How to Explore Denali National Park and Preserve

 
 

Choose Your Adventure

Do you already know what bus trip you want? Head over to our concessionaire's website. They manage the shuttle and tour buses in the park, and you'll reserve your tickets through them. Otherwise, read the rest of this page to decide which bus is for you.

Reserve A Bus Now
 
Explore Denali By Bus

92 miles long, the Denali Park Road parallels the Alaska Range and travels through low valleys and high mountain passes. It is the only road in the park. Along its route, beautiful landscapes can be seen at every turn, and there are many opportunities to view Denali - if the normally cloudy skies permit. Wildlife can often be seen, too, though sightings are not guaranteed - they are, after all, wild animals roaming an unfenced land.

During summer, roughly late May through early September, private vehicles may drive the first fifteen miles of this road, to a place called Savage River. The road to Savage River is paved, and features numerous pull-outs for folks to stop and snap some scenic photos. "The Mountain" can be seen as early as Mile 9, if the day isn't too overcast, and animals of all sorts can sometimes be seen on this stretch of road - although chances to see wildlife increase greatly with a bus trip farther down the Park Road.
 
a map showing the predominately east-west road through denali national park
The Denali Park Road parallels the Alaska Range. The park entrance, where the Denali Park Road meets Highway 3 (the "George Parks Highway") is 237 miles north of Anchorage, and 120 miles south of Fairbanks. Click on the map above to find more maps of the Denali area.

NPS Image

 

Types of Bus Trips

You should understand the nature of bus trips in Denali before booking anything.

There are two main types of buses in Denali - shuttle buses and tour buses. In addition, courtesy buses operate near the park entrance, connecting visitor centers and points of interest in the same area where visitors may drive their own vehicles.

  • Shuttle buses
    Cheaper than tour buses, and more flexible in that you may disembark / re-board anywhere along the road, shuttle bus drivers aim to help you experience the park on your own terms. Shuttle buses stop for wildlife viewing, restroom stops and beautiful scenery, just like tour buses. They are not narrated, however. There are four shuttle bus options, of varying length.

    Read more about shuttle buses

  • Tour buses
    Your driver is your narrator on the tour buses, and he or she will provide a detailed and captivating program to accompany your journey along the Park Road. Tour buses make the same restroom stops as shuttles, and of course will pause for views of wildlife and scenery. All tours offer either a snack or full lunch. There are three tour bus options, of varying length.

    Read more about tour buses

  • Courtesy buses
    Three types of courtesy buses operate on the publicly-accessible portion of the Park Road. These enable folks without vehicles, or those who wish to leave their vehicle behind, to travel between various facilities, campgrounds and day-use areas. All three types of courtesy bus are free, and none require reservations.

    Learn more about courtesy buses

 

Which Bus Do I Choose?

While simplistic, this matrix may help you decide which bus trip is right for you.

Bus type I want to hike or camp I want to
learn about the park
I want to maximize my chances to see wildlife Round Trip Duration
Natural History Tour No Yes No; wildlife viewing may occur, but chances are slimmer than with other trips 4.5 hours
Tundra Wilderness Tour No Yes Yes 8 hours
Kantishna Experience Tour No Yes Yes 12 hours
Shuttle Bus Yes; passengers may disembark to day hike No; drivers are not required to narrate Yes; the longer the shuttle trip, the better your odds of seeing wildlife Several choices, ranging from 6 to 12 hours
Camper Bus Yes; only passengers camping or backpacking in the park can use this bus No Varies depending on how long you spend on the bus before disembarking to camp. Variable
 

Extra Details

Child Restraint Information


Alaska State Law requires children to be in a car or booster seat as follows:

  • Children younger than 1 year of age or less than 20 pounds (9 kilograms) must be in a rear facing infant seat.
  • Children 1 to 4 years and at least 20 pounds (9 kilograms) must be in a child restraint.
  • Children 5 through 7 years who are less than 57 inches (1.4 meters) tall or less than 65 pounds (30 kilograms) must be in a booster seat. Booster seats are no longer required for children ages 5-7 once they reach 57 inches (1.4 meters) tall or weigh 65+ pounds (30 kilograms).
  • Parents are responsible for providing the appropriate car seat.

Day hiking or backpacking may require extra logistical planning if your children require a car seat.

Read more about this Alaska law on the Alaska state government website

 

Why Buses?

Beyond the Savage River Check Station at mile 15 of the Park Road, you'll need to be on a bus, bicycle, or on foot.

