Alaska.org - Ask Bob

Mt. McKinley: What is the best time of year to see it?


Q: I want to see Denali. Is there a certain time of the year that you are more likely to catch a glimpse of Mt. McKinley? --Dinah

A: For a mountain as enormous as Denali—over 20,000 feet—it still manages to be elusive for a lot of visitors, due to clouds and ever-changing weather conditions. The truth is, the skies around Denali tend to be clearer during winter and spring than during summer—unfortunately, the exact time that you and so many others are visiting. In summer, the odds of a completely clear day are only 33 percent. There’s another 40 percent chance of getting a partial view of the mountain obscured by clouds, and a roughly 25 percent chance of not seeing it all due to overcast conditions.

That said, the weather tends to get wetter and cloudier as summer progresses, so your chances of seeing McKinley are probably better in May and early June than August or September.

If you’re interested in all the factors to consider when choosing which month to visit, I recommend When To Visit Alaska. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth visiting Denali Park itself, see my honest analysis Visit Denali—Or Not?

The Alaska Weather Planner tool allows you to research cloudiness, rainfall, and daylight for various Alaska locations—and even compare it to your hometown. Two towns are especially worth a look: Fairbanks (roughly 120 miles north of Denali) and Talkeetna (sometimes referred to as South Denali Park, 150 miles to the south). Summer cloud cover in Fairbanks is more representative of what you would experience in Denali Park than Talkeetna—but people visiting Talkeetna typically have a better chance of seeing the mountain in August. The chart also shows how precipitously the number of clear days declines on the north side (Fairbanks): from 16 in May to only 9 in September.