The Hotel Stay Itinerary
Drive to the park or take the train. If arriving by train, choose accommodations near the park -- shuttles and courtesy vans can get you around -- or rent a car for use while in the area. Visit the exhibits at the Denali Visitor Center, attend a ranger talk, see the Cabin Nite dinner-theater show, or go on a short nature walk around the park hotel in the evening. Get to bed early, and the next morning take a shuttle bus by 7am into the park to see the terrain and animals, and possibly to get a view of the mountain. By late morning, you'll be at a point with a commanding view of McKinley (in good weather). Now ride partway back toward the entrance before getting off the bus at a place of your choosing for a walk and to eat the bag lunch you've brought along with you (pack out all trash, of course), or take one of the National Park Service guided walks. After enjoying the wilderness for a few hours, head back on the bus, finishing a long day back at the hotel. The next day, try an educational program at the Murie Science and Learning Center or take a rafting ride, a flightseeing trip, or another activity near the park entrance before driving onward or reboarding the train.
The Family Camping Itinerary
Arrive at the park entrance by car with your camping gear and food for a couple of nights. (You can rent the camping gear and car in Anchorage or Fairbanks.) Camp that evening at the Riley Creek Campground near the visitor center. Enjoy the evening ranger program, see the exhibits at the visitor center, take a nature walk, or go straight to a campsite farther within the park (either way, you'll need to reserve well ahead). The next day, catch a shuttle bus to get deeper into the park for sightseeing and hiking. If you have another day after that within the park, you can do more hikes and have the cushion of a weather day. Add a rafting excursion at the park entrance before driving on, if you like, and possibly a night in a hotel with a soft bed and your very own bathroom.
The Backcountry Camping Itinerary
Arrive by train, bus, or car with your backpack, camping gear, and food for at least several days' hiking. Go immediately to the Backcountry Information Center to orient yourself to the backcountry permit process, buy the information you need for your trek, and choose the unit area that looks most promising. Backcountry permits cannot be reserved in advance; you can apply for them in person only at the center 2 days in advance, and they go fast. If you're lucky, permits will be left for the day after you arrive; more likely, you'll need to camp for a night nearby and arrive at the Backcountry Information Center by the 9am opening (in high season) to get your permit for the following day. Now you've got another day to wait; if you've reserved a shuttle-bus seat, you can get a preview of the park and see some wildlife. The next morning, you can start your backcountry hike, taking the camper bus to your unit and then traveling for up to 2 weeks in a huge area of wilderness reserved almost exclusively for your use.
The Kantishna Wilderness Lodge Itinerary
For those who can afford it, this may be the best way to see Denali. The lodge will drive you through the park, and you'll immediately be away from the crowds in remote territory. The lodges all have activities and guides to get you out into the wilderness.
The Talkeetna Option
Drive or take the train only as far as Talkeetna, about 110 miles north of Anchorage, and board a flightseeing plane from there to the park, perhaps landing on a glacier on Mount McKinley. You'll stand a better chance of seeing the mountain than anyone else, since the weather tends to be better on the south side and you can fly above most clouds. You'll also save yourself hours of driving to the park and the bus ride into the park, and you'll have the pleasure of staying in a town with some character, unlike the park entrance area. If you want the on-the-ground wildlife-viewing opportunities that can be had only in the park, you can fly from Talkeetna for the day, for a price.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.