SPOTLIGHT ALASKA: Denali National Park

One of the iconic locations to visit in Alaska is Denali National Park and Preserve.  Located north of Anchorage, the most popular way to visit Denali is by railway.  Denali Park and Preserve covers an area of over 6 million acres and is home to the highest mountain in North America.  That mountain, Denali, is also known by it’s previous official name of Mt. McKinley, and stands at 20,156 feet high. Most cruise lines have one-way itineraries that either go northbound from Vancouver or southbound from Seward or Anchorage.  Those who want to make the most out of their Alaska travels can add a cruisetour to their one-way cruise to visit Denali National Park.

Cruisetours are land tour segments that can be added either before or after your cruise itinerary.  A guide from the cruise line will travel along with you and a local guide as you take railroad and stay at hotels hand-picked by the particular cruise line you booked through.  The guides will provide a wealth of information about the history of the area.  The length of the cruise tour varies but generally is a minimum of 3 nights, up to 17 nights.  During the cruisetour portion of your vacation, you can opt in to excursion tours, just as you can on your cruise, but meals are generally not included on the land portion.  The cruisetours can be completely guided to on your own travel, depending on how you want to experience the area.

Want to go the more independent route?  You can explore the park either before or after your cruise on your own by booking a hotel in the area and making your way into Denali National Park on your own.  If you’re planning on renting a car to explore the park, know that you can only drive private vehicles up to mile 15 of the Park Road, to the Savage River Check Station.  After that point, you can only traverse further into the park by bus, bicycle or on foot. This was implemented to ease congestion and to protect the park’s natural resources, wildlife and the visitors to the park.

To explore deeper into the park, you can schedule bus tours of varying lengths and focuses.  You can take a 4-5 hour Denali Natural

photo by Michele Gourley

History bus tour where your driver/naturalist will discuss the landscape, geology and the cultural history of the park.  On the Tundra Wilderness Tour, you can spend 7-8 hours exploring more in-depth the history of the park and better wildlife viewing than the Natural History tour.  The driver/naturalist will keep an eye out for photo opportunities along the way.  For the hearty travelers, the Kantishna Experience tour travels 92 miles to the old gold town of Kantishna.  A National Park Service ranger joins the tour about halfway in to provide an immersive experience.  This tour is about 12 hours long and does include lunch, snack and beverages along the way.  Each of the these tour experiences have varying costs.  The park also hosts a transit bus, camp bus and three free shuttles, so there are plenty of options for getting around the park.

However you explore the park, it’s important to keep safety in mind.  It is a wildlife rich area and it’s not unheard of to encounter bears and other large creatures.  It’s said that you shouldn’t go into the park hoping you’ll avoid a bear but expect to see one and be prepared for the encounter.  Grizzly bear encounters usually occur when the visitor is in the path of the bear, the bear senses your presence and feel threatened, or when they are just curious about your presence.  Bears can swim, they can climb trees and they are fast.  If you’re planning on exploring independently, it’s recommended that you carry bear spray with you and learn the safety measures to take for wildlife encounters.

Whether you want to take advantage of guided interpretive tours or freestyle explore the Alaskan wilderness, there are plenty of options for you.  You can choose the amount of luxury or grittiness your heart desires.  Make sure you have a solid plan before you set off on your adventure, so you can make the most of the sights and ensure a safe trip home.

If you want more information on an Alaskan cruise or cruisetour vacation, contact Journey Scapes Travel to start your journey.