Denali National Park

Winter at Denali
Snow on Stony Flats, Denali National Park.
Snow on Stony Flats, Denali National Park. (courtes, NPS)

In the sub-arctic of interior Alaska, Denali's winter is dark, with as little as five hours of daylight, and cold, with temperatures below -20° F. A blanket of snow, which may cover the ground from late September until early May, emphasizes an almost otherworldly stillness. The noise of people and traffic are a summertime memory. The only sounds are the wind, a few birds chirping, and the occasional burbling of an open stream. The dark rocks of the mountains stand out in sharp relief against the white snow, while the green streaks of the aurora flicker overhead in a star-filled sky.

Accommodations and Camping
Riley Creek campground at the park entrance is open year-round. However water is not available once temperatures drop below freezing. There is no fee for camping once the Visitor Access Center is closed for the season. Most other park campgrounds will reopen Memorial Day weekend. Backcountry camping is possible year-round but permits are required. These may be obtained at Park Headquarters every day between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. During the winter months the Denali Park Hotel and local hotels immediately outside the park boundary are closed. Lodging is available both in Healy (12 miles north) and Cantwell (30 miles south) on Highway 3.

Alaska Highway 3 is open year-round, allowing access to the Denali Park road. The Alaska Railroad makes a round-trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks every week, departing from Anchorage on Saturday and returning from Fairbanks on Sunday.

Transportation is very limited once inside the park. The park road is not plowed beyond Park Headquarters at mile 3.5 until late winter; if you want to journey farther, break out your skis or snowshoes or hitch up your dogs.

Winter Weather

Average Annual Snowfall:   80.0"
Maximum Annual Snowfall:   173.9" (1970-71)
Minimum Annual Snowfall:   13.0" (1932-33)

Temperature (°F)
Oct.    Nov.    Dec.    Jan.    Feb.    Mar.    Apr.
25      10        2          2         6         13        27

Record Low  -54  December, 1924

The mountains block the winter sun between late November and mid-February, making the daylight hours seem even shorter. The sunrise and sunset figures for Park Headquarters are:

October 21
Sunrise 8:02 am
Sunset 5:17 pm

November 21
Sunrise 9:40 am
Sunset 3:43 pm

December 21
Sunrise 10:44 am
Sunset 3:04 pm

January 21
Sunrise 10:04 am
Sunset 4:11 pm

February 21
Sunrise 8:30 am
Sunset 5:50 pm

March 21
Sunrise 6:54 am
Sunset 7:14 pm

Safety and Equipment
A sunny, calm day can change to extreme cold, blinding snow, and high winds in a matter of minutes. Always take emergency survival gear, such as extra food, clothing, matches, and a tent or bivouac bag. A map, compass, and snowshoes or skis are essential for longer trips. Let someone know your intended route and trip plans.


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