I have lived in Alaska for nearly 20 years, and the drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park has to be one of my favorites. There is so much of Alaska’s beauty that can be seen on the drive. The main highlights are the impressive views of Denali on days when the weather is great.
You’ll have a good idea when you depart Anchorage if you’ll get these amazing views of Denali or simply some nice looks at clouds covering the mountain. On clear days, you can see Denali towering in the distance from Anchorage. Its grandeur only increases the closer you get.
The primary route from Anchorage to Denali National Park is along the Parks Highway. This is a 240 mile drive that will take approximately 4 hours to complete. Along the way you’ll have the potential to see moose, bears, coyotes, bald eagles, and maybe even a lynx or wolf! Once you’re north of Willow, Alaska, you’ll be surrounded by mountains to the east and west. And on a clear day, once you reach Willow, Denali will be a towering presence directly in front of you on the highway.
There are plenty of gas stations along the way, but don’t plan on making it on a single tank. A great place to fill up is at the gas station in Talkeetna, Alaska. You should also check road conditions before you leave because there can be a lot of road construction during the short Alaskan summers.
There is a lesser-known route from Anchorage to Denali National Park that is also beautiful, but a slightly more rugged drive. Rather than taking the Parks Highway north from Wasilla, you could head to Hatcher Pass. You then go over the pass and you return to the Parks Highway just north of Willow, Alaska.
This drive has pretty steep sections, and the road over the pass and to Willow is gravel. So it is probably not the best route if you’re in an RV or towing a big camper. You should also remember that most rental car companies in Alaska don’t let you drive rental cars on gravel roads. Also, the road over Hatcher Pass doesn’t usually open before July 1st.
The Hatcher Pass route will be longer (255 miles) and will take 5 hours (without stopping). But if you are not in a rush to get to Denali, it’s worth considering taking this route because Hatcher Pass is beautiful and lets you experience the beauty of Alaska’s tundra country up close.
Even though the drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park can easily be done in a day, you might want to take your time and explore along the way.
There are a number of incredible campgrounds from Anchorage to Denali National Park that offer opportunities for sightseeing, hiking, and fishing.
Below I provide an overview of my 5 favorite campgrounds on the drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park.
Government Peak Campground
If you opt for the scenic route from Anchorage to Denali National Park, the Government Peak Campground is a great option. It is approximately 50 miles from Anchorage and the drive takes about 1 hour.
If you want to spend a day exploring the Hatcher Pass Area, you won’t be disappointed. There are incredible hiking trails easily reachable from the campground. There’s also a great state park where you can explore an old gold mine a little further up the road on the way to the pass.
The campground itself is nothing special. It’s adjacent to the road but it’s not busy, so road noise is minimal. The campground has 8 sites and can accommodate tents, small RVs and campers. There is no freshwater or other hook-ups. While the campground lacks amenities, it makes up for it with incredible views!
The campground is first come, first serve and costs $15 per night. If there are no sites available, you can drive just up the road to the Gold Mint Trailhead parking lot which also allows camping. The Gold Mint Trailhead parking can accommodate any size RV and has 10 campsites. This site also has a pit toilet and potable water. Similar to the Government Peak campground, this site costs $15 per night and is first come, first serve.
South Rolly Lake Campground
Located in the Nancy Lakes State Recreation Area, the South Rolly Lake Campground is a little ways off the highway (about 7 miles) from Anchorage to Denali National Park. It is located 75 miles from Anchorage and takes approximately 1.5 hours to drive to from Anchorage.
The campground has 98 sites and no RV size limits. It does not offer hook-ups, but there are restrooms and water available.
The campground sits right on South Rolly Lake which offers swimming and canoeing in the summer. You can rent canoes at the campground as well. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can start an overnight camping trip along the area’s extensive canoe trail network.
My wife and I did it a few years ago and it was a lot of fun. Only plan on doing it if you’ve prepared for an overnight trip in the backcountry. Also ensure you’re physically fit enough for the trip.
Sites at the South Rolly Lake Campground are first come, first serve. The overnight cost for a campsite is $20-25.
K’esugi Ken Campground
This is a very popular campground on the way from Anchorage to Denali National Park. Located in Denali State Park (don’t get the two confused), it is the newest campground along the way. Opened in 2017, it can accommodate all types of campers and RVs.
K’esugi Ken Campgrouns is 138 miles from Anchorage and takes approximately 2.5 hours to drive to.
There are 42 sites, with 5 pull-through sites for larger vehicles. The campground doesn’t offer full hook-ups, but there are water and restrooms available. There are also 2 cabins that you can rent for the night.
The main draw of the campground is the incredible views of Denali if the weather is nice. So, fingers crossed that you’re lucky enough for a bluebird day while camping here! There’s a nice hiking trail up to the top of the ridge where you can experience the tundra and have great views of Denali.
You can reserve some sites advance but many are left as first come, first serve. The overnight cost for a campsite is $20-30, but the cabin rental will cost you a bit more ($100 per night).
While the K’esugi Ken Campground is my preferred choice, if you can’t find a site, there is also the Denali View South Campground right across the highway that has 9 campsites, and no RV size limits. There are no hook-ups, but the site has water and restrooms. It costs $20 per night to camp here. You’ll still have great views of Denali, but it’s lower on the hill and closer to the highway.
Byers Lake Campground
Byers Lake Campground is also another popular campground on the drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park. The campground is also located in Denali State Park and is located on Byers Lake. The campground is located 150 miles from Anchorage and takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to.
This campground is a great place for hiking up to K’esugi Ridge, or doing some fishing or canoeing on the lake. It offers 73 campsites, but can only accommodate RVs that are shorter than 35 feet long. The campground does not offer full hook-up sites, but there are restrooms, water, an RV dump station, and you can rent kayaks. There’s also a small boat launch at the campground.
Campsites cost is $20 per night and all sites are first come, first serve. There are also 3 cabins you can rent at the campground. They cost $80 per night, and you can reserve them in advance.
Denali View North Campground
Located just off the highway on the way from Anchorage to Denali National park, this campground can offer incredible views of Denali if the weather cooperates. The campground is approximately 165 miles from Anchorage and takes about 3 hours to drive to.
The campground is mostly a paved parking lot with no RV or camper length restrictions. The campground does not have full hook-ups, but does have water, toilets, and picnic sites.
There are 23 sites at the campground, but you can’t reserve them in advance. The overnight cost is $20.
Even if you’re not in the mood for camping, this wayside is worth a stop if the weather is nice because the view of Denali is impressive!
There are many other campgrounds on the drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park, so you shouldn’t have any problem finding a place to camp along the way. But if you can land a site at one of these 5 campgrounds, you won’t be disappointed, especially if the weather cooperates.