Denali is at the top of the list of places to visit in Alaska - and for good reason. On a clear day, Mount McKinley stands tall at 20,310 feet. A 4 hour drive from Anchorage, Denali is a must-do for hiking enthusiasts. But the question is... do you explore Denali National Park or Denali State Park?
Denali State Park
Denali State Park is super accessible. Right off the highway, it's easy to park in the lot and go up to Kesugi Ridge Trail. From the North, you can either do a 6.6 mile day hike via Little Coal Creek TH, or do a Kesugi Ridge overnight backpacking trip. From the South, you can camp at Byers Lake Campground. There are a few trails accessible from there including the 5.3 mile Byers Lake Trail.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park is famous for Mount Denali/McKinley but wow is it difficult to get to. Most of the park is accessed through a bus system. Did you know 80% of visitors only see Denali NP through a bus window?? You can either get a variety of reservations like a backcountry permit or bus reservation, or ride the free shuttle to Savage River that leaves from the visitor center.
This was a big pain for us, and on a tight schedule I felt like we wasted a lot of time sitting and waiting. We waited for about 2 hours to secure a backcountry permit, and it took an hour to get from the visitor center to the Savage River Campground area. When we got off the bus system, there are definitely some hikes available that are interesting, but they were very similar to Denali State Park.
So which is better?
Without hesitation I think if you are on a tight schedule and want to spend more time outdoors, Denali State Park is the way to go!