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Denali - worth it or not?

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Mar 8th, 2011, 04:03 AM
  #1
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Denali - worth it or not?

Hi all,

Will be in Alaska for 15 days in July this year. Have it all planned out, with visits to Anchorage., Seward, Kenai Fjords, Prince William Sound, Valdez, McCarthy, Wrangell St. Elias and Wasilla.

I had a couple of days before I flew home from Anchorage, and I had penciled in 2 nights and i full day in Denali. Staying just outside the main entrance.

Having looked into it in more detail, I'm now asking myself is it worth the drive from Anchorage, then having to spend 3-4 hours on a bus on a bumpy park road just to do some self-guided hiking on open tundra.

I will already have done glacier hiking and kayakiing in Kenai Fjords, and Ice Climbing and Rafting in Wrangell St. Elias. The only real reason i was going to Denali is because its famous and there's a better chance of seeing Grizzlies.

But now having looked into it, Im starting to think id be better off staying somewhere around Anchorage for the last 2 nights.

What do you think? Aside from Seward, Kenai Fjords are there other places within 2 hours drove if Anchorage which would be worth it more than Denali or am I not giving Denali enough credit?

Many thanks,
Howey
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Mar 8th, 2011, 04:47 AM
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Is it worth it? That depends on what makes something worthwhile. You mentioned the better chance to see grizzlies. The keyword here is "chance". Denali, as with most other places, only offers a possibility to see wildlife, but never a guarantee. (If you really want a better chance of seeing bears, visit Katmai National Park instead.) Because it's famous? Not enough reason for me. Wasilla is also "famous", but not enough to trade places with Denali, IMO. One more thing - the shuttle bus ride. Figure 6-8 hours on the bumpy park road to truly experience the place, not 3-4.

On my two previous visits, I have seen sweeping vistas, majestic mountains (including the peak of Mt. McKinley) and a host of wildlife including grizzlies, a red fox, elk, Dall sheep, bald eagles, moose, and several ptarmigans. It is larger than the State of Massachusetts and is recognized as one of the world's last great frontiers for wilderness adventure.

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Mar 8th, 2011, 05:36 AM
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We did a trip similar to yours last year - including Denali. We loved Denali, but were very fortunate to see all kinds of wildlife and lots of it, including multiple bear sightings and the top of the mountain was in view. But there are no guarantees. Denali is different than what you will see in the other areas of your trip. Which is better? - they're different and all great. As far as the bumpy bus ride - that's cool in its own way. It's special being in an area that cars aren't allowed on - just all these buses giving tours. And we had an awesome driver full of knowledge and love for the park.

I guess I would check out your other options and decide what sounds better to you. I think a lot of enjoying Denali is in your attitude about it. If it sounds like a horrible day to sit on a bus, then it probably will be. And if this is the end of your trip you may be tired out and done with these long days of driving and riding.

One thing we enjoyed close to Anchorage was the Independence Mine near Palmer. We spent a few hours walking around and taking pictures. They have some buildings that they have preserved and are like they were "back in the day" then the rest of the place looks like they haven't touced a thing since the day they packed up and left. Falling down decay - which was really cool if you like that kind of thing. Last year they did not have the buildings open to tour (due to finances) so you couldn't go through them but I didn't feel like we were missing that much. We also enjoyed the Musk Ox farm near there. If you want something to do within a couple of hours of Anchorage that is a nice area.

Oh, one more thing... we saw a bear in Valdez. We happened to be in the right place at the right time and saw him eating on the salmon for a couple of minutes before sauntering back into the woods. So it's possible to have a bear sighting there.
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Mar 8th, 2011, 06:06 AM
  #4
 
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It all depends on what you mean by "worth it." Seeing moose, elk, mountain goats, grizzlies (including one that was about twenty meters away), and a porcupine (I've never seen one in the wild before or since) was "worth it" to me. I actually preferred the bumpy bus ride, because that is what I WISH national parks had become -- but I recognize not everyone thinks the way I do.

As others have noted, there's no guarantees -- you may see nothing but fog and rain and clouds. Since you need not make a reservation to visit the place, you can always wait till you see how the weather pans out. Heavy rain, perhaps skip it. Clear and sunny, I'd make the dash.
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Mar 8th, 2011, 07:33 AM
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If "a couple of days" means two days, then a Denali visit becomes problematic. It's a half-day drive to/from Anchorage, but to have much useful time in the park interior, one needs to take one of the morning (preferably early morning) shuttle buses. If you drive up on Day 1 you wouldn't be able to leave until the afternoon, thus not get too far into the park. The next day you could certainly take a morning bus, but you'd return later in the day, then have to drive back to Anchorage that evening. Doable, but not especially relaxing, and downright nail-biting if your flight out is that evening.

If the mountain is out, the views can be stunning. If it's not, then you still can have some good views and the possibility of seeing animals. But of course the "worth it" question is terribly subjective, and begs the point of "worth it compared to what?"

I'd be tempted to suggest that if the forecast is for clear weather you could jump in the car and head to Talkeetna, then take a flightseeing trip around the mountain. It's faster (of course not cheap but IMO excellent value) and more flexible with timing.

I didn't see in your itinerary above where you were getting up into the air at all. IMO not doing so on a visit to Alaska is a real shame; you just can't get a sense of the vastness of the place from ground level.

Even if the weather is poopy, you could still do a flightseeing jaunt from Anchorage - either on a floatplane from Lake Hood or on wheels from Merrill Field. You'd be amazed how a few minutes in the air from Anchorage puts you over some stunning wilderness. It's not a substitute for seeing Denali from a light plane (frankly there are few flying experiences that can compete) but it's still pretty doggone good.
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Mar 8th, 2011, 07:36 AM
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Mar 14th, 2011, 06:16 AM
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No, Denali is not of interest to everyone. BUT, you do need to invest the time to get INTO the park if you are going to bother going there. Meaning more than your 3-4 hour reference. It needs 8 hours.

If wildlife is not of interest then I would skip it. You have a lot of scenic sight seeing already. Add those days to where you are already going to be. Kennicott can use an extra day, so can Valdez and getting out on a boat tour.
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