Eli Orzessek finds the answers to your travel questions.
My husband and I, budget travellers in our 70s, are flying to Hawaii and then to Anchorage in Alaska in September. I want to visit Denali National Park but can't seem to find specific information about whether one can get to and into the park by rental vehicle, or whether one can take a bus tour from Anchorage and what accommodation possibilities there are in or near the park. We would appreciate your help.
Denali is one of the more difficult national parks to get into in the US — it can take half a day or more and there's only one road entrance, along Alaska Highway 3. I've done a bit of research and received some tips from Anchorage tourism experts.
September is a seasonal transition time in Denali, so your options will vary depending on when you visit. The first half of September is still summer. You can rent a car in Anchorage and drive to Denali, take a train or scheduled motorcoach to the park from Anchorage.
Before September 15 you'll have the widest range of overnight options — stay in any of the park campgrounds (book through reservedenali.com, around US$12 to $27 a night) or one of the privately run lodges near the park entrance. You could find a place to stay outside the park; the closest communities are Healy and Cantwell and there are plenty of options there.
When you're ready to explore, remember private vehicles are only permitted on the first 24km of the park road. Beyond that, bus tours and transit shuttles are the best way to get deeper into the park.
In addition to the guided, narrated bus tours in the park run by Doyon/Aramark, guests can use transit shuttles to get out to any point along the road to explore on their own.
There have been a great number of improvements recently around the park entrance, with many new hiking trails added near the park's Visitor Centre.
You might also consider a visit to the sled dog kennels. Denali is the only national park that uses sled dogs for patrol, and in the summer, daily demonstrations showcase this unique aspect of protecting and caring for the park.
After September 15, things begin to shift to autumn operations with fewer guided activities. However, trails are accessible from the Murie Science and Learning Centre (which serves as the main visitors centre in autumn and winter) for self-guided day hikes.
Riley Creek Campground stays open year-round.
Though many of the private lodges near the park entrance close after the middle of September, some accommodations remain open year-round in Healy, a small town about 18km north of the park entrance. For a visit at this time, you'll need to rent a car and drive to the park, or arrange private transportation, as coach and rail operations taper off.
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