Weather

Regardless of monthly temperatures we described above, you should know that in Maine the weather can change dramatically during the year. However, temperatures along the coast in Acadia N.P. are moderated by the ocean. In the graph below you'll find the average monthly highs. Least rainfall is in June, July and August. But still, keep in mind that the weather is often unpredictable and can change instantly. Be prepared for rain at any time.

 

 
Avoiding Tourist Crowds

It gets crowded in Acadia National Park in summer and fall. A sweet spot time without the heavy crowds but mostly pleasant temperatures used to be those two weeks in September (after Labor Day until mid-September). However, it's not that quiet anymore during this time, especially in the recent years as visitation increased. Otherwise, there are two different sweet spots weeks with mostly pleasant weather and few visitors: A) The weeks after Columbus Day (mid-October) until early November.  B) Early June until mid-June: Although it's already busy at places like Bar Harbor, visitors report that most hiking trails in the park are not crowded.

 

However, if you plan to visit during the summer and leaf peeping time in fall, we have three great tips to avoid crowds:

1. Be Early or Late:
The majority of people tend to visit Acadia from mid-morning to afternoon. Get up early and try to be at the most visited spots or trailheads before 9:00 AM. Usually, the crowds start to arrive around 10:00 AM. Incredibly popular spots like the summit of Cadillac Mountain can be crowded earlier. Be there at 8:00 A.M. and you'll dodge the heavy crowds at the top. Another advantage to visiting early is the great light for photos and the higher chance of spotting wildlife. Check out this great Ranger Early Bird Video. Alternatively, visit the favorite spots later around dinner time or head out on a short trail just before sunset. Just after 5 P.M. is a perfect time since most are heading back for dinner around that time. However, make sure to be back when there is still daylight. It's too dangerous to hike in the dark.

2. Visit Quieter Areas:
Head to the less traveled places and trails. On the 'quiet side' of Mount Desert Island west of Somes Sound, try out Acadia Mountain Loop or the Beech Cliff Trail (see below in the hiking section). Or you could head to Schoodic Peninsula (Google Maps) on the mainland, or the quietest side of Isle au Haut, accessible only by mail boat.

3. Use the Shuttle:
If you are visiting between late June and Columbus day, use the free Island Explorer Shuttle. It takes away all the worries of full parking lots at trailheads and congested parking areas at popular places like Cadillac Mountain or Bar Harbor. There are bus stops at all well-known places. They even added one for the trailhead of Caddilac North Ridge Trail (see below in the hiking section). Additionaly, you can always ask the bus driver to let you off, even if it’s not an official stop.
 

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The best seasons to hike Tiger Leaping Gorge are winter, spring, and autumn. Read our detailed tips regarding each season:

Winter, Low Season (December - January/February)

A good time to hike the gorge. Days are often sunny, dry and clear (up to 12°C / 54°F), but nights get cold (to 0°C / 32°F) and mornings very chilly. Keep in mind that in February it’s Chinese Spring Festival: Accommodations are heavily booked for two weeks. Check the starting dates: Spring Festival Eve in China

Spring, Soulder Season (March - May)

March and April are excellent months to hike. Especially in April, the weather is comfortable with possible temperatures up to 20°C (68°F). Still, bring a light jacket. May is still a less busy month with even warmer days than in April and blooming flora. Quote from our reviewer Rajdeep: 'A great month is April: Fewer locals to pester tourists to part with cash combined with pleasant weather'

Summer, High Season (June - September)

Wet season, not the best time to hike. The rain lasts until September / mid-October. The wettest months are July / August. Hiking is still possible as there are many sunny days. However, during or after heavy rainfall the road and trail through the gorge might be closed on certain days. Despite the unpleasant weather conditions, this is also the busiest season with the most ‘scams’.

Autumn, Shoulder Season (October - November)

Mid-October until November are also excellent. Usually dry and sunny, beautiful landscape, green trees, and blossoms. However, bring a long-sleeve shirt, light sweater, and a coat. Nice November hiking report: Hiking TLG in November. Monthly temperature and rainfall overview (the climate in Lijiang is almost identical): Lijiang Weather Regardless of the month: Check the weather forecast.
 

Annoyances/Scams

Besides the official gorge trail fee, there are many locals demanding cash from tourists. These unofficial posts collect money for parts of the path. Most of them are present during the busiest time from May/June until September/October. Less from March to April or mid-October to November and often none in winter (December - January/February)!

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Glacier National Park can be visited year-round. However, the 'real' season is very short: June/July until August/September.  June can only be recommended at lower elevations, as many areas are still snow covered. July and August are the pleasant peak months. September is still great in terms of weather and the crowds start to dissipate as well.

Weather

From late October until May/June you have to deal with snowfall or snow covered ground. June is 'rainy season' and most hiking trails are still snow covered well into June, on high elevations even until mid-July. July and August are the sunniest months. September is still great: Usually zero snowfall pleasant temperatures and less crowds (see below). New snow can be expected from mid October. However, heavier snowfall won't start before November.

