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Six million acres of wild land: Taiga forest, alpine tundra, and snowy mountains and stunning wildlife. An amazing place year-round.

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 Katmai National Park was established in 1918 formerly as a National Monument to protect the volcanic activity especially the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

There are 6 great months in which to view bears in Hallo Bay. So let the activity you want to see determine your trip dates. Hallo Bay does not just depend on an intensive two week period of a salmon run like other areas. This fertile region provides abundant food for the bears.

Mid-May - Mid-July: Mother bears with their cubs – Great time to visit.

The breeding season is drawing to a close and the males having some respite from their aggressive and competitive battles for dominance. The salmon runs will happen next month. But time spent studying the bears this month will be rewarded. The spring meadows of Hallo Bay are now lush with sedge grass and the tidal flats full of clams. The omnivorous nature of the bears is well suited to the changing seasons. You will see bears munching blades of grass, grubbing for roots and vigorously extracting clams from the mud at low tide. This is the season to see mother bears with their new cubs, and the first signs of bears rubbing, so their fur is still in good condition.

Hallo Bay in the Katmai National Park; a bear with cubs

Mid-July - Mid-August: Salmon runs - Excellent time to visit.

The beautiful coastal blooms and the fireweed flowers are at their most prolific now. The bears are starting to move inland to the rivers. The nutrients from vegetation and clams are no longer sufficient now that the plump chum and pink salmon are starting their runs. The most dominant bears command the best fishing sites with their subordinates having to make do with the less productive spots up or downstream from them. The bears exhibit their strength and agility in catching the salmon as they cross the shallow gravel beds. There are no natural traps in the Hallo Bay rivers like the local Brooks and McNeil Falls to help the bears. This display of raw power represents bear viewing at its most spectacular. The bears are now losing their old fur by rubbing more energetically in preparation for their new winter coats. You may also be fortunate enough to see wolves!

Hallo Bay Katmai National Park in Alaska, watching bears feeding on salmon

Mid-August - Mid-September: Salmon runs continue - Excellent time to visit.

In late August, as the days are drawing in and the bears are displaying the start of their new winter fur. The Coho salmon are just starting their spawning runs. The chum and pink are completing theirs. The bears seem to prefer the Coho because they are heavier and fatter. The Coho run is also the largest on this coast and may continue until October. The bears are now back to their mixed diet of fish, mushrooms and mixed berries, preparing for the cold winter ahead.

Mid-September - Mid-October: Bears easily to view along rivers and beaches - Good time to visit.

As the Fall colors provide a beautiful backdrop and the days draw in, the bears spend much of their time resting along the rivers and beaches. The pleasant weather is now interrupted by sudden bursts of rapid storms. You may see the bears, resplendent in their winter fur, feeding on the old salmon that have finished their life cycle after spawning, but new Coho may still be making their way upstream. Berries are also an important part of the bear's’ diet at this time

November - December: Bears preparing to hibernate – Not a good time.

A more unhurried pace in Hallo Bay as the large winter storms (often lasting for days) now become common. This determines the time for the bears to prepare for the winter months.

January - February: Bears hibernate - Not a good time.

Mother bears give birth at this time

April- Early May: Males exhibiting acts of dominance – Visiting possible but not recommended.

This is a post-denning time, and bear movement may be seen close to their dens on the snow-covered upper slopes. On the coastline, it is too early for sedge grass and goose tongue, so the bear movement is less predictable at this time as they grub for roots. The large males are starting a new breeding season by displaying acts of dominance. April to early  May is not a good time to view bears in easy to access areas.


Seasonal Bear Activity Overview

Mother and Cubs and mating season – Mid-May to mid-July
Salmon Runs – July to mid-September
Bears Resting – Mid-September to mid-October
Bears Hibernation – November until March
Bear fighting – April to Early May (higher slopes)

Where to Stay

In the past, it was possible to stay in the Katmai National Park. Since the owner of the lodge died, you can stay in Homer only. Day tours by plane to watch the bears feeding are offered from the airport. The Homer Inn and Spa offers spectacular views. It's ideally located close to the airport and the town center. Explore more hotels nearby in Homer.

Plane approaching Hallo Bay for bears viewing in Katmai Alaska

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There are 2 places to stay in Brooks Falls. The lodge and the campground. The lodge is a little pricey. The campground is around 9$ per night, but already fully booked end of January.

Brown bears are in the area from mid-spring until October. Usually, the salmon run takes place from mid latest end of June until the end of July but can be August as well. The salmon run is not predictable. The sockeye salmon is swimming and jumping upstream to spawn before they die. Brown bear viewing is best between July and September. During the salmon run, you can spot the highest concentration of bears hunting for red salmon along the Brooks River and Falls. You may spot 20 to 50 bears along the falls. Usually, in June and August is less food is available. Anyhow, you always may spot bears just fewer. 

Avoiding Tourist Crowds

Brooks Falls in Alaska full of brown bears in the peak season in the summer

In July expect crowded conditions at the viewing platforms. There is a limit of 40 people watching the bears for maximum one hour controlled by rangers. September is much better with fewer tourists. Time of day suggestion: Stay overnight at the lodge or the campground. Then you can get to the platforms between 5 and 7 PM when the day visitors already left. Livecam: Brooks Falls Bears Livecam
 

Weather

In late spring, summer and early fall it's often rainy, overcast. Especially in the summer months, the weather is unpredictable. Summer temperatures range from 30˚ to 80˚ Fahrenheit (-1˚ to 27˚ Celsius). Winters are drier and colder.

 

Seasonal Bear Activity Overview

Brown Bears hunting salmon at Brooks Falls in Alaska

  • Mother and Cubs and mating season – Mid-May to mid-July
  • Salmon Runs – July to mid-September
  • Bears Resting – Mid-September to mid-October
  • Bears digging a den before November
  • Bears Hibernation – November until March
  • Up to four cubs are born in mid-winter
  • Bear fighting – April to Early May (higher slopes)

 

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