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Denali - experienced travellers advice on the "real" experience

Denali - experienced travellers advice on the "real" experience

Mar 18th, 2011, 07:24 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 104
Denali - experienced travellers advice on the "real" experience

I'm hoping for advice from experienced travellers on the key things to know for experiencing Denali in the "truest: way.

I've got a few days following May 28 that I can add to a business trip to Anchorage. I know that a few days is never enough to have the fullest experience of any place -- world class city or natural wonder.

I think I'm experienced enough to also realize that experiencing Denali isn't about food or an impressive lodge. Instead, it's about people and the natural wonders.

So ... educate me! My first sense is that I should take the train from Anchorage to Denali, spend the few days I have there, and take the train on to Fairbanks to see some more of this new (to me) country.

Where should I stay and what should I do? I'm fit and love to hike and walk. I'm not too price sensitive, but I don't like to pay just to be "impressed" with a 10 minute glimpse of some natural wonder. I'm a "slow traveller" and prefer to have a richer experience, rather than add notches to some list of places seen.

Thanks so much to anyone who's willing to share their knowledge!

-- Paul
pconte is offline  
Mar 19th, 2011, 06:41 AM
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Most people stay near the entrance and ride the shuttle bus into the park. This is fine and on a good day you'll see great scenery and usually get good sightings of grizzly bears, moose, caribou, maybe wolves and sheep. On a bad day it will feel terribly crowded (not a problem in May), it will be raining so the bus windows are fogged, and you won't see much.

I've ridden the shuttle busses maybe 15 times and maybe 12 times it was pretty good.

"Best" experience if you don't have much money is to camp at Wonder Lake, I feel. Especially in late August or early September.

"Best" if you have enough money is to stay at Camp Denali or North Face Lodge, which are near Wonder Lake and provide naturalist-guided day trips (hikes, photo trips, etc) to various parts of the park. I've stayed at both lodges several times in the fall and enjoyed each trip.
Bill_H is offline  
Mar 19th, 2011, 08:43 AM
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Thanks for the advice. It looks like Camp Denali and North Face Lodge won't be open while I'm there. Drat! Thay look very cool.

-- Paul
pconte is offline  
Mar 19th, 2011, 10:50 AM
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Other advice: don't bother going to Fairbanks. Fine city, but it's not worth a special trip to go there unless you're heading north beyond that. During my three weeks in Alaska, Fairbanks was by far my biggest disappointment.

Denali, BTW, is NOT about people. If anything, you'll find they just get in the way of up-close viewing wildlife that is truly wild. The mountain itself is pretty impressive -- but ONLY if you actually SEE it! There's no guarantee of that, so don't be upset if it's in clouds while you're there -- that's the way it is two out of three days. So just be ready to see moose, elk, grizzlies, mountain goats, and black bears in a truly wild setting.

BTW, the first thing about Denali ISN'T taking the train -- it's making sure you have a place to stay after you get there. And that means either camping or having a reservation at Denali Lodge. If you're on a business trip, I don't know how much of the former is an option (a few days of camping at Denali and you'll look a little haggard -- which is kind of the idea). I don't know how far in advance you need to have reservation for the lodge, but I wouldn't recommend showing up hoping for a vacancy!
PaulRabe is offline  
Mar 19th, 2011, 01:12 PM
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When we were in Alaska mid-June 2009 the road into Denali had just opened for the season.

Have you considered Kenai Peninsula/Seward instead?
gail is offline  
Mar 19th, 2011, 01:37 PM
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Agree with the Kenai/Seward idea -- much better for a few days in May.
ladystack is offline  
Mar 20th, 2011, 08:34 AM
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gail and ladystack,

Thanks for the suggestion of an alternative.

I'm not familiar with that area at all. Could you help with some recommendations? Places to visit, stay or eat?
pconte is offline  
Mar 20th, 2011, 03:30 PM
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Denali is a wonderful place-like no other. I have stayed at Camp Denali once and at Kantishna Roadhouse twice. It is just a bit further down the road. They have a shuttle and will take you to Wonder Lake and other nearby areas. They lead day hikes, or help you if you want to hike somewhere else. Also have bicycles and interesting historic buildings on site. You will see moose in the area, caribou and great birds and much more on the long, but interesting drive in, as well as Mt Mc Kinley, if it is out. If you are interested, get reservations immediately-they fill up fast. There is a website. We really enjoyed it.
I have also been to Homer several times, and it is wonderful also. Just a different kind of experience. On your drive there, watch for the goats on the hillsides and the volcanoe across the bay. There are also glaciers you can walk to.In Homer there are bald eagles, scenery, a boat ride to nearby islands, superb halibut and salmon fishing etc. I took a float plane to Kodiak Island,(reserve in advance) where you hike in to Brooks Falls (the one you see on TV with all of the bears catching salmon) It is beyond description, to witness such a sight!! And the bears are delightful to watch-so much interaction!!
karn is offline  
Mar 20th, 2011, 04:23 PM
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The big issue is that much of the interior of Denali Park might not be accessible when you're there. Last year the Eielson Visitor Center (which is 60 miles from the park entrance and accessible only by park shuttle bus) didn't open until June 1. It might be open earlier, but IMO definitely not worth the gamble.

I'd have two suggestions, not mutually exclusive.

