We often are asked, “how do you get around in Denali if we don’t have our own car?” Well, it is fairly easy with a little planning and knowledge of the transportation options to get to and around Denali. Traveling to Denali, we usually recommend traveling one way via the Alaska Railroad or the Wilderness Express and the other way by The Park Connection Motorcoach. The Park Connection departs from and drops off at all of the major hotels in Denali and the hotels we recommend are selected in part because they pick up and drop off at the railroad depot. Once in Denali, there is a network of National Park Service shuttles and local Denali hotel and tour operators that provide complimentary transportation to clients. The next step to planning a visit to Denali National Park without your own car is to select a hotel which provides a shuttle service into the Denali Park entrance area and to the Alaska Railroad Depot.
If you are “car-less” in Denali, we recommend you stay in the Denali Canyon area located just outside the Park entrance. All the Canyon hotels that we recommend provide regular scheduled shuttles to and from the Park and rail station. Although there are some fine hotels in the Denali Village area located 6 miles south of the Park Entrance, without your own car your options can be limited and some visitors feel a little isolated if you don’t have your own transportation. Here’s a list of Denali Canyon hotels that we work with that provide shuttles to the Denali Park facilities for their guests: Denali Bluffs Hotel, Grande Denali Lodge, Denali Princess Lodge and the McKinley Chalet Resort. Further away in the Denali Village area, the Denali Village Lodge also provides regularly scheduled transportation to the Park entrance facilities. If you take the Alaska Railroad to Denali, all of these hotels will have their shuttles and staff at the Denali Depot to greet you upon your arrival.
In addition to the hotels, all of the local tour operators we recommend such as Denali Raft, Husky Homestead Kennel Tours, Era Helicopter Tours, as well as some of the local restaurants provide complimentary transfers to their sites from area hotels as well as the Alaska Railroad Depot.
Even if you drove your own car to Denali you still can’t explore Denali National Park with it because the National Park Service does not allow visitors to drive into the Park past 14 mile mark, and with the park road being over 90 miles you’d be missing out on the opportunity to view Denali and its wildlife if you didn’t take a Park tour such as the Tundra Wilderness Tour or the Kantishna Wilderness Tour deep into Denali Park. With additional time at Denali there are also some great “Front Country” visitor facilities just inside the Park that you can access by using a combination of your hotel shuttle and complimentary NPS buses that operate on a scheduled basis within the park entrance area. The primary locations to pick up the Park Service shuttle system are – the Wilderness Access Center and the Denali Park Visitor Center. There are three shuttles you’ll want to be familiar with – the Riley Loop Shuttle, the Savage River Shuttle, and the National Park Services’ Dog Kennel Shuttle.
The Riley Creek Loop Shuttle provides a somewhat circular, regular service between the Denali Visitor Center, the Murie Science & Learning Center, the Riley Creek Mercantile, as well as the Wilderness Access Center. It also stops at a few locations for hikers in the entrance area to access nearby trails such as the Horseshoe Lake and Riley Creek trails.
The Savage River Shuttle travels 14 miles into Denali Park to the Savage River Rest Area, a perfect location for a short hike, picnic, with limited but possible wildlife sightings in the area. This is a nice option if you have a young family who want to take a bus ride, but aren’t ready for a full or half day Park Tour, or if you’ve been into the Park already but want to explore on your own. The bus ride is about 1 hour each direction.
The Park Dog Kennel Shuttle takes visitors to the Park kennels located about 3 miles into Denali Park. The Kennels offer a brief talk on the Park Service’s use of dog sleds for transportation in the winter and you can observe their sled dog demonstration. The Dog Kennel Shuttle departs from the Denali Visitor Center bus stop. You will want to check in with the Denali National park Visitor Center staff for more information on the dog sled presentation.