Before I got to Denali, I was told that the wildlife was amazingly abundant and I will be able to see "lots of animals". So, naturally, I envisioned something like Discovery Channel, where I would be bombarded with herds of Dall sheep, caribou, moose and grizzlies. It's not like that at all. On the way into the Kantishna in the heart of the Park, we saw 3 grizzlies, one caribou, one moose and a herd of Dall sheep off in the distance near a mountain peak, and a few ptarmigans. On the return we saw a single solitary grizzly in the distance and a handful of ptarmigans during the entire 4 hour trip.
If you go with the right frame of mind and set of expectations, you will not be disappointed. It is a thrill when you see a grizzly, and we had a real treat when we saw a mother and her cub. But it will NOT be like Discovery Channel (which condenses hundreds of hours of footage into a spectacular 30 min segment). Typically, the animals you will see will not be close to the bus so be sure to bring your binoculars.
Even if the wild animals might be on the scarce side, there is nothing scarce about the natural and beautiful scenery of Denali National Park. The expaniveness, the remoteness, the pristine wildnerness are all amazing. We had the good fortune of having fabulous weather for our trip in, and the less good fortune of having constant rain on our trip back four days later.
This picture was taken facing Mt. McKinley, which is visible only about 20% of the time during the summer. The only thing that prevented us from seeing Mt. McKinley clearly on this day was the smoke from wild fires burning several hundreds of miles away. Our time would come later, just not on the trip from the Park entrance to Kantishna.
We were up at the crack of dawn, 05:00, for the 13 hour Wilderness Tour. The tour consists of a long bus ride into Denali Park with the bus driver being your guide. The buses they use are the large American school buses. They have to sturdy and reliable to be able to tackle the roads in all weathers.
What you see on the tour is really up to the luck of the draw to some degrees. We did se a varied amount of wildlife but they were off far in the distance and certainly if this tour was my only chance of seeing wildlife I would have been disappointed.
The tour sets of with some coffee and home made cookies and heads off into some beautiful scenery. When animals were spotted, by either the guide or we crew members, the bus would stop and turn off engines, if necessary, and we would get the binoculars out, not forgetting the cameras, although you’d need a pretty decent zoom to do the animals any justice. One interesting spot that we saw close up was a pack of Wolves, cubs and a mother.
A long and winding road lay ahead, great scenery around Wonder lake and a small sighting of Denali mountain.
A couple of toilet stops on the way and we stopped off for lunch at 1pm at the lodge, which would be the furthest point we would go into the park. On thing to say would be that you travel into the park on one road and travel back on the same. However, this means that if there were no animals on the way out, there maybe some on the way home.
Whilst at lunch we were given the opportunity to take a talk on the Iditarod dog sledging race. This was given by the son of a great musher who had won the race in the past, completing 14 out of 15 races he took part in..
We were then back on the bus at 3pm and back at the hotel at around 8.15pm. Then it was off to the McKinley Roadhouse for a well earned beer or two and a plate of ribs for me and Halibut for Nic!
A good trip if you have limited time to explore the park.
Travel through the beauty of a taiga forest and over the rolling tundra within Denali National Park. At any moment you may suddenly encounter a caribou, moose, bear, wolf, Dall sheep, eagle or dozens of other varieties of wildlife. So keep a steady eye and your binoculars and camera ready. You never know what you might see!
Duration: appr. 6-8 hours
This tour is a long day with a (usually) very early start, but we found it entirely worth it. We did get to see four of the "Denali Big Five." These are Dall Sheep, Moose, Grizzly Bears, Wolves and Caribou (we saw all but the moose, hoping to see one when we go back in July). Most are pretty far away, so do bring binoculars and a zoom lens. In between animal sightings, the drivers talk some about the history of the park, and the scenery is gorgeous.
Animal sightings can be very interesting- you can be on a bus along a barely one-lane road hanging on the side of a steep hillside, and the bus driver all of a sudden stops, points up and slightly behind you and says "Grizzly Bear." My thought always was "How did he see that? Shouldn't he be looking at the road so we don't go off the side of the cliff?" However, at the same time, I was glad for it, because the guys who drive these buses know exactly what they are looking for- I would have never seen that there was a mother and cub up among all the brush.
The drivers going opposite directions do also stop and talk to each other if one has seen something not too far back on their route, so that the other bus driver knows where to look, so that everyone has the most opportunity to see animals as possible.
The Tundra Wilderness Tour (at least for us) included a box lunch, and hot chocolate overlooking a river deep in the park before turning around. There are a few scheduled stops each direction for bathroom breaks (real bathrooms) and scenery pictures, and then, of course, any number of unscheduled stops for wildlife.
It's a long day, but you'll see great things!
OK so there are two different tours you can take - the normal Denali Park tour or the full Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE listen to me when I tell you to take the full tundra day tour. It takes you about 60km further into the park then what the other Denali Tour would - which means - more to see and more wildlife. Yes it is a long day but it is so worth it. You get up early in the morning and board a bus (yes one of those old school buses) and set out for the day. The drivers have so much knowledge and experience of the park to share its hard to remember some of it! Some of the wildlife we saw was:
Bears (and quite a few of them too!)
You may even get to see Denaili (Mount McKinley) if it is a clear day. Some of the roads are pretty hairy as you will climb right to the edge but trust me you are in safe hands :-)
The tour also comes with a packed lunch and bathroom stops.
Take the Tundra 91 mile tour into the park rather than the 21 mile Natural history tour. Short tour is full of fluff and we saw no animals at all. We were on a Cruise-Tour that selected the short tour, which gave a good look at the landscape but not at any wildlife at all.
Take a Denali Park tour in a converted school bus. Private cars are only allowed to Mile 15 on the Park Road, so busses are the way to see it. Terry was an entertaining guide, and good at spotting wildlife. No bears on this drive the day I went, but we did see a number of moose, and some distant white specks that were sheep.. Terry says there are about 2500 moose in the park.
There are several tours of different lengths. I was only able to do the short one, but I would have preferred the all-day tour. TIP: Don't go at the very end of the season. Our short tour was even shorter that it was supposed to be, as part of the road seemed to be closed already.
Park Concessioner: Doyon/ARA-MARK Joint Venture.
A quite old bus took us around Denali's Tundra. Wildlife did show up but so far away that you would need binoculars plus a great zoom lens to get the pictures.
Drive Denali's tundra in search of wildlife. You will encounter a lot of it, although they won't be very close. Bring your zooms.
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