Guests will often ask us what to pack for their Alaskan vacation, often referring to what new creative gear they will need. My answer is always the same: "Layers, layers, LAYERS!" The weather is so unpredictable in the area as the mountains around us create their own weather patterns and can change at the drop of the hat. Pack prepared for scorching hot days, incredibly windy days, typical Alaskan cool days and yes, even rainy days. (Heck, you might need to pack for snowy days too, but let's hope not.)
If your visit to Denali National Park happens to coincide with rain, here are my top ten suggestions for things to do while you enjoy the area.
Go to the Denali National Park Visitor's Center! As this is being published in 2021, Denali is only offering an outdoor visitor center. Still, the outdoor visitor center is covered and out of the rain while you visit with Denali National Park Rangers about trails that you can hike when the weather turns around, about wildlife in the area, about Denali's park history, and if you have kiddos with you, they can also become a Denali National Park Junior Ranger right here at the Visitor's Center! If you're reading this in year that is not 2021 (though who knows what 2022 and beyond hold!) then the full, indoor Denali National Park Visitor's Center is a must see! There is an award winning film, topographical maps, interactive displays and life-sized wildlife replicas! You'll still be able to visit with Park Rangers 1-on-1 and get your kiddos their Junior Ranger badges here as well.
Grab a cup of coffee! Alaskans LOVE their coffee and there are coffee stands all over the state! You'll even see a roadside coffee hut or two along the Parks Highway in what feels like the middle of no where! Our favorite local to Denali coffee shops are The Alaskan Coffee Bean and Black Bear Coffee House. A cup of warm coffee is sure to lift your spirits on cold Denali Days!
Drive out to Savage River. Visitors to Denali National Park can drive the first 15 miles of the Denali Park Road, and you must do so! These first 15 miles might not seem like a lot, but they are always full of wildlife and photo opportunities! You'll also be able to stop and park one of Denali's maintained hiking trails - our personal favorite is the Savage River Loop Trail. It's two miles around the scenic Savage River and worth every step. The trail is fairly even, rocky and wet at parts, but not treacherous by any means. If it is raining, the drive is still well worth it as you may see a bear or a moose along the road and just because it's raining at the visitor's center doesn't mean it will be out at Savage!
Go Geocaching! I LOVE geocaching and hope to do a full blog post about it someday, but for this list I'll give you the gist: sign up for a free account with Geocaching. Once you have an account, you'll be able to see caches that are hidden throughout the area. These caches are typically small containers that have a log of some sort in them to show others who have found it as well. Containers can range from a film canister to a Tupperware container and anything in between. Geocaches are placed by other travelers, and you'll be able to see online through their app the dates that caches were recently found, other notes etc. You do need to have a phone will cell phone service and GPS tracking. Geocaches are not allowed to be placed in National Parks, so the caches listed will be outside Denali proper, but will often take you to places you wouldn't have encountered if you stayed on the beaten path.
Visit the Denali National Park Sled Dog Kennels! These sled dogs are hardworking teammates of the Denali National Park Service. At print in 2021, there are not sled dog demonstrations or programs, but you can still visit the kennels, meet the dogs and visit with Park Rangers about the work the sled dogs do for the National Park. These energetic pups love their job and you'll love them too!
Adventure anyway. If it's raining in Denali National Park, one thing that is likely is that it won't be for long! I know that many guests and visitors to Denali only have a few days (or a few hours!!) to spend in the area and being in the rain isn't likely to dampen your spirits once you encounter the majesty of Denali. If you had a hike you were dreaming to do, attempt it anyway! Watch for conditions to change (especially on more rough terrain) but get out there and enjoy your hike. If you had an excursion planned (like rafting or zip lining) go anyways!! Guides will cancel your tour if conditions are unbearable, but otherwise they are well prepared to help you enjoy your experience, no matter the weather conditions.
If you're caught in Denali National Park in the rain, don't shed any tears - you'll still have an incredible time in one of America's most beautiful National Parks.