The climate is often wet, windy and variable. Always be prepared for weather changes, even in the summer. Bring rain gear an dress in layers. Nights are much cooler. Also, be prepared for cooler temperatures at higher elevations. Popular areas like Logan Pass at higher elevations are usually 10-15°F (6-8°C) cooler. Bottom line: For a snow-free hiking adventure go between early July and mid-October. Please keep in mind that most services and lodges close between mid-September and end of September. 

Avoiding Tourist Crowds

The park recently set new records for visitation. In the recent years the number of visitors increased significantly in the peak summer months. Resulting in overcrowded parking lots, a congested Going to the Sun Road and very busy popular areas.

Besides visiting the less interesting spots in peak season, there are three main options to avoid the crowds:

Visit in Fall: 
September after the extremely busy Labor Day weekend is an excellent time: Less crowds, still snow free areas and pleasant temperatures. The GTTS (Going-to-the-Sun) Road is still open and most services are available until mid-September, some until the end of the month. The first half of September is already significantly less busy compared to July and August. However, not super quiet: Try to start your activities early (see below) and go mid-week if possible. It’s even quieter and still pleasant temperature wise from mid-September until mid-October. An excellent time for hiking. However, hotels, lodges and cabins in the park are closed by the end of September. Solution in October: Lodging outside the park in West Glacier Lodging (Glacier Highland) If you consider visiting in spring to avoid the crowds: It's not recommended for hiking adventures. The temperatures are often pleasant but the trails are snow covered well into June.

Go Early: 
If you want to visit in the summer, getting out early is the best way to avoid crowds. Even on popular hiking trails like Highline or Grinnel Glacier Trail you won’t see many others during peak season if you start your hike at or before 8 a.m. One visitor reported that he started the hike to Grinnel Glacier in August 2017 at 7 a.m. and had the whole trail for himself. On the way back about 200 people passed. Your scenic drive on the GTTS should begin even earlier if possible. Usually it starts to get busy around 9 a.m on GTTS Road in the summer months.

Go Late: 
Alternatively begin your activites late. Start hiking between 4 and 5 p.m. Although only shorter hikes are possible at that time, the trails are much quieter. The best short hikes include Hidden Lake Overlook at Logan Pass, Redrock Falls  and Virigina Falls. Starting your scenic drive later is a great option as well: On the GTTS Road it’s beginning to thin out around 4 p.m. Tip: Have a late lunch or an early diner between 3 and 4 p.m., as it’s much easier to get a seat at that time Then start your scenic drive on GTTSR.
 

Highlight (Going-to-the-Sun Road)

Some parts of the GTTS Road are open all year. However, the fascinating portions on higher elevations are only open in summer and early fall. There is no set date, but the road is usually fully open from early July until mid-October. All depending on the weather and road conditions. More details: Going to the Sun Road - NPS

 

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Otherworldly! The Wave - Coyote Buttes North. One of the most fascinating hikes on our planet! However, there is one catch: You have to win a permit! How to increase your chances and answers to every other possible questions you might have are covered here. You'll learn things no one else tells you about 'The Wave'! Read our powerful planning guide below (check our huge infographic!)

5 Proven Quick-Tips | Winning a Permit

Our famous 5 proven must-know tips for the lottery (how to win a permit) at a glance:

  1. Months: Highest chance for a permit in January / early February
  2. Walk-In Lottery: Enter the lottery for at least 2 consecutive days
  3. Walk-In Lottery: Between November and March. Plus: Enter on a Friday as well
  4. Online-Lottery: Wait until the end of the month before entering the lottery
  5. Online-Lottery: Select 3 dates with the fewest applicants

Read on for more detailed tips and everything you should know before you go.

Permits

There is no more real off-season in terms of lottery applicants. Don't trust older reviews, as winning becomes less likely every year. However, the chances to win a permit are still a little better in the winter months. Especially in January and early February. Find more insider tips on how to win a permit in the text and infographic below.

Crowds and Weather

Since only 20 persons per day are allowed, crowds are not an issue. However, Kanab (Visitor Center) and Page are less crowded if you avoid peak tourist months (late June, July, August). In terms of weather, we recommend spring (March, April, May) or fall (September, October, November): The temperatures are moderate and the cloud cover is reasonable, particularly in April/May. In summer (June/July/August) it gets very hot (100°F, 40°C). You should start very early to beat the heat. In the winter the ground might be snow covered and muddy. This may result in an impassable road sometimes. The cloud cover is higher in winter as well. However, you should keep in mind that the weather doesn't matter that much: Try to win a permit for this unique hike, regardless of the weather.

Photography (Time of Day)

A sixty foot buttes causes massive shadows and the best time to take photos there is often not sunrise/sunset. However, almost any time for a photo is great when you're at this otherworldly place. Extra tip: Look for puddles to capture great reflections.

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