When planning our Alaska vacation, we allocated two full days (three nights) for Denali National Park. As time got closer, the house owner reminded us that buses should be reserved in advance. We started reading more deeply about Denali and buses.
We wanted to see the Denali Mountain and wildlife. Regarding wildlife photography, the park service says “While wildlife can be theoretically seen just about anywhere in the park, the most common wildlife viewing opportunities occur during a bus ride along the park road.”
As for seeing the Mountain, “While clear skies are common in deep winter, with intense cold locking up moisture, summer skies are often cloudy. Veteran bus drivers in Denali say that only one in three days offers glimpses of the mountain. If you are lucky enough to catch good weather, however, you can view the mountain from many places along the Park Road.” “The mountain is not visible from the park entrance.” To see the Mountain, you have to travel down the park road, which is only accessible by bus.
To best see the Mountain and wildlife, we made reservations to ride buses deep into the park for both days.
The map below shows the park road, which runs from the Denali Visitor Center (B on the map) past Wonder Lake (C on the map). Wonder Lake is about 80 miles from the Visitor Center, and the roundtrip bus ride takes all day. Most of the road is unpaved. The buses are old school buses, so they’re not comfortable. We went back and forth about how long we’d want to ride on the bus.
Note that the farther out you go on the park road, the closer you get to Denali, shown with a red bubble. Wonder Lake is the closest point on the road to Denali.
We wound up riding to Wonder Lake both days. It turned out that our first day was overcast and the second day was clearer and warmer. More wildlife was out on the cooler day, and this was our best day for seeing wildlife. We got better views of the mountain on the clearer day. So we got lucky with the weather — we saw both the Mountain and wildlife! 🙂