Covering all 59 National Parks of USA is our dream travel goal for the North America continent and we have just started, so there is a long way to go. Denali is the third largest National Park in the USA, this journey took us to some varied landscapes which were just perfect for my landscape photography and we also got to see the Alaskan wildlife roaming the park from Girzly bear to famous Moose.
How to reach here
The best way to reach Denali National Park is car rental as roads are amazing to drive and it gives you much more flexibility. The duration of the road trip depends on your starting point as it is closer to Fairbanks (~2 hr driving time) than Anchorage (~4.5 hr driving time).
Anchorage to Denali
We took a flight from Seattle to Anchorage and then started our road trip from Anchorage to Denali National Park. It took us approximately 8 hrs to reach Denali including our photo breaks, small stop at Iditarod Dog Sledge Museum and lunch break at Talkeetna.
There are multiple possibilities of stopovers on the way to Denali, I actually made a long list but later realized that we didn’t have time for all of those. But Talkeetna is a must place to visit, it is a nice small town with several good food options and also offers amazing views of Denali ranges.
It is one hell of a ride from Talkeetna to Denali and you will encounter some designated viewpoints (Tip: Keep an eye for the viewpoint signboards). Along with designated viewpoints, we also stopped the car at roadside whenever I couldn’t resist the temptation to capture the amazing view.
How to Explore the park
There is only one road which takes you into the National Park and it goes all the way up to 100 miles till Kantishna. While only one road to follow and just one entrance gate in the park make things much simpler but it also adds few restrictions. You can only drive up to 15 miles on your own vehicle and must take a tour or shuttle bus (paid) for rest of the exploration of the park.
Shuttle bus vs Tour bus
Shuttle bus gives you a facility of hop on/hop off and there are different shuttle buses on the basis of your last stop. Here are the details :
Toklat River (53 miles one way – 6.5 hrs roundtrip – $31 per person)
Eilson Visitor Centre (66 miles one way – 8 hrs roundtrip – $40 per person)
Wonder Lake (85 miles one way – 11 hrs roundtrip – $55 per person)
Kantishna (92 miles one way – 13 hrs roundtrip – $60 per person)
There are a limited number of tickets for shuttle buses which easily get sold out on a long weekend and long duration buses start early in the morning. I wish we knew all this and pre-booked our tickets online.
If you will miss the shuttle bus tickets, there is another more comfortable but more expensive version, Tour buses. You can book a 9 hr long guided bus tour for $140 which is a slightly better version of shuttle bus also provides complimentary snacks.
Where to stay
There are very limited lodging options available inside the National Park at Kantishna and you also need to book shuttle bus ticket as well to reach Kantishna. We booked a cabin outside the National park at Denali Outdoor Centre, Healy in front of the lake Otto with amazing view.
Start the Journey on Park Road
There are extra pickup points for Tour buses which you can select while booking the ticket(Tip: Try to board the bus at the main starting point to secure the desired seat as it is first come first basis) where shuttle bus starts at the ticket booking office. The driver will stop the bus whenever a wildlife is encountered and also at some fixed great viewpoints for pictures and toilet breaks. Let’s start our bus journey to one of the amazing National parks of the USA.
|| Stop1: 15 mile stop ||
The bus doesn’t stop here for long as private vehicles are allowed up to this point but unfortunately, they don’t pick up people from this point. So, you have to come with your own vehicle to explore this place at your own pace then go back to pick up point of the bus for complete tour but it is worth the efforts.
|| Stop 2: Savage River ||
|| Stop 3: Polychrome Pass ||
Random shots from the Bus
The best part is that you can lower the upper half of bus window and can frame your shot, you may have to do this more often as bus glass windows are not always clean.
Wildlife at Denali
There is no guarantee about viewing the wildlife but usually no one is that unlucky to not encounter any wildlife during the entire stretch of 6-8 hrs of tour. We were really lucky to see all possible wildlife during our tour.
A lot more to cover
Our tour bus was up to Eilson visitor center but the road was going even further to Kantishna where there is lodging available if you want to stay inside the national park with prior bookings. We didn’t do much planning for this trip in spite being a long weekend (4th July) which we don’t want you to repeat, as we couldn’t go till Kantishna and Wonder Lake due to unavailability of shuttle bus tickets.
So, plan in advance and let us know in the comments below if this guide was helpful in your planning.