The park's own shuttle buses don't include a formal interpretive program or food and drink. They're less expensive, and you can get off the bus and take a hike or just stop and sightsee almost anywhere you like, then catch another bus along the road. Most of the drivers are well versed in the park's features and will point out plant, animal, and geological sights. The shuttles are less formal than the tour buses, and generally less comfortable (converted school buses).
They do stop to watch and photograph wildlife, but with a schedule to keep, time is sometimes limited. Shuttle-bus round-trip fares are $27 to the Toklat River at Mile 53; $34.50 to Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66; and $47.25 to Wonder Lake at Mile 85. They also run a shuttle to Kantishna, for $51.50; the trip takes about 13 hours. Kids 15 and under ride free on the shuttles; shuttle bus prices do not include the $10 park admission fee.
Also, obviously, the farther out you're going, the earlier in the day you'll need to be starting; the last bus for Wonder Lake leaves at 10:15 am; the last one for Toklat, at 5 pm. Check with the park for the current schedule.
If you decide to get off the shuttle bus and explore the tundra, just tell the driver ahead of time where you'd like to get out. Some areas are closed to hiking, so check with the rangers at the visitor center before you decide where to go. Some areas are closed permanently, such as Sable Pass, which is heavily traveled by bears; others close as conditions warrant, such as when there's been a wolf kill nearby.
When it's time to catch a ride back, just stand next to the road and wait; it's seldom more than 30 minutes or so between buses. The drivers stop if there is room on board. However, during the mid- and late-summer peak season, an hour or more may pass between stopping buses, as they are more likely to be full. Be prepared to split up if you are in a big group in order to fit on crowded buses during peak times. As always in Alaska, make sure you bring layers and rain gear to make delays and weather changes easier to wait out.
Denali National Park, Alaska, United States