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Denali from Anchorage, Alaska

Our cruise ends Aug 11 in Anchorage and we would like to see Denali but we only have one day.
Aug 11- leave Anchorage noon rent a van- we are 9 total - which rental company?? - drive to Denali
- still need to find airbnb or vrbo for 9 personas -overnight in Denali
Aug 12– whole day tour in Denali- which tour?? how?
Aug 13- drive back to Anchorage and fly out
Your tips and recommendations will help.Thank you so much!

Posted by
7819 posts

We did Denali with Alaska Tours and Travel.

That can arrange it all for you.

The Tundra Wilderness Tour is your best bet. It is an all day tour in Denali.

As for lodging, not sure how well you would do on airbnb, we stayed in a hotel.

Not sure how you are going to do this with one overnight stay, since you would have to leave Denali after the TWT and it is a considerable drive back to Anchorage.

Posted by
8520 posts

Claudia this was correctly posted in the beyond Europe sub forum.

I agree the Full day tour is the way to go. You may just have to rent hotel rooms. You need to be close to the park entrance because the tours get going early in the am. Yeah drive back to Anchorage is long. Hopefully your flight is later in the day. Any chance you can give yourselves a little extra time?

You can buy the tour direct, no need for a travel agent.

Posted by
265 posts

We need more information to help you with good information.
I am thinking you might not have as much time as you think. What time is your flight on the 13th?

Many flights down to the lower 48 leave just after midnight. Be sure your flight is NOT at 12:05AM on the 13th.

Have you found any airbnb's around Denali on the internet? There are a lot of hotels but August is a busy time with bus tour groups.

Posted by
546 posts

If you want to see any of the park and surely the best part you need to be on one of the Park tour Buses for a very long time. The best part of the park doesnt even start until about 40 miles into the park.

The longest tour, the Tundra Wilderness Tour lasts between 10-12 hours. The next shortest is about 9 Hours return. So what you are proposing is Driving the 240 miles back to Anchorage from Denali after being on a bus from 8 to 12 hours.

If you persist in this idea I would stay right at either the Princess Wilderness Lodge or the McKinley Chalet (Both owned by Holland America/ Princess) The big advantage here is that the bus for the tour will pick you up right in front of either hotel at about 6AM.

In reality trying to do this as you propose while possible is in my book unrealistic time wise.

There are shorter tours than those I mentioned above (1) or flight tours (very expensive). Your chances of seeing the big animals goes up exponentially the farther you go into the park and the drive is spectacular...after mile 40.

Keep in mind you cannot see Denali (the mountain) from the Park entrance area. You MAY see it from the bus tour if you go far enough into the park (one of the longer tours) There is a highway viewing point near Talkeetna on the way to Denali if the weather is clear but this is a BIG BIG IF. Chances of seeing the mountain on any ONE day are very slim due to weather. But good luck.

Sorry I can't be more enthusiastic or optimistic but this is the reality you are facing.

Posted by
645 posts

Are you mostly interested in seeing the mountain peak or do you want to explore the park?

We saw the peak from the Anchorage airport, the viewing area on the highway (previously mentioned), from the dining area of our B & B near Talkeetna, and at this park in Talkeetna: Yes, we were lucky to have good weather those days!

We took the transit bus to Eielson Visitor Center. Although I don't think it is advertised as narrated, our driver told stories and stopped to view wildlife the entire trip. We never saw the peak while we were actually in the park.

If I had the number of days you do, I would only go as far as Talkeetna. It's an interesting little place to visit. We took a flightseeing trip from there (K2 Aviation) and landed on a glacier.

Have fun!

Posted by
3298 posts

Its a 4 hour drive from Anchorage to Denali Park, barring any road construction which is always going in in the summer.
The minimum tour I would suggest doing in the park is the 6 hour shuttle. You can buy tickets online. You would be driving back to Anchorage late, but it will still be light out.

Don’t count on seeing the mountain!

Posted by
3521 posts

I did something similar a few years ago. I booked through Alaska Railroad and couldn't have been happier. Check with them to see if they have something that'll work for you.

You take the train from Anchorage to Denali, stay overnight with a dinner theater type show then take either a half or full day tour of the park the next morning. If you take the full day tour, you will not be able to get back to Anchorage that day. You then take the train back to Anchorage. Even though this is a group tour type package, you are not actually in a group and just have to show up at the designated place and time. You are on your own. There is no tour guide from the railroad but if any questions they answer their phone 24/7. The actual Denali tours do have guides. It worked very well for me.

Oh, and we did see the mountain. It was completely cloud free the entire time we were on the train and when we drove into the park on the bus tour. Guide said we were very lucky.

