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Authored by Chris Picardi and Laura Strong

The one thing you might not see when visiting Denali is…Denali? Wait, what? You mean the primary attraction for which the park is named; the mountain that I’m traveling for hours to see; you’re telling me I might not see it? Regrettably, yes. That’s precisely what we’re saying.

According to the park’s rangers, only about one third of all visitors actually get to feast their eyes on the tallest mountain in North America due to the nearly constant cloud cover. If I was a betting man, I wouldn’t like those odds.

The Denali Experience is All a Matter of Luck

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The Denali experience might come down to a matter of luck, however if you find yourself one of the lucky 33%, you will find that the views are well worth the gamble.

The vistas along several stretches of the park road are easily some of the best North America has to offer. The best view points are at the Eielson Visitor Center and the Stony Hill Overlook. If you ride on the shuttle bus to Wonder Lake, you will maximize your chances of seeing the summit if the weather clears up even temporarily.

It can be incredibly disappointing when you’ve gone to such great lengths to travel, and and are then not able to experience the attraction you came to see. So we hope this post will allow you to set realistic expectations for your trip.

Set Realistic Expectations

When planning a trip to Denali National Park, don’t travel with expectations of what you might see. That way you’re not disappointed if the mountain spends most, if not all of its time hiding behind the clouds.

While planning our trip, we didn’t fully realize how rare it was to have summit views. Had we visited during a more typical cloudy week, we would have been quite crushed. So it’s better to hope for the best and plan for the worst. Besides, the park has so much more to offer than the mountain itself.

Even on a cloudy day, hiking in the vast backcountry is still an incredible experience, and you will almost certainly see amazing wildlife. The majority of visitors see grizzly bears, moose, caribou, and dall sheep, so the odds are in your favor in that regard.

Though wildlife is often spotted in the distance, around 80% of visitors get to see a grizzly bear. And a grizzly sighting with no mountain views is still a trip worth writing home about (as long as you don’t ultimately end up as his lunch!)

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Diversify Your Alaska Trip

Another way to ease the pain of not seeing Denali is to diversify your Alaska trip. That is, don’t just visit Denali. Alaska is a massive state, and there is no shortage of things to see that are not named Denali.

Visit Wrangell St. Elias, which might even be a more beautiful park, the glaciers in Prince William Sound are stunning, and if you’re really feeling adventurous, take a flight to Kodiak Island where you’re almost guaranteed to see some of the largest bears on earth.

Everyone wants to see Denali, but the reality is that most don’t. Once you’ve come to terms with this fact, it will be much easier to enjoy your trip, and soften the blow of disappointment if the weather does what it tends to do in that part of the world. Then, if you get lucky with stunning views, it will make the trip that much more rewarding.


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Chris and Laura are a New England couple who enjoy traveling on weekends and vacation days. They blog at Trails Unblazed, where they share stories, travel tips, and photos from their adventures.

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  1. Sounds like an incredible place to visit – even if you’re not one of the 33% to see the Mountain! Good to know about setting expectations lower tho. It’s always good to have a heads up!

    • It definitely is incredible whether or not you get views of the summit, but I think a lot of people see the pictures online before visiting and leave disappointed if they’re not in that lucky 33%.

  2. This looks like an amazing place provided you get the summit view. Or atleast a grizzly sighting to make your day.

    • Almost everyone sees a grizzly there so that is a nice consolation prize if you aren’t able to see the summit.

  3. i love this place and i love your photos :-) Great post! Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks!

  4. First of all, I would like to congratulate you for seeing the Denali mountain. Great article and pictures! I bet your Denali trip was truly unforgettable

    • Thanks! It was amazing.

  5. I don’t know if I would freak out or be totally amazed by spotting or at least having the chance of spotting a grizzly bear. Your pictures are beyond beautiful though!

    • Thanks! We saw grizzlies from the safety of the shuttle bus so it was fine.

  6. Ah we nearly went to Alaska a couple of months ago and changed to Canada last minute but you’ve inspired me to get planning again. Denali is of course on the list but so great you’ve warned us about the cloud cover. That’s something I hadn’t read anywhere. Those pictures are incredible and I can’t wait to head out of those hiking trails and see a grizzly (hopefully not too close up).

    • You’ll enjoy it. It’s an amazing park even if you don’t see the summit.

  7. Your photos are STUNNING! What a beautiful part of the world. I’d be so happy just to explore and see a grizzly bear or two ;) Great post, thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks!

  8. This is totally true for most high mountains. When I worked at Mount Rainier for the first two weeks I saw the mountain once during that time for 5 mins.

    • Wow, one sighting in two weeks is pretty low odds! I guess we were the same with Kilimanjaro though when we climbed in Tanznia – we were at the base of the mountain itself and still couldn’t see it!!

  9. It’s a bit pricey, but flight seeing trips get you above the clouds for amazing, up close views of the summit. Heck….you don’t get to Alaska very often!

    • Awesome tip Laura – my parents recently took a helicopter ride over and around Mt Cook in NZ, and the mountain footage they got was incredible once you cleared the cloud cover. I agree that it’s one of those worthwhile things to include!

  10. Good post. One thing I did that helped was that I planned a week long visit. If you’re up for camping, it’s only a matter of time since the mountain goes back and forth between pressure systems. It was hard raining when I first got there and cleared after two days for a good three day break. Stick around and you’re bound to see it. That was in June.

    • Glad you enjoyed it Dan :) Great tip on planning a week long visit – best way to maximize your sightings is definitely to t out the weather and let the mountain come to you!

      Glad the weather cleared up for you!

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