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The Complete Guide to Denali National Park Wildlife

The Complete Guide to Denali National Park Wildlife

Alaska is full of natural wonders, and Denali National Park wildlife is at the top of the list. While roaming around Mount Denali, you’ll find some of the most fascinating animals on earth. Keep reading for your guide to view the park’s inhabitants.  

About Denali National Park Wildlife

For over 90 years, visitors have journeyed to Denali National Park just to get a glimpse at wildlife. There are 39 species of mammals and 169 species of birds in the park. And there’s one amphibian that can live this far north: the wood frog.

Denali Highway & Denali National Park| Go North Ep.10

The “big five” mammals living in the park are moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, and grizzly bears. Additionally, there’s much diversity among Denali National Park wildlife, including many small to medium-sized mammals like snowshoe hares, wolverines, shrews, squirrels, and more.

Before exploring the park, review all rules and guidelines related to wildlife encounters. Stop by the visitor center for instructions and to get help planning your adventures. 

Pro Tip: Check out our list of the Top 10 Things to Do in Denali National Park to help you make the most of your visit.

If you plan to see Denali National Park wildlife by car, you can take your vehicle a short distance into the park. You’ll need a bus to explore deeper and have a greater chance of seeing wildlife, and you can choose between narrative and non-narrative buses.

Hiking Denali is one of the best ways to view wildlife and experience the wilderness, and there are many hikes to explore. Follow all safety guidelines and check in with the rangers before heading out, as the untouched wilderness of the park can be dangerous if you’re not prepared. 

denali moose

Find Moose

The best places to see moose are between the park entrance and Savage River at mile 15. You can spot female moose and their calves near Riley Creek Campground in the springtime and male moose between miles 9 and 13 in the fall.

Look for Bears

You’ll find both grizzly and black bears in Denali National Park, but you’re more likely to spot a grizzly bear than a black bear. Black bears tend to stay in forested areas and are primarily on the park’s south side. 

The best places to get a glimpse of grizzly bears are the Savage River, Teklanika River, and Toklat River. They also like higher altitude areas such as Sable Pass, Highway Pass, and Thoroughfare Pass.

denali bear wildlife viewing
Bears are so fun to watch from the safety of the bus

See Wolves

Denali features some of the best opportunities in the world to see a wolf in the wild. Many visitors have spotted wolves along Denali Park Road even though they tend to be the most elusive.

Wolves are the most researched animal in Denali. There’s a multi-year study that tracks wolf packs in the national park. If you’re lucky enough to spot a wolf on your visit, go to the wolf sighting index and report it to help the study. 

denali wolf wildlife
Wolf sighted along the road from a bus

Caribou Viewing

You can spot caribou east of the Foraker River and north of the Alaska Range most of the year. And some may travel south of the Alaska Range toward Cantwell during calving season, mid-May to early June. 

denali wildlife caribou

Keep an eye on brushy areas for Caribou. They hang out in small groups of one to six in the summer. But you may get the rare gift of seeing a large herd of 100 or more! You’ll often see caribou in the same places as grizzly bears.

Birdwatching

You’ll likely hear a bird wherever you are in Denali National Park. Among the 169 species of birds, the most commonly spotted are the American Robin, Common Redpoll, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Northern Pintail Duck, Snow Bunting, Golden Eagle, White-Crowned Sparrow, Gray Jay, Trumpeter Swan, and Horned Grebe.   

Where to see birds in the park will depend on what type of bird you seek. Look in brushy areas or along creeks for ptarmigan and varieties of passerines. Thicker forests house owls, and you can see golden eagles along mountain ridges. You’ll most likely spot waterfowl in ponds throughout the park. Click here for a guide to birding in Denali. 

Spot Sheep

Did you know that Denali National Park was originally formed to protect the Dall Sheep? They were being over-hunted to feed the miners in the region and ironically a big game hunter named Charles Sheldon realized that without protection they may go extinct. Because of this, it is these sheep, not the mountain that was originally protected here.

dall sheep in denali

The best place to glimpse sheep is high in the mountains. For example, you might see some in Igloo Canyon between miles 34 and 38. You might also see them along the roadside near Polychrome Pass at mile 45 and Eielson Visitor Center at mile 66. 

Hikers have a good chance of spotting sheep on Mount Margaret at mile 15, Mount Wright at mile 22, and Polychrome Pass. 

Best Denali National Park Wildlife Tours

One of the best Denali National Park wildlife tours is the narrated bus tour. A trained naturalist drives the bus and narrates the trip. The Tundra Wilderness Tour offers the greatest chance of spotting wildlife. It’s a round-trip tour that lasts seven to eight hours, and it’s open from the end of May to mid-September. 

bus tour denali wildlife
We got to know the bus-drivers and loved the bus system

There are many tour companies in the area that also offer various tour options. You can choose from backcountry adventures or try to spot wildlife on a small aircraft tour.

When Is the Best Time of Day to See Wildlife in Denali National Park? 

Dawn and dusk are the best times to see Denali National Park wildlife. These are quiet periods when wildlife is out and about. Try to get deep into the park early in the day for the most incredible viewing potential.

Seeing the wildlife that roams around the majestic Mount Denali is an opportunity of a lifetime. Do your part in being quiet and respectful of their home, and they might just give you a wink for the camera!  

Pro Tip: Alaska has 9 national parks in total with ample opportunities to see even more wildlife. Take a look at our Complete List of Alaska National Parks for more information.

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
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