Prior to the 1972 completion of the George Parks Highway, the main travel artery which opened up interior Alaska, visitation to Denali National Park and Preserve was fairly low. Anticipation of major increases in traffic resulting from the now-direct route to the park prompted park officials to implement a mass transit system beyond Mile 15 on the Denali Park Road. To provide for visitor access and enjoyment of the world class resources, our concessioner, Doyon/ARAMARK Joint Venture, offers several types of bus services along the Park Road.

Extending 92 miles from the park entrance to its terminus in the old mining community of Kantishna, this mostly-gravel road traverses boreal forests and sub-arctic tundra. Crossing rolling mountainsides and sheer cliffs, the road meanders through scenic vistas and prime wildlife viewing areas.

By riding a bus, you help to reduce traffic congestion and to protect the natural resources of the park.

Even more information on how the park road is managed, as it relates to vehicle traffic, can be found in the Denali Park Road Vehicle Management Plan.
 

More Details

Beyond Mile 15, the road turns to gravel and traffic is primarily restricted to buses. We encourage all visitors to take some kind of bus trip while in Denali, as it is a great way to experience the park and build lasting memories.

 

Recommended Itineraries

Planning a trip to Denali can be a big undertaking! Just getting to the park can take quite a while, and it is distinctly different from many national parks, so even seasoned park travelers can be unsure how to plan their trip.

Use the simplistic table below to start thinking about what might work well for you, given the amount of time you'll be here. There are plenty of other things to do than what is listed below - this is just a starting point.

Duration of Visit Recommended for Everyone High-energy Activities Low-energy Activities Notes, Other Thoughts
Half a day or less Visit Savage River | Stop in the Denali Visitor Center watch the park film and chat with a ranger Go hiking on one or more trails from the visitor center or at Savage River (note: Triple Lakes and the Savage Alpine Trail are potentially too long for a short visit) Attend a ranger program at the visitor center or sled dog kennels | Hike some of the short trails around the visitor center More time is highly recommended. A visit this short isn't likely to see a ton of wildlife, but you'll have a chance to experience the frontcountry of the park and hopefully be inspired for a longer visit in the future!
One full day or part of two days (i.e., one night in the area) Ride a shuttle or tour bus on the full day | stop in the Denali Visitor Center Hike, especially Triple Lakes Trail, the trails around Savage River and/or hike off-trail | join a ranger-led discovery hike Attend a ranger program at the visitor center or sled dog kennels | Walk some of the short trails around the visitor center This is the real minimum for a visit. If you can stay another night, it is recommended.
One full day and part of two others (i.e., two nights) Ride a shuttle or tour bus on the full day | stop in the Denali Visitor Center | visit Savage River Hike, especially on the half-days or hike off-trail while taking a shuttle bus trip | join a ranger-led discovery hike on the full day (in lieu of a shuttle or tour bus ride) Attend a ranger program at the visitor center or sled dog kennels | Walk some of the short trails around the visitor center | consider a short tour or shuttle ride on one of the partial days This is a common length of visit. More time is recommended, but this gives you a full day for one of the bus rides, and partial days for other activities, like hiking or joining ranger talks or hikes.
Two full days (i.e., three nights) At least one tour or shuttle bus trip | visit Savage River Hike, especially Triple Lakes Trail, the trails around Savage River, around Eielson Visitor Center and/or hike off-trail | join a ranger-led discovery hike | go backpacking Attend a ranger program at the visitor center or sled dog kennels | walk some of the short trails around the visitor center This is a nice amount of time in the area. You have at least one full day for a bus trip. Consider a second bus trip if you want to maximize your chances to see wildlife.
Three or more days (i.e., you're practically moving here) At least one tour or shuttle bus trip | visit Savage River Hike, especially Triple Lakes, around Savage River and Eielson, and/or off-trail | join one or more ranger-led discovery hikes | go backpacking Attend a ranger program at the visitor center or sled dog kennels | Walk some of the short trails around the visitor center You have chosen wisely! Denali is a big place with unpredictable weather. Having three or more days lets you make the most of your good-weather days (bus rides, hiking) and bad-weather days (ranger talks, time at the visitor centers, etc)

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 9
Denali Park, AK 99755

Phone:

(907) 683-9532
General park information. The phone is answered 9 am - 4 pm daily, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. If you reach the voicemail, please leave a message with your number and we'll call you back as soon as we finish helping the visitor on the line ahead of you.

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