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The Denali Shuttle Buses: How crowded?

The Denali Shuttle Buses: How crowded?

Old Jun 12, 15, 1:25 pm
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The Denali Shuttle Buses: How crowded?

Four of us will be visiting Denali on 7/22.

I am leaning towards the Shuttle bus vs the Tour bus.

1) Cost - shuttle bus is cheaper
2) Seat 2A recommends shuttle bus
3) The idea of getting on/off and making our own schedule appeals to us.

My only question is, since the shuttles are first come & first served, how busy are they? If we get off are we going to be stuck for an hour or two? We'll be in a group of 4, and we won't want to be separated (assuming no cell service in the park).

Due to time constraints we are planning on only taking the shuttle to the Toklat River stop. Are there rest rooms there? It looks like there are buses that depart Toklat every half hour or so?

http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisi...s-schedule.pdf

[EDIT] I just realized that the schedule is color coded. The green rows seem to be the shuttle buses and we can board those. The white rows are the camper buses and we won't be permitted to board those, right?

[EDIT2] I just found the site where you can buy tickets for the shuttle bus. It appears you have to reserve a departure time and location (ie the WAC at 930a). From there, you can hop/on/hop/off whenever/wherever you like?

Thanks all!

Last edited by warreng24; Jun 12, 15 at 1:51 pm
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Old Jun 12, 15, 5:44 pm
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I don't know a lot about shuttle buses, but I LOVED the tour bus. We really got to know the guide/driver and she had awesome stories over the course of the eight hours we spent together. I wish I had gotten her name. It was really nice to have the same person for so long, and I think you get farther into the park than the shuttle buses will take you (though I'm not 100% sure of that).

My recollection is that you cannot switch between shuttle and tour buses.
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Old Jun 13, 15, 11:50 am
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Like Seat 2A I am a big fan of the shuttle buses. The color coding (green/white) on the schedule is not shuttle vs. camper bus, just an easier way to read the schedule.

The shuttle goes further than most tours (Eielson, mile 66 is a popular turnaround point for the shuttle bus, Tundra Tour turns around at mile 53 or 62).

I hop off and on the shuttle buses a lot. Buses stop for wildlife but usually only spend +-5 minutes at each wildlife stop. Two weeks ago I rode shuttle buses for 2 hours back and forth to get a closer look and photos of a mama bear and her three spring cubs - something you could never do on a tour bus.

You can get off and on shuttle buses if you want to go hiking.

You do need to get yourself to the WAC to pick up the shuttle buses, whereas the tour buses pick up at local hotels. Tour buses are almost always 100% full and are 98% cruisetour people.

Tour buses give some food and water on the bus. Shuttle buses have no food so you must bring all of your own food and drink (but you could eat like a king vs. the cost difference of the shuttle vs. tour bus!).

I have been in the park with a group of 9 two years ago and we all got on the same bus each day. Generally you wait no more than an hour though most times it is 30-45 minutes for a bus.

You do reserve the initial bus from the WAC but once you get off that first bus, you board others on a "space available" basis.

There are vault toilets at Toklat. Note that the prime bear viewing area is between Toklat and Eielson so you are forgoing a much greater chance of seeing bears by only going to Toklat.

I would book the shuttle bus in advance. If you try to book the day of the trip or a day before, you might get locked out. The shuttle buses can get full too.
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Old Jun 13, 15, 3:56 pm
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I have a similar question -
is there a rhyme or reason to booking earlier vs later in the day?
I've booked the 6:45AM shuttle for both 6/19 and 6/20 to Wonder Lake.
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Old Jun 14, 15, 6:37 pm
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Thanks for the great responses.

I am leaning towards the shuttle buses. Can't wait for the trip.
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Old Jun 15, 15, 4:07 pm
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Originally Posted by thegingninj View Post
I have a similar question -
is there a rhyme or reason to booking earlier vs later in the day?
I've booked the 6:45AM shuttle for both 6/19 and 6/20 to Wonder Lake.
Yes, there is.

The rule of thumb at Denali is that the mountain is only visible about 30 percent of the time, so, on the average, the chance of seeing the mountain on any given day is not that good.

On the day we went, we opted for the earlier bus, and the mountain was visible at Eielson. Just one hour later, when the next bus arrived, the mountain was no longer visible due to clouds moving in.
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Old Jun 16, 15, 1:05 pm
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Originally Posted by Reindeerflame View Post
Yes, there is.

The rule of thumb at Denali is that the mountain is only visible about 30 percent of the time, so, on the average, the chance of seeing the mountain on any given day is not that good.

On the day we went, we opted for the earlier bus, and the mountain was visible at Eielson. Just one hour later, when the next bus arrived, the mountain was no longer visible due to clouds moving in.
This is the main if not the only reason for an earlier or later shuttle bus. Old wives tales say that wildlife is more active earlier and later in the day but that is not proven by the statistics. Check out the Denali NP website for wildlife studies done in 2006-2009 and in 2012. Wildlife can be seen any time of the day.

