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Seward to Denali (and Anchorage afterward)

Nashville, Tennessee
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Seward to Denali (and Anchorage afterward)

We have a 7 day northbound RC cruise that sets sail June 1st, 2018 from Vancouver and ends in Seward. We'd like to spend a couple days in Denali after the cruise (myself, husband, and two children 9 and 5 at time of sailing). Correct me if I'm wrong, but the ways to get to Denali are as follows:

Train (must overnight in Anchorage)

Car rental

Bus

What are your recommendations for transportation there and later back to Anchorage? (Where I assume is where we'd fly back home.) I'm a little confused how it works, and looked through some threads, but most of them deal with driving from Anchorage to Seward. For example, one of my questions is that I read once you get to Denali, although a car would open up other possible lodging sites for you, you have nothing to do with your rental once you get there. I know there are motorcoaches/tours that take you through the park and various excursions, but could you not leave it at your lodging? (From what I read, you can't drive very far into the park - mile 15 I think, and maybe that's what they meant?)

Also, do you have any lodgings to recommend? I've heard of Princess Lodge, but that's it. And it seems to have mixed reviews. I looked at the map, and it looks like it's on the outside of the official "park" (makes sense) so not sure if that's one of the places you can actually drive to or not. Whether we did the full road or not (it was recommended perhaps not due to the childrens' ages), would you suggest flying out of the park? It seemed quite a timesaver. I've got a hundred tabs open doing research and if I can get the generalities down, I can start picking excursions and vendors - the fun part. :)

Edited: 09 June 2017, 03:20
21 replies to this topic
Winnipeg, Canada
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1. Re: Seward to Denali (and Anchorage afterward)

By far the best way to get to Denali is to rent a car. You can make stops along the way to break up the trip for the kids, also drive to whatever restaurants in the area you want to instead of being stuck at the entrance-area hotels.

There are only 3 lodgings within the park, and all are expensive ($500+ per night pp). If you can afford it, consider Camp Denali.

If you rent an RV instead of a car, there are campgrounds within the park you can stay at, though none have hook ups.

Otherwise there are lots of lodgings within a half hour drive of Denali. You can stay at Princess if you want to, but if you have a car you can access lots of nice places. When you are looking this far in advance, you'll have your choice of places in all price ranges, and in fact won't be able to book most of them until the end of the year (but let the owner know your intentions). McKinley Creekside family cabin is nice, and there are all sorts of nice homes available on VRBO. Also check Denali Chamber of Commerce.

"you have nothing to do with your rental once you get there"

Sure you do. You can drive to tours (rafting, etc.), drive to the WAC (where you board the shuttles), drive to your lodging, drive to restaurants, etc. If you book your vehicle 9 to 11 months in advance you should get a very good price. If you do stay at one of the entrance-area hotels such as Princess, sure you can use their shuttles...but you have to go on their timetable, not your own. And why would you stay in a big, crowded hotel when you can stay in a lovely cabin or private home for LESS?

If you want a train ride, take the train from Seward to Anchorage to pick up your rental vehicle. Though you might want to double back an hour over the most scenic stretch to visit Wildlife Conservation Center. I'd suggest either a Kenai Fjords wildlife/glacier cruise the day you are in Seward, then head up to Anchorages (bus or train). At Denali I'd suggest no further than Eielson due to your youngest child, 8 hours is long enough to expect him/her to sit quietly. Though a good idea would be to plan a picnic/hike at Eielson to give everyone a nice break, then take a different shuttle back to the entrance. Also bring along quiet games, extra batteries, and lots of snacks.

Anchorage, Alaska
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2. Re: Seward to Denali (and Anchorage afterward)

Nothing to do with a car in/at Denali...

- I visit Denali twice a year, I couldn't imagine doing it without my car. My favorite part of the trip is self-driving to the Savage River turn-around. Looking at/for scenery/wildlife.

Nashville, Tennessee
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3. Re: Seward to Denali (and Anchorage afterward)

Thank you! I was secretly hoping for a rental. I would like to do just that in terms of picking our own restaurants and a more hand-picked lodging. I'm sure we'll take a leisurely multi-stop tour and just enjoy the trip. Just to make sure I'm understanding you, you're saying it's 8 hours from Seward (or Anchorage?) but not 8 hours inside the park? I thought I read somewhere but can't find it now, that it was much less than that, but I could be wrong. Or maybe you meant 8 hours drive for both ways in the park? What do we miss if we only do the first part? I know Wonder Lake and Polychrome Pass are in the park, but not sure where. (Hoping the mosquitoes won't be terrible then).

