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Denali National Park travel questions

Denali National Park travel questions

Old Jun 30, 11, 2:36 pm
  #1  
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Denali National Park travel questions

I am planning to spend 2 nights in Denali NP mid-August. I have some questions for your input.

1. Is there any reasonably priced lodging in the park so we don't have to finish the school bus trip in one day? We plan to take the wonder lake route. We have never camped and do not plan to do it this time. The only lodging inside the park that I found online cost almost $400 a night, which is way out of our budget.

2. If we have to lodge outside the park at the end of day 1, is it worthwhile to do another school bus trip in day 2? 10-hour bus is a lot to take in one day. If we do wonder lake in day 1, any suggestion for day 2 trip?

3. Any good trails (no longer than 4 miles total or half a day hike) in the park to recommend? Wife is very afraid of bears, so any device we can bring along to scare them away in the worst scenario?

4. Is the school bus ticket good for one day only or multiple days? I assume that if we stay in the park, one ticket will do. If we come out at the end of day 1 and re-enter in day 2, do we need to buy two-day tickets?

5. I read Healy is a better town for lodging than the town right by the entrance. Since we drive a rental car, we are flexible staying where rates are lower. As long as it doens't take more than 20 minutes to get to the entrance, we will consider.

6. Other nearby places (hikes, scenic drives, etc..) outside the park is worth exploring?

Hope the question list is not too long. We want to maximize the value of every day.

Thanks!
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Old Jun 30, 11, 3:53 pm
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Originally Posted by jiangxi View Post
I am planning to spend 2 nights in Denali NP mid-August. I have some questions for your input.

1. Is there any reasonably priced lodging in the park so we don't have to finish the school bus trip in one day? We plan to take the wonder lake route. We have never camped and do not plan to do it this time. The only lodging inside the park that I found online cost almost $400 a night, which is way out of our budget.

2. If we have to lodge outside the park at the end of day 1, is it worthwhile to do another school bus trip in day 2? 10-hour bus is a lot to take in one day. If we do wonder lake in day 1, any suggestion for day 2 trip?

3. Any good trails (no longer than 4 miles total or half a day hike) in the park to recommend? Wife is very afraid of bears, so any device we can bring along to scare them away in the worst scenario?

4. Is the school bus ticket good for one day only or multiple days? I assume that if we stay in the park, one ticket will do. If we come out at the end of day 1 and re-enter in day 2, do we need to buy two-day tickets?

5. I read Healy is a better town for lodging than the town right by the entrance. Since we drive a rental car, we are flexible staying where rates are lower. As long as it doens't take more than 20 minutes to get to the entrance, we will consider.
#1. Not in the park. I agree that $400/night is too high.
#2. I believe the shuttle bus to Eielson Visitor Center is 8 hrs RT.
#4. One day only.
#5. I agree with staying in Healy. The Denali Dome Home http://www.denalidomehome.com is a nice, convenient, comfortable place to stay with excellent breakfasts. The owners are very helpful with miscellaneous questions and sightseeing needs.

I might add that it is advisable to make your shuttle bus reservations in advancehttp://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisi...servations.htm and your hotel too.

Last edited by Orlando Vic; Jun 30, 11 at 3:59 pm
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Old Jul 1, 11, 9:39 am
  #3  
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Originally Posted by jiangxi View Post
1. Is there any reasonably priced lodging in the park so we don't have to finish the school bus trip in one day? We plan to take the wonder lake route. We have never camped and do not plan to do it this time. The only lodging inside the park that I found online cost almost $400 a night, which is way out of our budget.
When do you plan to arrive at Denali NP on Day 1 and when do you plan to depart Denali NP on Day 3? If you were going just a tad later in August, the fall colors would be vivid. They might just be starting to change when you are there.

There is one place in Kantishna that has more reasonably-priced lodging - Skyline Lodge. Check them out. Haven't stayed there (tried once but 1 of 3 nights were full, checking even 6 months in advance) but passed it many times on the bus. Those I talked with who stayed there loved it.