My first 20 times in Denali I saw the Mountain 19 times. That is 95% not 30%. Why so high? Most the times I saw the mountain were from Wonder Lake between 10pm and 6am, when the buses were not running. Also, many people only go 3 (headquarters for sleddog demo) or 17 miles into the park (natural history tour). Their chances of seeing the mountain are much less.

So the 30% statistic is more a PR fact to sell t-shirts and sweatshirts. Those who work harder at seeing it will have a much greater chance to see it :-).
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Old Jun 16, 15, 6:50 pm
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Thanks for the Tips, I will do my best to see it
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Old Jun 22, 15, 12:07 pm
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Mt. McKinley first becomes visible on the park road at Mile 9, so any attempt to see it before that point would not be productive!

At Mile 9, it is more than 70 miles away and not as dramatic as further along on the park road.

On the other hand, one may drive a private vehicle to that initial viewpoint and a few miles beyond.
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Old Jul 29, 15, 2:58 pm
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I wanted to follow up. We just got back from Denali. And, I already want to go back again.

When I made the reservations on-line, the earliest trip to Eielson I could reserve was 10am.

The road construction on the Parks Highway didn't slow us down as much as we anticipated so we arrived at the WAC (Wilderness Access Center) around 8.30am. We talked to the check-in folks and they indicated we could stand-by for earlier buses or wait for our 10.00 bus. The electronic board at the check-in counter indicated that the 8.30 was FULL (red), and the 9.00 was filling up quick (yellow). 9.30 was still green. There were 4 of us so our concern was getting everyone on the same bus.

The check-in folks asked us to talk to the "handler" out by the buses. Don't talk to the drivers. The "handler" said that we'd be SOL for 8.30 and probably SOL for 9.00 as well (since we were a party of 4).

So, we headed over to the Visitors Center to check that out for a bit. Around 9.20 we arrived back at the WAC. They were just announcing boarding of the 9.30a Eielson bus. We talked to the "handler" and he directed us to a bus.

Lo and behold there were only to be 27 people on the bus. We had a great driver who essentially narrated the entire trip for us. Shuttle bus driver's are required to narrate so we got a bonus. Our driver was Dave C.

On the 4 hour trip out to Eielson, we only picked up 2 additional folks along the way. So, there was plenty of room to spread out and relax.

However, on the return, the bus was 80% full leaving Eielson at 2.30p. And we picked up quite a number of folks along the way. By the time we left Teklanika we were turning people away and asking them to wait for another bus.

However, based on my observation, you should not have to wait more than 10 or 20 minutes for a shuttle bus to pass by. They were very frequent. On the way back, we were basically stalked (within sight distance, you can see the dust clouds) by 4 other shuttle buses.

I highly recommend heading out to Eielson or ever Wonder Lake. We saw the majority of animals between Toklat and Eielson.
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Old Dec 16, 15, 5:25 pm
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Originally Posted by fti View Post
I hop off and on the shuttle buses a lot. Buses stop for wildlife but usually only spend +-5 minutes at each wildlife stop. Two weeks ago I rode shuttle buses for 2 hours back and forth to get a closer look and photos of a mama bear and her three spring cubs - something you could never do on a tour bus.
That's the one thing I did wrong on my last trip at the end of August. I went out 2 days in a row on the Eielson Shuttle. Day 1 was snowy for most of the day. I did the run out to the visitor center walked around in a foot of snow and came back staying on the bus as it wasn't worth stepping outside.

The second day it was nicer weather but the road was closed past mile 2 since it had continued to snow over night. I was scheduled on the first bus of the morning (i think it was 5 or 6 something) and we didn't get out until after 10 and were held back a few times. I had thought since all the buses were delayed that they would have filled every seat but that was not the case. They did leave spots empty as there are people camping out there so they left room for people to come back.

We only made it out to Toklat and were unable to continue due to road condition (thankfully as there was a bear inbound and we spent a ton of time with close ups). On the way back, I did end up getting off the bus so i could walk along the road from Polycrome to Sable pass. I only wish i grabbed a bus going back towards Eielson for another attempt. When i returned the next day to catch my shuttle back to Anchorage they were talking about how the road had opened back up and the Mountain came out. Luckily on the shuttle ride back to anchorage we stopped at McKinley View hotel with an amazing view of the mountain.

I guess I should add Mountian was only out 2 of my 3 trips to Denali area. Ive been to the park itself twice but never seen the mountian from inside teh park only outside. It might be different because its only been end of season ive been in the park. Id love to go in the Summer. One of my managers was there for 3 days and it was completely out all 3 days
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