October can be a GREAT time to visit Denali National Park! BUT, if you're planning a trip to Denali in October, here are a few things you should know beforehand.
October is considered "shoulder season" in Denali. October is in the “off season” for many things in Denali. There won’t be tours running, many restaurants are closed for the winter and there could even be snow! That being said, October is great for seeing the northern lights, potentially driving out farther into the park than you get to in a personal vehicle in the summer and you’ll get to experience our area more like a local than a tourist. This is great news, but can take a little creativity to still achieve all of the items on your Denali National Park bucket list.
Can I see the Northern Lights at this time? Yes!! October is a great time of year for Northern Lights - it's just at the beginning of the Aurora season and you can typically see them without having to endure the below-zero-temperatures. We use this site from the University of Alaska Fairbanks to help track how visible the aurora might be on any particular night.
Where can we go to view the Aurora/Northern Lights? If they are out, you can typically see them straight from the Hideaway windows!! If you're looking to experience them in the Denali area with a little bit more open skies - head to Otto Lake or Stampede Road where the skies are open and there is little light pollution.
Are Northern Lights Tours WORTH it? To my knowledge, there are not currently any Northern Lights Tours/Aurora Tours operating in the Denali area. BUT, to answer your question... Tours can be pricey but can TOTALLY be worth it! It all depends on what is a priority to you. Reasons I love Northern Lights tours - they know the places to take you with little light pollution and open skies so if you are an avid photographer yourself, you'll be able to get great images. (PS: you can read our blog post about taking your own images of the aurora here.) If you aren't a photographer, many of the Aurora tours have a photographer with them and can get great images of your family with the Northern Lights. Also, winter road conditions can be a little dicey, and if you're feeling nervous about exploring in the dark on wintery Alaskan roads, going with a tour service takes away some of that stress!! That being said: if images aren't a huge priority to you, you can TOTALLY DIY this experience! If the Northern Lights are visible, because they aren't every night and even if they are visible that night - it might only be a certain time of night, you can see them from The Hideaway! They're commonly out the front bedroom windows, but there are also several places locally to drive to get a better look - check out Otto Lake and Stampede Road for low light pollution and open skies. If you're up for doing this on your own, I think you can still have a magical experience!!
Help! I can't find availability for the tour I want to take! Looking to go white water rafting, ziplining or on an ATV in Denali in October? Sorry!! You're out of luck! Most of these tours close in accordance with the Denali National Park official season, which typically runs through about September 15.
Can we still go hiking in Denali in October? Absolutely!! The weather can be unpredictable this time of year, so you could either have gorgeous fall hiking, or early winter hiking - come prepared for both! Trails in Denali are not maintained everyday to snow conditions, so you might be the first hiker breaking trail on a maintained path! Make sure to have good hiking boots or snow boots, and not just tennis shoes.
Restaurant options are considerable more limited in the Denali, Healy, McKinley area. Many restaurants close up for the winter between September 15 - 30. There is likely to only be one or two restaurants available, but Healy does have its own full service grocery store, and there are several food options there even if your lodging does not have a full kitchen.
What other questions do you have about visiting Denali in October? We're happy to help!