1. If the forecast is for clear weather (otherwise it's kind of a waste) get a car and drive to Talkeetna, a town about 100 miles north of Anchorage on the road to Denali. Take a flightseeing trip from Talkeetna toward Mt. McKinley - it's truly a stunning experience. You really need to see the south face of Denali from the air to realize just how huge it is.

2. Drive south from Anchorage on the Seward Highway (an extremely scenic road) a couple of hours to Seward, and take a cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park. You'll see fabulous scenery and wildlife, and have no worries about road closures or other accessibility troubles. You can spend the night before or the night after in Seward if you choose, or just return to Anchorage. Around the first of June the days are nice and long. Like, pretty much constant.
Gardyloo is online now  
Mar 20th, 2011, 05:51 PM
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I hope to go to Denali someday, so can't help you there.

I have been to Kenai area(just once, so certainly not an expert)for 4 days. My parents spent two weeks in Alaska this past summer and they loved it. My parents didn't do Kenai at all. However, we saw more in our 4 days than they did in their 2 weeks. Alyeska Resort in Girdwood is a good place to stop at between Anchorage and Seward and there are many things to do there. Then head down to Seward and do the Kenai Fjords all day tour, or if you are adventurous do a Kayaking tour(even a multi-day kayak) out to glacier/glaciers. They also offer a short half day tour that is pretty good as well, but the longer tours would be better. The train to Seward is considered "more scenic" and a little more bang for your buck according to a lot of what I've read. Plus, it is only a 4 hour ride, so it's not too much of a good thing. We also did a flyout fishing trip/bear viewing. Also did a helicopter/glacier landing/dog sledding in Girdwood. The tours that require air(heli or plane) are expensive, but usually it's the only way to get there.

I think whatever you end up doing, do try to take at least one bush plane ride somewhere. I think the highlight for my parents was landing on a glacier on Denali. Video did look amazing and I imagine that being there in person would be just awesome. They lucked out and had virtually perfect weather their entire two weeks.

If you only have a few days Denali or Kenai are really the places to go, imop.
spirobulldog is offline  
Mar 24th, 2011, 10:10 AM
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"When we were in Alaska mid-June 2009 the road into Denali had just opened for the season.

Have you considered Kenai Peninsula/Seward instead?"

This is NOT accurate. ALL the buses are running by mid June, and some of them, already for a month. Toklat is available end of May and goes to mile 53, Eielson starts June 1, Wonder Lake June 8. AND have done so for the last several years.

IF you want to go to Denali Park, can your visit extend into June 2?? Taking the shuttle bus to Eielson is excellent, with the potential for excellent scenery and wildlife viewing.

How much time are you looking at adding?? You would need at least 3 days, if you want to do Denali Park. A car rental is my only recommendation. It is far superior with short time, to have your own transportation and ability to have an itinerary that can move along.
BudgetQueen is offline  
Mar 24th, 2011, 10:20 AM
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With all due respect, BudgetQueen, the year we were there the roadway was not open until a few days prior to our visit - according to Park Ranger as well as bus driver who remarked he had made his first run of the season a few days before ours. We took the 13-hour trip to Kantishna.
gail is offline  
Mar 26th, 2011, 06:22 AM
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With all due repect as well. This was on the normal schedule. June 8 is the opening date for Wonder Lake. I was there in 2009 as well, and there was no delay in the buses start dates.

Going June 1 to Eielson is an excellent timeframe. There isn't
BudgetQueen is offline  
Mar 26th, 2011, 07:59 AM
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I think some people, including myself, might consider the road "closed" unless the entire road is open. 75% of the road being open would be a mjor disappointment for me.

The only report I could find on NPS said that the first 30 miles were open as of April 24, 2009. It also stated a less than average snowfall event for 2009 and that the road was opening a little faster than usual and crews were finding less ice than usual.
spirobulldog is offline  
Mar 26th, 2011, 09:09 AM
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IMO it's all about time management and benefit/cost, as dry as that sounds in the context of Alaska.

The OP indicated there are a "few" days available, without specifying how many.

Denali is a minimum 3-day commitment, regardless of how far one can get into the park on the road. The better part of two of those will be spent driving to and from the park, through less than inspiring countryside. Boring, in fact IMO. Then it's a crapshoot as to whether (a) you can get very far into the park, and (b) if the mountain will even be visible. To me, that's adding too much uncertainty onto what is already a fairly un-optimized trip plan.

Versus the Kenai/Seward, which is going to be an easier and shorter drive, through magnificent scenery, followed by lots of very scenic and potentially rewarding experiences - Kenai Fjords, glaciers, etc.

In my mind, it's a more cost- and time-effective way to spend a "few" days, with a higher probability (like, 100%) of everything being accessible and visible.
Gardyloo is online now  
Apr 1st, 2011, 09:31 AM
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Any other lodging recs if Camp Denali, Kantisha Roadhouse, and North Face Lodge are insanely expensive??
MiamiBeachMomma is offline  
Apr 4th, 2011, 06:29 AM
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Look at Skylon Lodge, usually the cheapest at Kantishna.
BudgetQueen is offline  
Apr 4th, 2011, 09:02 AM
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I can not find a Skylon but I did see a Skyline Lodge...is it the same?
deladeb is offline  
Apr 4th, 2011, 09:14 AM
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The "truest" experience? You do NOT want to be attacked by ANY animal in the wild so no, you do NOT want the "truest" experience.
Dukey1 is offline  
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