Canyon Area - Some good, some bad
The Canyon Area just north of Denali Park is across the street from the big tour company resorts and most of the shops are geared to that crowd. Be careful about buying the first souveniers that catch your eye as many shops carry same/similar iteems and the prices can vary greatly.
Also, if you get a chance to go to a Wal-mart or Fred Meyers, they carry a lot of the same t-shirts, socks, sweatshirts, etc at almost half the price.
Unique Suggestions: There are a few neat little shops like the Husly Homestead that have unique souveniers compared to the bigger gift shops. Also, the Salmon Bake Rest. has good food and beer.
The Great One isn't the End All Be All of Alaska
Denali can be worth it, but as an alternative, consider driving south, or better yet, take the train.
I think there are a lot more options and prettier scenery if you go south from Anchorage. All in all, seems like more bang for your buck with a short trip.
If the weather is really great, though, I would drive North far enough to check out the scenic turn out. You can't see the mountain at all from the actual entrance to Denali National Park, (I spent two summers there, and this was one of the top questions tourist asked,) and even otherwise, only something like less than 30% of all summer tourists get to see the mountain at all.
Most people I talked to did not specifically enjoy the bus tour into the park, it is very long, the seats are uncomfortable and crowded, and you are still not gauranteed to see wildlife (though many do). Unless you have the time to take the less crowded camper bus and do some day hikes or an overnight, I'd skip it.
Unique Suggestions: Flight seeing from Talkeetna or DNP is well worth it, even on days Denali may not be fully visible from the ground since the planes go above cloud cover.
Fun Alternatives: So, unless you'd consider some flight-seeing (Worth It!) you're less likely to be disappointed by going south of Anchorage for a few days, checking out Girdwood, Seward, and maybe making it down to Kenai for some salmon fishing or Homer if you want to do Halibut or just get out on the water. (It's great just to take a boat tour on a nice day, good bird watching and sea life viewing, nice hikes, camping on the spit is fun, too.)
- Road Trip
- National/State Park
Please Don't Act the Fool
Wildlife displays exist at many stops along the park road, but these are meant to educate rather than entertain. Since it violates federal regulations to remove anything from the park (from a ram's horn to a grizzly's tooth to a sprig of spruce), the park might intend these items to be hands-on to overcome a visitor's temptation to find (and swipe) authentic versions out in the field.
Unique Suggestions: If you're going to lie down on the grizzly's pelt at the Teklanika bus stop, don't hold a piece of fruit in your mouth or insert one into the bear's mouth for your photo album. If you're going to pick up the caribou antlers at Eielson Visitor Center, for the love of Mary do NOT lift them over your head and playfully spar caribou-like with your spouse or children, or ram the buses with your new weapons.
Fun Alternatives: Touch, photograph, and by all means ask questions, but leave the play-acting to the game room at home.
- Family Travel
- National/State Park
Instant Answers: Denali National Park and Preserve
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