One Day in Denali?

Jan 4th, 2016, 11:31 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2009
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One Day in Denali?

We booked Princess from Vancouver to Whittier, and booked the airfare at the same time, allowing three days to go to Denali--an uncharacteristically dumb move. Not realizing the distances, now I find it will take a very long day on a bus (because the train from Whittier to Anchorage doesn't get there in time to get on the train to Denali). That will mean falling into bed, getting up to hike in Denali and see what we can see, and getting back on a train the next day. I'm not sure we'd be able to see anything in Anchorage, though we have a VERY late night flight out.
So it would cost us well over $600 to go to Denali for a day of hiking. When that sunk in we though it sounded idiotic.. Does it? Is there any nice hiking where we might see some great wildlife any nearer to Whittier/Anchorage?
AndreaNewEngland is offline  
Jan 4th, 2016, 12:18 PM
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Some options. You could take the bus trip in/out of Denali rather than hiking.

You could skip Denali and spend the day on Kenai Peninsula - no wildlife, but interesting part of Alaska. Take a day boat trip (not redundant to cruise) from Seward - you will see sea mammals and if lucky wildlife on shore.

Anchorage was my least favorite part of Alaska - loved a quote I read saying the best thing about Anchorage is that it is close to Alaska. That said, my husband and son took a self-guided day hike while we were in Anchorage and encountered a bear on the path. But in general, no great wildlife near Anchorage that I know of.
gail is offline  
Jan 4th, 2016, 12:29 PM
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What month are you traveling?

Assuming you can't extend your stay in Southcentral Alaska, I'd probably skip Denali and substitute some other activities. Denali is gorgeous and offers excellent wildlife viewing (from the buses, not necessarily while hiking, and frankly, you don't want to be too close to some of the wildlife while you're on foot) but logistics are going to be a problem with that little time.

With three days (does that include the departure day?) I'd probably bite the bullet and pick up a car in Whittier (only Avis is there, and rates are quite high) then head down to Seward for a Kenai Fjords cruise, which will offer excellent scenery and marine wildlife viewing. On the way to Seward you could stop at the wildlife conservation center at Portage (where the road from the Whittier tunnel meets the Seward Highway) or even do a short hike up to Exit Glacier on the way into town.

Do the Kenai Fjords cruise the morning of the second day, then I'd return north and spend a night in Girdwood. There are excellent day hikes into the Chugach mountains from Girdwood (you can use the ski resort's gondola.)

Then back to Anchorage, spend the evening in the city, then to the airport, done.
Gardyloo is offline  
Jan 4th, 2016, 05:04 PM
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I can't extend the stay without hefty airline fees. I could pick up a car in Anchorage, probably cheaper than in Whittier. But I am coming off a week on a ship, so I'm not inclined to go to Seward for a cruise. We had planned to take the jump off and on bus in Denali to allow for a long day of hiking. I'm sure there are equally good hikes closer to Anchorage, it's not like we were likely to see Denali Peak anyway
Thanks for the link, definitely might head toward Girdwood.
AndreaNewEngland is offline  
Jan 4th, 2016, 08:39 PM
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We drove up to Denali from Anchorage, spent the night, and were there at the park early the next morning. This was in September of 2014. The trees were ALL yellow, and the tundra was flaming red. We took a bus deep into the park, and saw a moose and a grizzly (twice, same grizzly on the way out and back). We were lucky to have a clear day, and we saw the Denali peak on and off during the whole day. I hear that that's very rare. It was gorgeous, but worth $600 knowing that it could be cloudy and you not see anything? Hard call!

Our other favorite place was Homer, but that might be too far. We enjoyed Seward, but it was so rainy and cloudy that we didn't take a cruise. If you go there, eat at the Chinese restaurant. Best crab rangoon we've ever had!

Oh, and on the way back into Anchorage, we stopped on the highway along with the rest of the traffic when two huge moose nonchalantly crossed the road!
CindyW is offline  
Jan 5th, 2016, 04:06 AM
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Sounds nice. Just how long did it take to get to Denali? Any interesting stops along the way? I am not sure if Aug is more cloudy than Sept, I've read the odds of seeing the peak are like 1 in 3 at any time. Alaska is sort of like Ireland with the weather and luck!
It may be worth renting the car to do it, It's cheaper than the train (about 110 a day from Whittier), but surely a lot less relaxing. But we'd be having to take a bus up and that's super-unappealing.
AndreaNewEngland is offline  
Jan 5th, 2016, 07:40 AM
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Let me just throw out a couple of "big" alternatives just to complicate things.