And wanted to say, I'd read a previous post of yours and have already put a Kenai Fjords cruise on the list of must-dos because of that!

Nashville, Tennessee
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4. Re: Seward to Denali (and Anchorage afterward)

Ok, now I don't know what to think. One site said 5 hours (but not sure if that was to the Visitor's Center or where) and another says 12-13 hours (that's to the end of the road), so I guess it is even longer than I thought. Yikes. I'm looking for a good map of the park now.

Healy, Alaska
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for Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
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5. Re: Seward to Denali (and Anchorage afterward)

For Denali park info, the best site is www.nps.gov/dena.

Don't figure it all out tonight - you have plenty of time to research well. :)

Winnipeg, Canada
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6. Re: Seward to Denali (and Anchorage afterward)

Just to clarify: the drive from Anchorage to Denali is 5 to 6 hrs. depending on traffic/construction slow ups. Keep in mind that Alaska has mostly 2-way highways, no fancy interstates, so that can slow things up considerably.

Once at Denali you can drive the first 14 miles into the park to Savage River. Beyond that point you have to be on a tour bus or a shuttle. The minimum distance we recommend to view scenery and look for wildilfe is Eielson, an 8 hour round trip (that includes a stop at Eielson for about 45+ min.) With shuttles, you can get off almost anywhere if the kids are getting antsy, do a hike, then flag down a later shuttle back to the entrance. But most kids the ages of yours would be able to tolerate and even enjoy the trip. Be sure to pick up free Jr. Ranger kits, and as I said, take along quiet games/snacks to keep them busy. Most kids do get bored just looking at scenery, so make sure they have fun things to keep them quietly busy so that YOU can enjoy the scenery.

I wouldn't suggest Wonder Lake for a 5 year old. That's 11 hrs. And the longest trip, to Kantishna, is 13 hours. There is no point in going that far unless you were staying there overnight.

"What do we miss if we only do the first part?"

The best scenery and who knows how much wildlife (every trip is different, no way of knowing how little or how much you will see).

As for mosquitoes, there likely will be some but not that many except at Wonder Lake. Another reason not to go that far. In June and July they can be awful at the lake, though not always. Regardless, you'll want to take along DEET if you do any hiking.

New York City, New...
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7. Re: Seward to Denali (and Anchorage afterward)

Did you check the projected date when the park opens and the tour buses start running?

Winnipeg, Canada
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8. Re: Seward to Denali (and Anchorage afterward)

I would not recommend a tour bus--expensive, and the kids can't get off if they get tired. The Eielson shuttle is available starting June 1. Farther into the park, June 8.

Lake Tahoe...
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9. Re: Seward to Denali (and Anchorage afterward)

We are beyond the family situation now and it is just my wife and myself. Your cruise line should offer transfers direct to Anchorage (assuming you don't wish to hang out in Seward). Rent you car at Anchorage. There are several agencies, at the airport and/or off site. We ALWAYS make advance reservations (too early for 2018 though). Do use the shuttles in the park vs those tours, such as Tundra Wilderness, as they are far cheaper, plus the fact that kids ride free.

Nashville, Tennessee
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10. Re: Seward to Denali (and Anchorage afterward)

Thanks for clarifying on the shuttle bus vs tour buses. That was something I was unclear about. And k2iks, have you ever rented a car out of Seward? If it was just my husband and I, we for sure would do the whole park, more for the views per se than the wildlife. I've seen my fair share of bears here in TN, but our mountains are much smaller. I know I've got time to decide, and my kids are troopers I will say for our 13 hours drives to Disney World which is usually annually, but I am going to put this out there as well: is there anyone who suggests a flightseeing tour of Denali out of Anchorage instead of actually driving to the park? I've wanted to go to Denali forever, but I would hate to feel like our last few days are packed with driving and I still might not get to see all that I want. I'm thinking of planning a second trip already so it's not like I don't have another shot at it. If we do, it will be a land-only tour, although I'm sure I'll love the cruise. But now I wonder if all the glaciers and whale watching and fjords and beauty up to that point might kind of trump Denali. Please, no one stone me! I've never been, and all the pictures are beautiful, sometimes though it's something you have to see in person to understand. Like for me, the Grand Canyon can't be captured in a photograph at all.

Oh and Okvik, yes, Maple_Marshmallows is right on the buses running. I checked before I made my cruise reservation.

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