Originally Posted by jiangxi View Post
2. If we have to lodge outside the park at the end of day 1, is it worthwhile to do another school bus trip in day 2? 10-hour bus is a lot to take in one day. If we do wonder lake in day 1, any suggestion for day 2 trip?
Absolutely worthwhile, depending on your interests. Most people don't arrive on Day 1 until the afternoon so a long bus ride into the park that day is not possible. But every trip is different. One day you might or might not see bears or wolves. One day the Mountain might or might not be "out." And I will almost guarantee you that you will be surprised how fast the 10 hour bus ride goes. Also, book the shuttle bus in advance as mentioned, and book it to Wonder Lake. But if the Mountain is not "out" that day, get off the bus at Eielson and ask the bus dispatcher there to put you on a different bus heading back to the entrance. The highlight at Wonder Lake is seeing Mt. McKinley from the closest point on the park road.

If you only take the shuttle one day, I would do it on Day 2 (i.e. the day you are at the park for the entire day). Lots to do on Day 1 after you arrive or Day 3 before you depart. Visitor Center exhibits and film, WAC film, sleddog demo, drive the first 15 miles of the park road in the evening or early in the morning (good chances to see wildlife), hike some of the trails near the park entrance - Savage River Loop trail is an easy 2 mile round trip trail at the end of that 15 mile road I suggest you drive at least once on your own.

And note that you need to take all your own food and drink with you into the park when you take the shuttle bus. There is water at Eielson to refill water bottles, but other than that nothing past the entrance area.

Other trails near the entrance are listed on the website mentioned above.

Originally Posted by jiangxi View Post
3. Any good trails (no longer than 4 miles total or half a day hike) in the park to recommend? Wife is very afraid of bears, so any device we can bring along to scare them away in the worst scenario?
If you take the shuttle bus on Day 2, you have more time to hike. Bring a bus schedule with you. The only trails in the park are near the entrance, one near Eielson Visitor Center and the McKinley Bar Trail near Wonder Lake. I would strongly suggest you get off the bus somewhere between Toklat and Eielson and do a short hike on the trail-less tundra. It is intimidating at first, for sure. But bears are not hiding around every corner waiting to attack you. In fact, bears want to see you up close less than you want to see them. Talk a lot, clap your hands, sing if you want, be "bear alert" - hike on the open tundra where you can see a good distance and be looking around as you hike. If you see buses stopping in the area where you are hiking, and stopping for quite a while, there is a good chance they are looking at a bear, especially if it is in this area between Tolkat and Eielson.

For day hiking, I like the area called "Highway Pass" - ask a bus driver. Also you can go to Trip Advisor, check the Denali NP forum then look on the top right for Top Questions About Denali. There are a couple of questions about day hiking in Denali NP that are excellent.

Note that on the trail-less tundra you can expect to travel about 1 mile an hour. That sounds slow, but in reality that is the way it is. Trust me!

Originally Posted by jiangxi View Post
4. Is the school bus ticket good for one day only or multiple days? I assume that if we stay in the park, one ticket will do. If we come out at the end of day 1 and re-enter in day 2, do we need to buy two-day tickets?
One day only. But if you book the shuttle bus by phone and book two consecutive days, you get a third consecutive day for free. Also, if you camp inside the park (RV or tent) or stay at Skyline Lodge and take the camper bus to the Lodge, "camper bus" tickets are valid for your entire stay inside the park as long as you stay west of mile 20 (i.e. as long as you don't come back to the paved portion of the road). But the camper bus ticket most likely won't apply to you.

Originally Posted by jiangxi View Post
5. I read Healy is a better town for lodging than the town right by the entrance. Since we drive a rental car, we are flexible staying where rates are lower. As long as it doens't take more than 20 minutes to get to the entrance, we will consider.
Both Healy (15 minutes north) and Carlo Creek (15 minutes south) are much better places to stay than right outside the entrance (calling it a "town" is funny - it is a conglomeration of hotels and gift shops!). As much as I despise and avoid that area, I got an unbeatable deal for a hotel there last month so spent my first and last nights in that area, and in between camped at Wonder Lake Campground.

