What? : This is one of
the must visit places in Alaska, the bus day trip that will take you into the
national park is long day ride but totally worth it.
Where? : The national
park entrance is located on hwy 3, 240 miles north of Anchorage, 127 miles
south of Fairbanks. The road is in very good condition although most of it is
one lane in each direction so passing a slow car is difficult.
Due note 1: It’s always a
good thing to carry bear spray and know how to stay safe in bear country.
Due note 2: Bring with you
pair of binoculars, very useful for animal viewing.
Due note 3: There are not
many marked trails in Denali, and most of the trails here are short and near
the park entrance section (where you can drive your car).
other National Parks when you are visiting Denali you can hike off-trail, this
is especially correct when you are taking the bus trip, you can get off the bus
and hike into the open wilderness.
Due note 4: The day-long bus
ride might be difficult for small kids, especially if you are planning for 4 hr
ride in each direction, you can always shorten it and take longer breaks.
My thoughts: The visit here
was one of our Alaska trip’s highlights. We saw many animals during the bus
ride and fall in love with the park tundra and mountains landscape. Unlike my
expectations to see tall pine woods, except the entrance section most of the
park landscape is open tundra without any tree, only small bushes and
grassland. This allow you to spot animal from distance…
What you can expect to see on your
open landscape, snowy covered mountain ridges, Denali, the highest mountain in
America and many animal viewings.
We saw Caribou,
Moose, Dall sheep, Fox, arctic ground squirrels and Grizzly Bears and even wolves
are occasionally spotted in the park ( not by us :-( ).
Long day bus
ride, some will find it difficult or a long and exhausting day but because you
can hop off and get the next buss you can set it according to your needs.
visitors, everywhere, unless you are doing backpacking hike into the wilderness
you probably won’t be alone so do not expect for solitude experience….
Riley Creek Campground:
This is the
recommended place to stay.
center with a store and showers, walking distance from the shuttle bus station,
no need to move your RV or car.
Must book camping
site well in advance!!!
There are few
nice trails that start from this location, so if you came at the early at the
day or stay for few nights you can do the following hiking:
Short hike to
the Nenana river below at the north side of the campsite (need to cross the
main park road).
Hike the Triple
Lake Trail along Riley Creek riverbed, you can hike as far as you want and go
back when you had enough. We wend for few miles, cross underneath the tall train
bridge, cross the hiker’s suspension bridge and hike one mile after it.
Denali Wilderness Access Center:
This is the
terminal where all the shuttles are departing from.
Denali Visitor Center:
visitor center has a lot of exhibition about the park landscape, animals and
history, this is the place for bus trip reservations (or get wilderness
The Bus Tour System:
·The road that is entering into the
Denali park close to vehicle access after 14 miles at Savage River Loop
·From that point the dirt-road is
open only to the shuttle bus and for people that has campsite reservation at Teklanika
·The bus drive is a full day activity
so bring light food and water with you for the day.
·Be prepared for cold and even rainy
weather so ware cloth in layers.
·The shuttle bus driver will be your
trip guide. They give explanations about what you see and stories about each
location as well as their personal stories about Alaska, we found them very
informative and interesting. They will also point you to animals (they exchange
this information between drivers).
·The bus rides are departing from
the Denali Wilderness Access Center that is located at the park road entrance,
the first exit on your right.
·You are selecting your departure
time and end destination.
·Look for up-to-date Transit
Schedule that provide both departure time and when it is arriving to each
station along the way.
·Try to find seats at early
departure, early as you can, this will give you enough time to hike during your
·Most people select their
destination to be at Eielson Alpine visitor center (65 miles, ~3-4 hr drive)
but you can keep going all the way to Wonder Lake.
·The bus drive can stop at any
location and you can go down and hike, but most people get off at the several
stops along the way (locations that has restrooms).
·This is not a reserve seat once you
decided to go down and the bus departure you need to find another bus to hop in.
·When going down for a short-stop make sure you know when the driver is departure, identify your buss when you
are going down for the break so you can check it did not departure (you may
have many other buses at the same parking lot).
·Unless one of your group or family-member
stay on the bas during break and make sure you are coming back take all your
belonging when you departure the buss even for a short-stop. The bus may departure
with your stupp onboard…
·Buses arrive every ~30 minutes.
·On the way back, you will need to get
buss seat, check the specific arrangement in each location, you may need to
register and wait for your turn.
·At Eielson Alpine visitor center,
where many are waiting for ride back, this was by registering and waiting for a
bus that has available seat, first registered first serve. Please check how
long is the waiting-list once you decided that you want to go back, this can be
additional one hour of waiting.
·When going off the bus for a hike
or long stop be back at the Eielson Alpine visitor center at list an hour and a
half before the last return bus scheduled.
