Where to Get the Best Views of Denali

Most visitors to Alaska are well aware that 20,310-foot Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, is the highest peak in North America—but what they might not know is that although Denali National Park can be a good place to see the mountain, it’s not necessarily the best place. The combination of local weather patterns and the mountain’s sheer size means that you often get better views by going just a little farther afield. Here are some of the locations that offer the best views of Denali.

red airplane on Ruth Glacier
Many flightseeing expeditions around Denali also include a glacier landing. Photo © Richard McMillin/iStock.

Viewing Denali from the Air

If ever there were a splurge worth making, it’s the flight of a lifetime: Sightseeing around Denali’s sprawling massif in a small plane. Some airborne sightseeing trips (or as we call them here, flightseeing trips) even include a glacier landing, where you can hop out of the plane, throw snowballs at each other in the middle of summer, and pose for true once-in-a-lifetime pictures. You can start your flightseeing trip from Talkeetna, Anchorage, and Denali National Park.

From Talkeetna

When it comes to Denali, Talkeetna has two claims to fame. First, it’s the launching pad for climbers on their way to base camp on Denali—which means that if you start your flightseeing adventure here, you’ll be going with the same planes and pilots that shuttle hopeful climbers to the mountain. Second, Talkeetna boasts some of the best roadside views of Denali, starting with a pullout at about mile 13 of the Talkeetna Spur Road; look for a medium-sized rock that’s been spray-painted gold. Some of the area lodges offer great views too; the views from the picture windows of the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge’s Forakor dining room are truly spectacular.

From Kesugi K’en Campground

Located just south of Denali National Park, Denali State Park is in the midst of a multi-year development plan to open new facilities for visitors. This includes the recently opened Kesugi K’en campground at mile 135.4 of the Parks Highway, which was designed with views of the Alaska Range in mind. On a clear day you can zip open your tent, peek out your RV windows, or sit on the front porch of one of three public use cabins and enjoy the view of Denali, sitting front and center among its fellow peaks.

views of Denali mountain over a line of trees
View of Denali from the Aurora Winter train. Photo © Lisa Maloney.

From the Alaska Railroad

Some of the best vantage points of Denali—and its close mates, Mounts Hunter and Foraker—can be found along the Alaska Railroad tracks that run from Anchorage to Fairbanks. The train runs in all seasons: as the Denali Star in summer and the Aurora Winter train in the off season, plus a shorter flag stop route, the Hurricane Turn train, that runs from Talkeetna to the tiny community of Hurricane. (During the winter this train runs just once a month but makes a longer trip, all the way from Anchorage to Hurricane and back again.) Locals and visitors alike love the Alaska Railroad because—psst, this is kind of a secret!—they’ve been known to bring the entire train to a stop for great photo ops.