1. Flightseeing out of Anchorage: No car needed, a unique experience. It's expensive (albeit cheaper than comparable flight "excursions" offered by the cruise lines) but there are few places on earth where the value for money is equaled. Get a car in Whittier and use it to get to Girdwood/Alyeska for a day's hiking and exploring Turnagain Arm, then drive to Anchorage and drop the car and take a flightseeing trip on the day you leave. Look at Rust's for example -

2. Nome or Kotzebue: Round trip airfare (Alaska Airlines jets) from Anchorage to Nome is $325; to Kotzebue $339. Nome is an historic mining town (end of the Iditarod) on the Bering Sea, full of fascinating history, great characters, and with a road system and rental cars that would put you out in the tundra - muskox, bears... in minutes. Kotzebue is an Eskimo community on the Arctic Ocean above the arctic circle. Visit the native cultural center, visit a fish camp, stick a toe in a new ocean...

Accommodations will be comparably priced to those in Anchorage, you won't need a car (unless you want to head into the bush out of Nome) and you'll see a face of Alaska missed by 90%+ of visitors.

Just sayin'.
Gardyloo is offline  
Jan 5th, 2016, 07:57 AM
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Great suggestions, Gardyloo. I particularly like suggestion #2, so am bookmarking it in case we get back to Alaska one day. Thanks!
sludick is online now  
Jan 5th, 2016, 08:01 AM
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You will not be staying "in Denali" unless you are camping in a tent. Get your shuttle bus tickets online for the trip out to the Eilson Visitor Center (MP 66).
The round trip takes 8 hours.
DW and I are headed to Alaska in early June. We are driving a rental car from Anchorage to Fairbanks/North Pole and then going back to the Denali shuttle the next day if the weather is good.
tomfuller is offline  
Jan 7th, 2016, 02:34 PM
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With that short period of time on a 'land portion of an AK trip, I would not spend that amount of road time to go to Denali and back (10-12 hours of sitting in the car).

I would focus on Seward (lots of easily searchable activities) and the Girdwood/Portage/Whittier area (one of my favorite AK areas). For more details about this area see:

Denali is the best bet for wildlife, but there's always a chance of moose, eagles, etc. anywhere in the state (even near Anchorage). If you do head south to Seward, then take a half day to drive to the Russian River campground and hike (easy 5-6 miles roundtrip) to the falls. In season salmon will be jumping at the falls (amazing) and there's always a chance to see bears.

There's great hiking virtually everywhere in AK. Here's my favorite hiking site:

Somebody above mentioned they weren't impressed with ANC, that's too bad. ANC is great (the rest of AK is better). I've lived all over the continent and make ANC my home because it has big city amenities, but the best outdoor opportunities anywhere. There's four season outdoor activities minutes from my door (hiking, cycling, skiing, fishing, wildlife viewing/searching, etc.) If you like the outdoors and didn't like ANC, then you are doing some wrong!
I wouldn't plan my trip around ANC (except possibly for arrival/departure), but you're likely going to have 4-8 hours before a flight to kill and you can use ANC to maximize your AK activities.

Car rental...
Don't rule out renting a car in Whittier (for return to ANC - only AVIS does it). It might look pricey, but once you subtract the cost of other services and the time you save; you might see that having that car right away has value to you.

Good luck
sdpryde is offline  
Jan 9th, 2016, 09:11 AM
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Don't rule out Denali too quickly...

Day 1:

Take the bus from the cruise ship to ANC airport. There rent a car (much cheaper than from Whittier, e.g. from Enterprise) and drive to Denali. On the way, you may see the spirit houses on Eklutna cemetary (short stop just next to the highway) and stop briefly in Talkeetna (cute town). Driving time to the Denali hotel area is a little over 4 hours. This means, you will arrive late afternoon/early evening.

Day 2:

The the bus tour through Denali to Eielson Visitor Center and hike for an hour or two around Eielson. During the bus drive (with a few stops) you will see a lot of wildlife. We had no less than 8 grizzly bear sighting during the tour (11 animals in total), 1 moose sighting (3 animals), uncounted caribou, a fox, dall sheep and more. Stay overnight.

Day 3: Drive back to Anchorage. If you arrive around noon or in the early afternoon you have still enough time to visit the excellent Alaska Native Heritage Center before you return your car at the airport and board your flight.

Driving is easy and fast in Alaska - no congestions.
traveller1959 is offline  
Jan 9th, 2016, 09:22 AM
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I like traveller's idea. Don't feel bad about not being able to take the train to Denali. It's one of the most overrated experiences of my travel career.

Talkeetna, IMHO, is about the only worthwhile stop, but it isn't a must. If you feel like driving straight through, don't feel as if you missed out on something.
vincenzo32951 is offline  
Jan 9th, 2016, 03:03 PM
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Posts: 243
I agree with Vincenzo about Talkeetna. It wasn't really much to see at all. Just a little town. But granted, we were there in September after a lot of things had closed down, so maybe it's different during peak season.
CindyW is offline  
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