Originally Posted by jiangxi View Post
6. Other nearby places (hikes, scenic drives, etc..) outside the park is worth exploring?
If you like river rafting you can do that. Denali Outdoor Center is an excellent company.

Last edited by fti; Jul 1, 11 at 9:46 am
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Old Jul 6, 11, 1:07 am
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Really appreciate informative responses from fti and Orlando Vic. I will stay in Denali for 3 nights and 2 full days. A couple of more questions:

1. I have narrowed down the private cabin choice to two: Carlo Creek Lodge and Denali Mountain Morning Hostel in Carlo Creek. Both offer private cabins with shared bathrooms. Rates are very close. Can anyone experiencing both recommend one? All we need is a quiet and clean place to sleep at night.

2. If I reserve the shuttle bus tickets online now, can I change the destination on the pickup day based on the weather conditions? I'm thinking one day to wonder lake, and the next to Eielson. If it rains on day 1, I will do Eielson on day 1, and wonder lake on day 2 (hoping it will not rain again).

3. Another question on cruise choices: is it worthwhile doing both Fjord tour (from Seward) and prince williams sound tour (from Wittier)? If most of the contents overlap, I may just do the Fjord 6+ hour tour.

Thanks!

Last edited by jiangxi; Jul 6, 11 at 9:57 am
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Old Jul 8, 11, 3:07 pm
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Originally Posted by jiangxi View Post
Really appreciate informative responses from fti and Orlando Vic. I will stay in Denali for 3 nights and 2 full days. A couple of more questions:

1. I have narrowed down the private cabin choice to two: Carlo Creek Lodge and Denali Mountain Morning Hostel in Carlo Creek. Both offer private cabins with shared bathrooms. Rates are very close. Can anyone experiencing both recommend one? All we need is a quiet and clean place to sleep at night.

2. If I reserve the shuttle bus tickets online now, can I change the destination on the pickup day based on the weather conditions? I'm thinking one day to wonder lake, and the next to Eielson. If it rains on day 1, I will do Eielson on day 1, and wonder lake on day 2 (hoping it will not rain again).

3. Another question on cruise choices: is it worthwhile doing both Fjord tour (from Seward) and prince williams sound tour (from Wittier)? If most of the contents overlap, I may just do the Fjord 6+ hour tour.

Thanks!
1. I can't tell you which one is better...but I can ask a question - how much are your rates that you're finding? I stayed with my wife the past two years (June 2010 and just two weeks ago in June 2011) at the McKinley Creekside Cabins and highly recommend them, our rates were about US$150/night with a private bathroom.

3. I can't comment on the two tours, but we just did the Major Marine Full-Day Kenai tour and had a blast - apparently it was the only operator with an NPS ranger on-board.

Have a great time, Alaska was such a great experience the first year and went back this year and would still go back again!

-jeremy
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Old Jul 11, 11, 5:09 pm
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I did the Major Marine tour out of Whittier with the ranger on board, last summer, and it was very cool.

No experience with the one out of Kenai to compare.
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Old Jul 15, 11, 11:17 pm
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Originally Posted by jiangxi View Post
1. I have narrowed down the private cabin choice to two: Carlo Creek Lodge and Denali Mountain Morning Hostel in Carlo Creek. Both offer private cabins with shared bathrooms. Rates are very close. Can anyone experiencing both recommend one? All we need is a quiet and clean place to sleep at night.
I have stayed at the hostel more than once and am planning on staying there again for 3 nights in September. I really like it. They have a really nice common area (lounge area/kitchen). Very clean too. I have not stayed at Carlo Creek Lodge but I have also stayed at the McKinley Creekside Cabins which are nice. The Creekside Cafe is also a great place to eat - good food and reasonably priced.

Originally Posted by jiangxi View Post
2. If I reserve the shuttle bus tickets online now, can I change the destination on the pickup day based on the weather conditions? I'm thinking one day to wonder lake, and the next to Eielson. If it rains on day 1, I will do Eielson on day 1, and wonder lake on day 2 (hoping it will not rain again).
You can try to change destinations, but if you book to Eielson and it is a nice day, don't you think many will try to get to Wonder Lake? Fewer buses go there than to Eielson. Why not just book both days to Eielson? If you want to hop off at Eielson and return on a different bus, no problem. The cost difference between the two destinations is minimal.