Posted by
16706 posts

I used to live in Alaska and have been back to Denali 3 times in the last 5 years. We will go back next summer. We love it there.

Some of the information above is incorrect or misplaced. For example, the Tundra Wilderness Tour is not the longest tour into thepark. It goes to Mile 63 on the park roadd ( Stony Hill overlook) and returns to the start, taking 7-8 hours. The longest tour is the Kantishna Experience which goes all the way to Kantishna, basically the end of the road. This one is 12 hours. There is also a shorter tour, the Natural History Tour, which is not recommended as it does not go far enough into the park.

You can read about the narrated tours here:

The "destination experts" on the TripAdvisor Alaska forum, who are very knowledgeable and helpful, will uniformly advise you to skip the Tundra Wilderness Tour and take the regular park shuttle bus instead. It is much less expensive ( saving almost $100 per adult, you can go as far as you like ( Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66 is recommended), and you can use it as a hop-on, hop-off tour, getting off where you like for a short hike or time to take photographs. And while these are technically shuttle buses not guided tours, some of the drivers do offer a lively narration.

The shuttle buses do stop when wildlife is spotted so you can see it.

With nine of you, renting a van or two cars isn't the only reasonable way to go. The train would be horribly expensive, and the timing of arrival and departure is not convenient to your plans. Trains coming from Anchorage arrive late in the afternoon (around 4) and the southbound train the following day departs back to Anchorage around 12:30, leaving you no time for a tour into the park. This is why the cruisetours using the train have their clients continue on up to Fairbanks after their Wilderness Tour. ( Way back when I worked in Denali National Park, then called McKinley NP, they used to start the Tundra Tour at 4:00 am so people would be back by noon to get the southbound train to Anchorage. We heard lots of complaints about that but it was the cruise company's schedule, not the hotel's).

Most importantly, if you take the train you would have great difficulty getting around from the train station to your lodging, from lodging to restaurant, and from there back to the park for your shuttle or tour. So I suggest you stick with the car rental idea.

Finding lodging for 9 people is going to be a challenge. The area right by the park entrance, known as "Glitter Gulch" for its pricy hotels, is usually pretty well booked up in August, especially the more affordable rooms. The favored lodges down the Parks Highway such as McKinley Creekside Cabins (our personal favorite) book up early as well. Carlo Creek Lodge across the road is less popular and more likely to have something.

I do not actually know of any VRBO or Air BnB rentals, but there might well be some in Healy, ten miles north of the park entrance. There are some nice motels, cabin resorts, and a hostel there as well.

I do know of one place with cabins and condos right near the park entrance that might work; i will go find the link and be right back!

But first I must agree with all the comments above that you cannot count on seeing Denali. I have seen the odds given as around 30% on any given day. Low enough, in any case, that when word went around the employees' area that "the Mountain is out" we would all jump into cars and drive the 25 miles or whatever it is to the first viewpoint, just to see it. ( This was in 1971, before the road access was restricted).

On our last two August visits, staying 3 nights at a wilderness lodge deep in the park, with a direct full-on view of Denali (when not obscured by clouds), we enjoyed views of the mountain most of the time during our 2012 visit. In 2015, visiting the same three days in August, we never saw it at all.

Posted by
16706 posts

Here is the place I was thinking of:

It appears the East cabin is available for your dates. It sleeps 8 rather than 9, so you may have to get an extra room. Or if one or more of your group are children, call and ask if you can squeeze 9 into the cabin.

Posted by
3178 posts

I read on TripAdvisor that the tour bus does not pick people up at the hotels any more. You have to meet the bus at the starting point inside the park.

Posted by
4535 posts

On our last two August visits, staying 3 nights at a wilderness lodge
deep in the park, with a direct full-on view of Denali (when not
obscured by clouds), we enjoyed views of the mountain most of the time
during our 2012 visit. In 2015, visiting the same three days in
August, we never saw it at all.

I'm going in June to the lodge inside the park for 4 nights. I hope the mountain is out at least once...

Posted by
16706 posts

Douglas, I assume with a 4-night stay you will be at Camp Denali or North Face Lodge? Camp Denali is where we go, every time. Our last visit was in June 2016, for a wildflower-focused stay, 4 nights. I did not mention this because the topic here is August, and the weather is very different between June and August. ( Usually nicer in June).
Although it was cloudy when we arrived, and through the first day, it cleared that evening during dinner, and we had lovely sunshine and clear Denali views the rest of the time.

May you enjoy the same good fortune. Bring mosquito protection as they can be fierce in June.

Posted by
4535 posts

Lola - Yes, we are at the Lodge. I may have learned about it from you from some other thread here. Took one look at their website and immediately knew I wanted to go.

Good to know about the skeeters. Will plan to be prepared.