Denali is an absolutely stunning park—full of amazing wildlife and unforgettable scenery. And the best way to get an overview is aboard one of the park buses, which feature a trained naturalist who both drives and provides narration.
The Park Road extends 92 miles into this magical preserve, and since private cars aren’t allowed to go past Mile 15, taking one a narrated bus tour is highly encouraged. Not only will you explore areas you can’t see while driving yourself, but you’ll get the added benefit of hearing about the park’s history and geology, as well as its flora and fauna. And of course, not driving also allows you to fully focus on the beautiful landscape and keep an eye out for wildlife. And when you or your guide spot some an animal, the bus will stop so everyone can get a look.
Tours range from 4-5 hours to 11-12 hours, offering an option for everyone, depending on how much time you have in Denali. Even the shortest tour will give you a great flavor for the park and provide lots of wildlife-spotting opportunities; longer tours add gorgeous spots like Wonder Like and the fascinating old gold-mining town of Kantishna.
Denali Natural History Tour (4–5 hours)
If you don’t have a full day but still want a rich experience, this 4- to 5-hour trip is a great choice. Going to Mile 25 of the Park Road, this tour may not travel as far into Denali National Park as some other tours do, but it still offers a vivid look at the history and culture of this pristine wilderness.
You’ll begin to enter that wilderness around Mile 3. The taiga forest here makes for prime moose habitat, so keep an eye out for a flash of sun glinting off antlers, or moose nibbling fresh willow leaves along the road. You may also see foxes out trotting here; and look above the tree line for caribou. Around Mile 9, the awe-inspiring peak of Denali often comes into view if the weather is cooperating. At Mile 12, you’ll visit Savage Cabin, the original cook’s cabin in the park’s first tourist camp, and still a ranger patrol cabin used by the Park Service. At Mile 17, you’ll see a presentation by an Athabascan Alaskan Native interpreter, sharing the story of Alaskan Natives in Denali and how they survived thousands of years in this harsh wilderness.
Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour (7–8 hours)
The park’s most popular tour is a full-day experience with lots of opportunities to see wildlife. You’ll travel up to 62 miles into the park, increasing your odds of seeing wildlife and getting an up-close view of the Great One—Mt. Denali.
The deeper you travel into the park, the more varied the terrain and wildlife possibilities. You'll ride over high mountain passes and usually see Dall sheep on the mountainsides. If you're lucky, you'll spot bears, too. It’s also not uncommon to see wolves after you reach the Teklanika River. A high point of this tour is the drive over Polychrome Pass, which offers a grand view of the Plains of Murie, stretching out to the Alaska Range on the horizon. The colors of the mountains seem to change depending on the light and time of day. Just on the other side of this pass, you’ll check out the Toklat River and Toklat Bridge, and then continue on to Stony Hill Overlook, which provides truly inspiring views of North America’s highest peak.
Note: Tours before June 1 don’t go beyond the Toklat River (Mile 53), due to Park Road conditions.
Eielson Excursion Tour (8–9 hours)
This extended tour follows the same path as the Tundra Wilderness Tour, but instead of turning around at Mile 62, you’ll have the chance to visit the Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66. This is a beautiful structure built into the mountainside to better fit into its surroundings, and you’ll get off the bus and explore. There are daily ranger-led programs, a small art gallery, and hiking trails that radiate from the center—including a short, easy loop trail. Check with your driver to see how much time you have to explore before the return trip to the park entrance.
Note: There’s only one bus per day, which departs the Denali Bus Depot at 6:10 a.m.; due to limited availability, be sure to book in advance.
Kantishna Experience Tour (11–12 hours)
Travel to the very end of the Park Road and back—all 92 miles. This is a unique opportunity to experience the old gold-mining town of Kantishna and learn about Denali’s history in the Gold Rush, as well as its role in the formation of Interior Alaska. Of course, you’ll also learn about the park’s general history, along with its geology and wildlife, as you drive the length of the Park Road—plus, you’ll also stop at Wonder Lake, where you’ll be joined by a National Park Service Interpretive Ranger for a private tour of this gorgeous area.
Note: This tour departs only twice daily—at 6:15 and 7:30 a.m.—and returns between 6 and 7:30 p.m. There’s limited seating; advance reservations are recommended.