Originally Posted by jiangxi View Post
3. Another question on cruise choices: is it worthwhile doing both Fjord tour (from Seward) and prince williams sound tour (from Wittier)? If most of the contents overlap, I may just do the Fjord 6+ hour tour.
Kenai Fjords emphasizes marine wildlife but also stops at a glacier for a while. Prince William Sound emphasizes glaciers. Both are great tours but they are different. I just got back from a long Prince William Sound tour but it was with a smaller operator - Sound Eco Adventure. It was a longer 10 hour tour and in our case it emphasized marine wildlife (generally unusual for PWS cruises) and it was incredible.
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Old Jul 18, 11, 10:31 pm
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[QUOTE=kmfdm91;16694730]1. I can't tell you which one is better...but I can ask a question - how much are your rates that you're finding? I stayed with my wife the past two years (June 2010 and just two weeks ago in June 2011) at the McKinley Creekside Cabins and highly recommend them, our rates were about US$150/night with a private bathroom.[/ quote]

I pay $75 for night 1, and $90 for the other 2 nights in Carlo Creek lodge.

Last edited by jiangxi; Jul 24, 11 at 5:05 pm
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Old Jul 18, 11, 10:49 pm
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Thanks, FTI.

Originally Posted by fti View Post
I have stayed at the hostel more than once and am planning on staying there again for 3 nights in September. I really like it. They have a really nice common area (lounge area/kitchen). Very clean too. I have not stayed at Carlo Creek Lodge but I have also stayed at the McKinley Creekside Cabins which are nice. The Creekside Cafe is also a great place to eat - good food and reasonably priced.



You can try to change destinations, but if you book to Eielson and it is a nice day, don't you think many will try to get to Wonder Lake? Fewer buses go there than to Eielson. Why not just book both days to Eielson? If you want to hop off at Eielson and return on a different bus, no problem. The cost difference between the two destinations is minimal.



Kenai Fjords emphasizes marine wildlife but also stops at a glacier for a while. Prince William Sound emphasizes glaciers. Both are great tours but they are different. I just got back from a long Prince William Sound tour but it was with a smaller operator - Sound Eco Adventure. It was a longer 10 hour tour and in our case it emphasized marine wildlife (generally unusual for PWS cruises) and it was incredible.

Last edited by jiangxi; Jul 18, 11 at 11:09 pm
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Old Jul 23, 11, 9:50 am
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I am traveling to Anchorage for work and I really want to go to Denali National Park. The trip is last minute and I can't take much time off from work but Princess Cruise has availability on their 2 day/1 night bus one-way/rail return package. I figure I can do an afternoon tour of the park the day I arrive (several tour companies advertise that their afternoon tours depart after buses arrive) and possibly a short hike near the visitor's center before the train departs the next day. Obviously this isn't the ideal trip but is it worth the $500?
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Old Jul 23, 11, 7:05 pm
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Originally Posted by jmsfla2002 View Post
I am traveling to Anchorage for work and I really want to go to Denali National Park. The trip is last minute and I can't take much time off from work but Princess Cruise has availability on their 2 day/1 night bus one-way/rail return package. I figure I can do an afternoon tour of the park the day I arrive (several tour companies advertise that their afternoon tours depart after buses arrive) and possibly a short hike near the visitor's center before the train departs the next day. Obviously this isn't the ideal trip but is it worth the $500?
When are you going? Which dates? What are the times of the Princess arrival in Denali NP and departure from Denali NP?

Generally I strongly discourage a one-night trip to Denali. You really can't get far into the park. But if you do it, driving up would be MUCH better. More flexible and you would have more time. You really should take a SHUTTLE bus (i.e. not a "tour" bus) in the park. Take the shuttle to Eielson (mile 66) and that is 8 hours round trip without any time for hiking. Very doubtful you could arrive by bus, get to Eielson AND do much hiking that first day.

