Advice on Denali Needed

Jun 18th, 2019, 09:15 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2019
Posts: 2
Advice on Denali Needed

Input needed on Denali. I am heading there by myself for 2 nights. On the way up from Anchorage I'm taking a flightseeing plane out of Talkeetna. I have never been to Denali. I'm looking at one of the tour buses and frankly the idea of spending 8 hours on a bus doesn't thrill me and I want to see more than 15 miles of the park which is all I can do by car. Pros and cons of the tour bus?

I see they have discovery hikes with rangers, but you can only sign up one to two days in advance. Do they they fill up quickly and would I miss signing up since I'm driving up after the flight and would like to do the hike the next day? If the discovery hike is the best option, does it make more sense to drive to Denali first and change my flightseeing in Talkeetna to the day I drive back? I realize the flight is highly dependent on the weather for viewing Denali and was also going to do the glacier landing option.

Any experience with the shuttle bus as opposed to the narrated tours? I see there are a few half day hikes (triple lakes or savage river), would the shuttle bus drop me off and then can I easily get back on after a hike? I'm going at the end of July and can hike for several hours. Would I be alone on those trails or would they be crowded in July? Is the tour bus the best way to see the park? I really should ask is it the best way to experience the park? Other suggestions? Thanks so much for any advice/guidance.
NanciC is offline  
Jun 19th, 2019, 06:13 AM
Join Date: Nov 2010
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If you have the money and the weather is good,flight seeing is your best option to see the top of the mountain. The tour buses are school buses with windows that can be put down. From the buses you will very likely see several types of wildlife. The driver will stop for a minute or two if wildlife is close enough to get a good photo. We had about 45 minutes at the Eilson Visitor Center before our bus headed back to the park entrance. We did see some wildlife on the way back as well. I did not see much added value to the more expensive narrated tour bus. Our driver was good at spotting the wildlife and stopping where it was safe to do so.
From Anchorage, we spent a night at Eagle River (Microtel) and then drove all the way to Fairbanks (North Pole) to a nice B&B. Our host packed us breakfast sandwiches for our early trip back to the entrance of Denali for our bus trip. We had sub sandwiches packed the day before to eat in the park.
We got back to the B&B about 10 PM but it was still daylight since the days are so long in mid summer.
Are you planning on going onward from Denali to visit Fairbanks?
tomfuller is offline  
Jun 19th, 2019, 06:34 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Looks like your first post; welcome to Fodor's!

There's no easy answer to your question. Whether it's on the park shuttle or on the narrated tours, you're going to have a pretty similar experience. The shuttle drivers are just as good at spotting wildlife as the tour narrators, and will stop for photo ops. But yes, it's a minimum investment of 8 hours (wheels turning) to get to Eielson and back; any hiking or wandering-around time is in addition. And you should be aware that roughly half the visitors to Denali never see the mountain. It's so big that it makes its own weather. Will you be alone on hikes? Maybe, maybe not. You'll be warned about bears, and while encounters are rare, the caution is warranted.

What does your whole trip look like? What happens before and after Denali? I assume you'll have a car, since you mention stopping in Talkeetna. With a sense of the "bigger picture," we can be of more assistance. But not knowing any of that, I'll just say this: there are lots of ways to spend a couple of days in southcentral or interior Alaska that don't involve Denali with its costs and logistic headaches. For example, flightseeing. There are Denali flights available from Anchorage. They're more expensive (it's a lot farther) but one advantage is that if the mountain is socked in (which is often the case) the flightseeing operators have other alternatives, which the ones in Talkeetna don't. You could fly over the Chugach Mountains and Knik Glacier, or out over Prince William Sound and the Harding icefield. Or you could fly across Cook Inlet to bear and volcano country.

Or you could take the money you'd spend on the flightseeing, and instead buy a round trip ticket on Alaska Airlines to Kotzebue, an Inupiat Eskimo village above the arctic circle and on an inlet of the Arctic Ocean, to see the midnight sun and learn about that fascinating part of the world and the wonderful people who live there. Or instead (or in addition) fly to Nome, the historic gold rush town on the Bering Sea, where the gold diggers are still busy, some of them diving to the bottom of the ocean to suck up gold. There are some roads (and vehicles available to rent) out of Nome into the wilderness of the Seward Peninsula, home to muskoxen, moose, caribou, bears and a whole lot of birds. The same jet that flies to Kotzebue stops in Nome.

Or if you're flying back to the lower 48, arrange a day or two's stop in Sitka in Southeast Alaska. This lovely town was the capital of Russian America, and offers dramatic scenery, Russian and Tlingit history, whale watching, the Fortress of the Bear (a rehab facility for injured or orphaned bears) and the Alaska Raptor Center (same idea, but for birds of prey.) This beautiful, watery world is a vibrant and not-to-be-missed part of the state.

But tell us about the whole trip and we can be more helpful, hopefully.

Gardyloo is offline  
Jun 19th, 2019, 09:00 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2019
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Thanks so much for the welcome. I fly from Phoenix to Anchorage spend 2 nights land late the first night) and a day in Anchorage before heading to Talkeetna. I will look at flights from Denali and appreciate the advice on other options if weather is not on my side to see the mountain. If I stick to my plan it's drive to Talkeetna for an early afternoon flight (quick stops along the drive) and then drive up to Denali that day.

I'm staying outside of Denali at McKinley Chalet for 2 nights. Are the shuttle buses in Denali easy on and off? By this I mean if I get off to do a hike do they come by on a regular basis that I can hop back on another shuttle. (I'm used to the shuttle buses in Zion NP that are hop on & off) After the day in Denali I have time for a leisurely return to Anchorage where I meet up with friends. The next day we head to Homer with stops along the way. The next full day in Homer we are fishing (charter booked). Spend the night in Homer after fishing and then drive back to Anchorage.

The last couple of nights we are spending outside of Anchorage for some day hikes and trips. Open to suggestions. I can more easily move the first few days in Anchorage/Denali. I will look at other flight options from Anchorage. I liked the idea of the glacier landing and assume that might be available from Anchorage as well. Thanks again! Super excited for my first trip to AK!
NanciC is offline  
Jun 20th, 2019, 06:29 AM
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 10,198
On our visit to Homer (no fishing), DW and I stayed at a B&B high on the hill. The second morning we were being served breakfast and a mother moose and yearling walked by about 50 feet from the window. On the trip from Homer to Seward, we drove on the Skilak Road to see some wildlife. We also took a hike up to the toe of the Exit Glacier outside Seward.
As for the bus out to the Eilson Visitor Center, plan on using the same bus throughout the day. They have at least one 20 minute bathroom break at a spot that also has a gift shop about halfway out to Eilson. The buses are usually full or nearly full so don't plan on getting on a different bus if you are not around for your bus when it is ready to leave.
If you do plan to visit Fairbanks, plan a visit to the museum at the University of AK-Fairbanks and a visit to Pioneer Park. There is a great salmon bake place in the SW corner of Pioneer Park. In the center of the park is a small aviation museum that is quite interesting. Eilson was an an early aviator that crashed his plane in eastern Russia. The museum does have a section of the fuselage of his plane.
tomfuller is offline  
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