One of the best ways to see some of the six million acre Denali National Park and Preserve is by bus. There is one road, Denali Park Road, into Denali National Park and Preserve. The Park Road is paved for the first 15 miles to Savage River. Private vehicles are allowed to drive to that point. After Savage River, the road is dirt/gravel and travel is restricted to park buses or campers going to the Teklanika River Campground. We chose to camp at the Teklanika “Tek” River Campground and were able to drive our RV to Tek, which is located about 29 miles from the park entrance.
Buses leave from the entrance visitor center area throughout the day and can take tourists up to 92 miles into the park ending at Kantishna, which is a twelve hour roundtrip. There are a range of trips shorter than that. The buses make several scheduled stops along the way and also pull over for wildlife viewing. We opted to take a bus tour to Wonder Lake at mile 84, which is an eleven hour roundtrip from the entrance. Since we were staying at Tek, we were able to shave 2 hours off of the roundtrip time, as we were picked up about an hour after the bus had left the entrance area and dropped off an hour early. Our bus stopped at 3 rest areas (Tek Rest Area, Toklat Ranger Station, and the Eielson Visitor Center) and the scenic Polychrome Pass. There is also a restroom available at Wonder Lake. Most restrooms were vault toilets, but Eielson Visitor Center has modern facilities. The buses were similar to school buses.
We were picked up at the campground bus shelter about 8:00 am. On our way to Wonder Lake, we saw multiple grizzly bears, caribou and two bull moose. There were many ground squirrels, and birds. We saw more bears, caribou and a female moose on our return trip. Whenever anyone spotted wildlife and would call out, our driver pulled over and we were given ample wildlife viewing opportunity.
While we only caught a glimpse of Mount Denali, the landscape throughout our trip was breathtakingly beautiful. We drove through subalpine (subarctic) and arctic alpine (tundra). We saw numerous braided rivers, endless valleys, innumerable mountains, wildflowers, snow covered peaks, glaciers, forests of spruce and birch, lakes and ponds. My overall impression of Denali was one of awe at the vastness of the wilderness. I did not want our tour to end.
People interested in backpacking or day hiking use the same buses and can be dropped off almost anywhere along the park road. There are a couple of closure areas that are off limits to people. For day hiking you get off a bus, hike and then flag down a return bus when you are finished. Exploration on foot is encouraged. A bus schedule is posted, but the times can deviate based on stopping for wildlife viewing. We could have accessed the bus system from our Riley Creek Campground or Denali RV Park.