·If you are traveling with a large
group of people using the bus system can be challenging. You need to make
reservation in advance for your big group departure (your way in at the morning)
and go all the way to your end destination on the same bus (can take the BIO
break but come back on time). On your way back you will probably need to split
into smaller groups that fit available seats on the back going bus.
at Denali park is different between the visitor center section to the remote inland
At the park
entrance you can see the large pine woods and as you get into the park the
trees are getting smaller up to a point, 10 miles into your drive, where the
landscape completely changes into open tundra without any tree. “Just”
mountains, valley, grassland and vast landscape view.
This open view
landscape help to find and spot the grazing animals from far distance.
or other interesting animal is being viewed nearby the bus driver will stop for
picture taking and keep moving after few minutes…
Savage Alpine Trailhead (mile mark
This trail can
be done with private car access to TH, we did it the day after our bus trip.
This is relatively
strenuous hike. It’s only 4 or 5.5 miles, but there’s 1,500 feet of elevation
gain. While hiking you will explore the lower forest and the open hills landscape
and will also get some high point viewing.
Alpine Trail is one of the best ways to spend half a day in Denali National
Park your car
at Mountain Vista Picnic Area (recommended) or at Savage River Loop Trailhead
(small parking lot that may be full).
Savage River parking lot, cross the main park road and continue past marked
signs for the trail. Trail starts flat parallels a Braided stream for
approximately 1.5 miles, gradual up-hill that turn into switchbacks climbing onto
the mountain slop on your left. You will reach the top point of the hike, here
you can rest enjoy the vista below you.
viewing point you have 2 options:
1. The option
we did: Turn around and go back to the parking lot at the same trail. This
option is 5.3 miles long.
2. From the
ridge viewing point keep walking down at steep slope toward the Savage River
below. This is 4.3 miles long hike.
If you went all
the way to Savage River Trail Head than you need to hike back 2 miles on the
road to the starting point or you can wait for a shuttle bus that will take you
Savage River Loop Trailhead (mile
This short easy
2-mile trail where you stroll along the river and go back to the car.
is located at the end of the open road at Denali park, from here you need to
use the bus shuttle.
The problem at
this parking lot is that it is small and can be full when you are arriving
(especially if you are with RV).
The trail goes
nearly 1 mile into the valley before crossing the river with a bridge,
returning to the same parking area.
Short description of places you
pass with the bus ride:
Teklanika Rest Stop (mile mark 30):
The first stop
for river viewing, not a lot to do here except BIO brake or if you are going to
Polychrome Overlook (mile mark 45):
viewing point you will see the colorful mountains that are on the other side of
the valley. This road section is relatively narrow, elevated and twisted with
sharp corners section.
Toklat River Contact Station (mile
A stop with
restrooms at the wide-open valley of the Toklat River.
Eielson Alpine Visitor Center (mile
This is the
main endpoint stop for most tourist.
At this stop
you find a large visitor center with daily ranger-led programs, a small gallery
of art inspired by Denali's natural wonders and the view of mount Denali above
you. When we visit there, it was all cloudy and we couldn’t see the Denali mountain
When going off
the bus for a hike or long stop be back at the Eielson Alpine visitor center
more than an hour before the last return bus is scheduled for the best chance
of securing a spot. Buses arrive every 30 minutes.
There are few
options to hike here and you can easily spend here few hours.
There are many
bears viewing opportunity in this area.
While we were
still on the bus, we spotted group of grizzly bears in the meadows 1 mile
before reaching Eielson Alpine visitor center.
We got off the
bus I hiked back along the road and went down into the meadows so I can get
near them, keeping myself in a safe far distance. They completely ignore me and
it was fun watching their behavior for long time.
Denali sets a
minimum distance to keep away from bears as 300 yards (270 m), I was around half
a mile away.
Hiking options at Eielson Alpine Visitor
Eielson Alpine Trail:
trail up the face of Thoro Ridge for nearly 1,000 ft of climbing in just under
a mile. Along the way, enjoy plenty of flowers, wildlife sightings, and
impressive views on a clear day.
From the ridge
top views of Muldrow Glacier, Denali mountain (when it’s out and not covered
with clouds) and the amazing vast wilderness all around you. When done resting
from the climb and enjoying the views, hike back down to the visitor center.
When I went to
my “bear hike” my two kids (22, 13) went all the way up the mountain. It was
cloudy that day, so the view was limited to the lower valley sections.
Eielson River Trail:
The Tundra Loop
is around a third of a mile long, close by to the visitor center. There is an
additional trail off the Tundra Loop.
You can also
hike down to the Gorge Creek Trail that descends all the way to the creek in
the valley below.