There are many options when it comes to touring Denali National Park. I will breakdown the choices so that you can choose the one that works best for you and your traveling companions.
Shuttle Bus versus Tour Bus
The Denali Park Road travels 92 miles into the heart of Denali National Park and Preserve. Only the first 15 miles of this road are paved and accessible to private vehicles. The Park Road, beyond Savage River (mile 15), is only accessible by shuttle or tour bus. The first choice you need to make is to travel by tour bus or by shuttle bus.
Tour buses offer more of a deluxe Denali experience. They offer narration which includes the history and geology of the Park, a boxed snack, wildlife viewing and restroom stops. The drivers work hard to spot wildlife and to give you a complete picture of the national park. The tour buses are upgraded school buses that have been altered to accommodate motor-coach seats. This comfortable seating becomes even more important on the longer tours. The tour bus departs from various Denali hotels.
The shuttle bus offers a less expensive trip into the Park and a way to see the Park at your own pace. This bus does not offer narration or snacks but does make stops for wildlife viewing and restrooms. The shuttle bus offers traditional school bus bench seating. This bus offers more flexibility for visitors who want to hike and explore the Park. You can board one bus, get off and explore, then re-board a later shuttle bus either going further into the Park or returning to the Park entrance. The re-boarding process is based on seat availability so you may have to wait for up to an hour for a bus that can accommodate you. The shuttle bus departs from the Wilderness Access Center.
Whether traveling by tour bus or shuttle bus you also need to decide on how much time you want to spend in the Park. Each bus offers a short, medium and long trip that range from four hours to thirteen hours. If you are not hindered by time constraints, I recommend spending as much time in the Park as possible! The Park tours include the Denali Natural History Tour, Tundra Wilderness Tour and a tour to Kantishna.
The Natural History tour is a 4 ½ – 5 hour tour that travels 17 miles into the Park and includes a stop at the Wilderness Access Center. This tour focuses on the history of the Park and only provides limited wildlife viewing opportunities.
The Tundra Wilderness Tour is a seven to eight hour tour that turns around at Toklat, mile 53 of the Park Road. This tour offers a great balance of Park history and wildlife viewing. A boxed snack is included. The tour includes views of Mt. McKinley when the “usually cloudy” skies allow! Morning and afternoon departures are available. The afternoon departure is set up to accommodate guests arriving via train from Fairbanks.
The most complete tour of Denali National Park is the Kantishna Wilderness Trails tour which travels all 92 miles of the Park Road. This thirteen hour tour includes a stop at the Kantishna Roadhouse for a hearty lunch break. You also are treated to a dog sled demonstration. This tour takes you as far into the Park as you can go by road and gives you the best opportunity for wildlife viewing. This tour also offers a brief rest stop at the Eielson Visitor Center at mile 66 of the Park Road.