The tour bus goes to Toklat (mile 53 or 61) but the area between mile 61 and 66 is prime bear habitat and also a very good area to hike.

What time would the bus depart Denali the second day? If you drove, you could get an early shuttle bus on day 2 into the park (say 6am), figure the 8 hours round trip and 2 hours to hike, so you are back at the entrance by 4pm. Drive back to Anchorage that evening, arriving about 9pm. A two-day car rental on a weekend is +-$225. Figure $80 in gas so about $300. Then you can stay away from Glitter Gulch, i.e. cheaper lodging in Carlo Creek or Healy. So the entire trip will be the same price or less than Princess and give you much more flexibility.

With a car, you can also drive the first 15 miles of the park road the first evening (good chance to see wildlife). And you can stop on your way up or back at the various sights along the way (up is best since you could use Day 1 for the stopping and entrance-area activities like visitor center exhibits and film, sleddog demo, a hike near the entrance, etc). There are two pullouts that are nice if the Mountain is out, the Veterans Memorial at mile 147 is worth a stop, and Talkeetna is worth a short stop for lunch or just to visit.
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Old Jul 25, 11, 11:18 pm
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Originally Posted by fti View Post
You really should take a SHUTTLE bus (i.e. not a "tour" bus) in the park. Take the shuttle to Eielson (mile 66) and that is 8 hours round trip without any time for hiking. Very doubtful you could arrive by bus, get to Eielson AND do much hiking that first day.

The tour bus goes to Toklat (mile 53 or 61) but the area between mile 61 and 66 is prime bear habitat and also a very good area to hike.
Is there any reason to recommend the tour bus over the park shuttles? I will be there in late august for a few days and was considering 3 days on the shuttle or substituting one day with the tour bus. But only if the tour would somehow be a better experience than riding the same area by the regular bus. Certainly given the price difference, it would need to be. Why do people do the tour and not the regular bus?

I have no particular goals but to see the scenery and animals. I'll get out and hike a bit, nothing serious. No camping or fishing or whatnot. I do hate tours in general.
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Old Jul 26, 11, 6:23 am
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Originally Posted by cchrissyy View Post
Is there any reason to recommend the tour bus over the park shuttles? Why do people do the tour and not the regular bus?
I can't think of a reason why someone would prefer the tour bus. Agree with fti in that the shuttle bus is better.

Why do people do the tour and not the shuttle bus? I suspect many simply don't do their homework. I've also noticed that a number of cruise passengers who sign up for a land extension or cruise tour end up getting the "tour" because it is offered to them by the cruise line and they don't stop to dig further.
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Old Jul 26, 11, 12:05 pm
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Gotcha. That's what I was suspecting, thanks!
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Old Jul 26, 11, 4:18 pm
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Originally Posted by cchrissyy View Post
Is there any reason to recommend the tour bus over the park shuttles? I will be there in late august for a few days and was considering 3 days on the shuttle or substituting one day with the tour bus. But only if the tour would somehow be a better experience than riding the same area by the regular bus. Certainly given the price difference, it would need to be. Why do people do the tour and not the regular bus?

I have no particular goals but to see the scenery and animals. I'll get out and hike a bit, nothing serious. No camping or fishing or whatnot. I do hate tours in general.
The tour buses have a high-powered zoom camera and monitor so people can see the wildlife on the monitor in the bus. Hmm. If I wanted to see wildlife on a monitor I would stay home and plug in a DVD . And they give you a box lunch (really a snack) and a hot drink. Oh, and did I say they don't go nearly as far as the shuttle buses to Eielson or Wonder Lake? Worth the extra $100 they charge?? Not to me!

Tour buses don't allow you to get out and hike or switch buses. My last trip into the park last month we stopped to see a sow and two cubs a bit off in the distance. Our driver stayed for a good 5+ minutes, maybe 10. But I wanted more time. So we hopped off that bus and onto one coming in the other direction. Then when that bus left, we hopped off it and hopped on the next bus that passed us in the opposite direction. So by taking 3 shuttle buses we had way more viewing time of the bears than anyone else. I call it "shuttle surfing."
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