Bus Trip Views – Denali National Park, AK

Since personal vehicles are only allowed on the first 15 of the park road’s 89 miles most visitors to Denali National Park take some sort of bus trip to explore deeper in the park. Staying at Camp Denali, near the end of the road, we took the bus in on one day and out again 3 days later. The in-bound trip was on a day of turbulent clouds blocking views of Denali, but also creating dramatic landscapes. The out-bound trip was on a perfect bluebird day with views of Denali, albeit with somewhat hazy skies. Below are photos from each experience.

Bus Trip – Park Entrance to Camp Denali

We met the Denali Camp folks at the appointed time, 12:15, for a 1:15 departure. They have two buses that drive the 5 and half hours to Denali Camp. Every other row in the bus was blocked off and they wanted you to wear masks even though everyone was supposed to be vaccinated.

The converted school bus has a comfortable seating arrangement as it is retro-fitted with much more legroom between seats. The better views heading out are on the driver side of the bus, though with every other row blocked it was easy to switch sides for a moment to take a photo.

The first part of the drive through the boreal forest has pretty views but nothing compared to the great expanses of tundra and snowy peaks a couple of hours in. We had turbulent skies with significant cloud cover on the mountains, especially at the beginning of the trip, but with patches of blue and of dark storm clouds it made for a stunning setting. The views only got better as we got closer to Camp Denali. I was barely missing Denali, though he remained on my mind. Would I see him? They say Denali is only visible 30% of the time.

The bus stopped several times for views, bathroom breaks and wildlife viewing.

As far as wildlife sightings we only saw bigger animals from very far away – Dall sheep on the ridge and at least a half a dozen sightings of caribou. We did, however, see a red fox by the side of the road.

Our guide and bus driver, Drew, was knowledgeable and talked about the history of the park, geological formations (his specialty) and the wildlife.

About an hour into the bus ride they served a bento box with mixed nuts and dried fruit; fresh vegies – carrots, celery and sugar peas; salmon spread; hard cheese and crackers.

We reached camp at about 7PM.

Bus Trip Camp Denali to the Park Entrance

This morning’s ride was spectacular for seeing everything that there is to be seen landscape-wise along the almost 5 hour drive with nothing hidden behind a cloud. However, it was not the prettiest day on the road. Despite the unsettled weather I found previous days to have clearer air and more dramatic landscapes, with a variety of cloud formations including rain falling in the distance.

Later in the ride it was great fun finding Denali in the distance. In so many views the giant ice cream scoop makes an obvious appearance towering over lesser peaks.

We had a couple of good wildlife sightings as well – a golden eagle soaring above, a bull caribou wandering towards the bus, and Dall sheep high on the hill tops.

If you have a choice of seats choose the driver’s side for the drive to camp and the opposite side for the way back. Almost all the views are on one side of the bus. With the bus only half full and every other seat blocked off because of Covid, you can easily switch to the opposite side of the bus to take photos.

Drew narrated most of the way back – animals, geology, glaciology and mountain climbing stories. His repertoire is surprisingly vast with little repetition from the in-bound trip.

Make sure to bring water with you. None is provided on the bus. They do, however, give you a homemade, yummy granola bar about an hour from the entrance.

We reached the train depot at 11:30, right on schedule.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Alaska page.

June 11 and 14, 2021