Denali, AK In Two Days?
May 21, 2013 10:45 AM   Subscribe

I was invited to a cool work conference in Anchorage Alaska in late June, and after the conference I would really really really like to try and see Denali if at all possible. I will only have 2 - 2 1/2 days. Aside from the short time-frame, I will be all by myself. Also, I have two legs and can walk, but 'wilderness survival,' is not exactly something I have any mastery off. Any general advice, specific advice, or help would be appreciated.

Is some kind of bus-tour with senior citizens my only option? Can I just rent a cabin somewhere and expect to enjoy myself considering my lack of general out-doorsy knowledge?

My expectations are realistic, I know about the weather and that sometimes you can go and not see any big animals, but I would like to have a good time. I have seen some 'naturalist' guided tours, but most seems to be thousands of dollars and are over a week long.

The conference ends in Anchorage Fri. Jun 21, and I leave from Anchorage Mon. the 24th.
posted by rosswald to Travel & Transportation around Alaska (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Start here. Weather permitting, you can see the mountain from the roads in the park, no wilderness survival skills necessary.

On second read, when you say "Denali" you could be talking about the park, rather than the mountain. If that's the case, the link above should give you a solid starting point.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:52 AM on May 21, 2013


I'm pretty anti-bus-tour generally, but the Denali bus tours are not "with senior citizens" in the pejorative way you mean, and are worthwhile. We took the bus all the way to Kantishna, and it was friendly and awesome and there were bears.
posted by eugenen at 10:54 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes. Take the bus tour.

AFAIK, the buses can go places that private vehicles can't, and most of the buses travel on the same exact route. This is by far the best and easiest way to see Denali.

The difference between the cheap buses and the expensive buses tends to be the quality of the bus, and the lunch provided. The prevailing advice among the locals (I lived in Fairbanks for a short time) was to take the cheapest tour, and bring something soft to sit on.

I did this a few years ago, and got some good photos. If you're looking for transportation to Denali, I strongly recommend taking the train. It's a little pricey, but it's another absolutely phenomenal way to see Alaska.

Alaska is amazing and wonderful. I'm jealous that you're getting to visit :)
posted by schmod at 11:12 AM on May 21, 2013


Ha, sorry about the senior citizens dig. No harm meant, was just hoping that if I have to be with a tour group that they would be similar to me in age/interest

But lots of great answers so far, thanks! I will review when I have more time tonight.
posted by rosswald at 11:33 AM on May 21, 2013


An alternative to the standard buses are the shuttles that bring hikers in and out of the park. I think they are cheaper since there isn't a guide providing narrative but they still stop for wildlife and bathroom breaks. They provide a bit more of an independent experience and the people riding on them are generally the more adventurous types. Here's a link to more info about the shuttles.
posted by Beardsley Klamm at 11:55 AM on May 21, 2013


There are no cabins within the park itself. Yes, you must take the bus. The best piece of advice I can give you is GET OFF THE BUS. That means that you want a shuttle bus. The drivers know all kinds of things and will stop for wildlife, and the people are way more interesting than on the brown buses. You can get on and off them at will, given room, and flag them down and they will stop for you. Bring a lunch and a backpack full layers that included a waterproof layer.

I have spent a lot of time in the park and really feel like you have seen the most spectacular parts by the Eilson Visitor Center; you *can* go all the way to Wonder Lake but it is a ton of time on the bus and it is nicer to be out walking and taking pictures and going part of the distance. There are no official trails in the park but there are a lot of spots where it is nice to go up a river bed or up a hill or _____. You can stay within sight of the road if you want, or use a river as a guide. Taking the shuttle gives you the freedom to do this.

Some nice places to get off and wander (safely! do your research about bears! don't get lost!) are:

Mile 17- Primerose ridge: open hiking, sheep, wildflowers, gorgeous views, and views of the mountain’s top if it is out. Not good if it’s windy or cloudy and looking windy.

Mile 42ish: the backside of Cathedral: Take the social trail getting off the bus right before Sable pass and the permanent closure sign. You scamper down the edge and over igloo creek and head around the backside. Easy to get out of view of the road, great views of the Teklanika River & Valley.

Tatler Creek, across from Cathedral on Sable mountain: a popular one, but hike up the creek and onto the hillside behind it. Also try Sable mountain just before the creek, mostly tundra ridge hiking, but you have to get up to get out of the way of the road.

Polychrome Valley: Getting off somewhere right before or just after the reststop, there are lots of ridges to hike on. Nice views and wildlife.

Little Stony Creek mile 61ish: Hike up the creek bed to the right and into the valley behind it, opens into a gorgeous valley- lots of possibilities.

Stony Hill: Hiking up after the overlook and into the mountains on the left- great views of Denali if it is out.

Thoroughfare Pass mile 65ish: just before Eielson visitor center- tundra hiking. Wildflowers!

McKinley Bar trail: I’ve never been, but a good hike in McKinley’s shadow- You start from Wonder lake..
posted by charmedimsure at 11:57 AM on May 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


I also recommend taking the train to get to Denali. Although you don't have too much time to work with so renting a car might be the better option. There's plenty of daylight so you could head up Friday after your conference.
posted by Beardsley Klamm at 12:01 PM on May 21, 2013


Hm. I probably took a shuttle, then.
posted by schmod at 12:05 PM on May 21, 2013


Or: another option if you have two days is taking the bus all the way in and seeing what is interesting and making notes of what you might want to explore the next day. When you GET OFF THE BUS. Which you should do.

If you drive, stop at Parks 229 (at mile 229 of the Parks Highway) for a meal on the way back; it's really lovely and by far the best you'll do around there for food.

If you want to see the mountain itself, splurge and flightsee from Talkeetna on one of your days if it is nice, and hike/bus in the park itself on the other day. It is totally spectacular and one of the few really expensive touristy things I think is truly worth it in Alaska.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:06 PM on May 21, 2013


Oh, and if you're staying in Talkeetna, (shameless plug) my aunt actually runs a B&B there, which is worth considering. Have fun!
posted by craven_morhead at 12:22 PM on May 21, 2013


It's probably the wrong direction for you, but if you want to stay in Healy, EarthSong Lodge has nice cabins (although pricy, and breakfast options are off-site, but Rose's Cafe is a nice option), and I've heard Motel Nord Haven is nice. I've also stayed in the Princess Wilderness Lodge, but I imagine it will cost a fortune when you'll be there. And 49th State Brewery in Healy is a good place to eat dinner.

Bring layers. It may be chilly. It's been a crazy slow spring.

The sightseeing busses are fine. You'll want to bring water and snacks though.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:23 PM on May 21, 2013


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