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2 1/2 Days in Alaska: Denali National Park Tundra Wilderness Tour Bus

a marsh with snow covered mountains in the background

I kept waking up during the night to look out the window and see if I could catch that one hour of the day when it might be dark, but the darkest it ever got was twilight. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

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So a few hours later I headed to the lobby to check out and get on the Denali National Park Tundra Wilderness Tour Bus. Our bus was much nicer than I’d expected and not quite full, which was also nice since I was traveling alone. The seats were comfy, but having two to myself was luxury. Each seat also came with a cute boxed lunch, containing an orange, pepperoni, cabot cheese, a roll, trail mix, and chips.

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We had a great driver who’d been doing the tours for over 15 years and he helped us appreciate that apparently our views of Mt McKinley that morning were some of the best he’d seen in his entire tenure.

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And we had pretty good luck with the wildlife. Typically the tours try to hit the big 5 if possible: moose,  caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, and grizzly bears, and we hit 3 of them. We also saw many others animals including the elusive lynx.

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It wasn’t quite the summer wonderland I’d hoped it would be, apparently summer happens fast in Alaska but May 18 was one week too early for the wildflowers. The snow had just melted a few days before and the blooms wouldn’t be out for a another couple of days. Grrrr.

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What I appreciated most about the tour is how Aramark and the Park Service are working really hard to make the park accessible to everyone while maintaining its “wilderness†status. On the tour everyone is asked, on penalty of being kicked out, to be quiet when the bus stops in front of wildlife. All trash is hauled out of the park, almost hourly, to prevent animals from acclimating to humans and unnatural sources of food.

Because it was the first tour of the season and not all the park road hadn’t thawed and dried yet, we turned around at Toklat, mile 53.

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I’ll admit I was a little worried about spending 7-9 hours on a bus on a dirt road, particularly worried about available facilities, but everything was clean. It is a little disconcerting though that the toilets are just a seat covering a hole that goes down 25+ feet. I just knew that would be the one time I accidentally dropped my phone or jewelry in the toilet.

The tour dropped us off at the hotel by 2PM and I promptly jumped in the car and headed back for Anchorage. I’d debating staying over another night and driving to Seward from there, but it would be an 8 hour drive and I thought it would be best to break it up with a night in Anchorage, especially since I was pretty sleep deprived at that point.

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I’d also planned to stop on the way back and do a flightseeing tour but decided I should not try to push it and cram everything in, after all, if I liked it, I could come back. So I headed back to Anchorage arriving at the Sheraton Anchorage hotel at 7PM in bright sunlight.

Once in my room I started investigating my options and kept coming back to the whale watching tours that also included a glacier viewing. There was one company in particular, Alaska Saltwater Lodge & Tours, that limited the group size to 10 people or less and was still pretty affordable at $200, less than twice the price of boats that had up to 300 people.

But I wasn’t sure if I wanted to drive down early in the morning to make it, it would require leaving no later than 5AM to make sure I didn’t miss the boat. So I decided to let them decide for me, and called them to see if they had any last minute availability for the morrow.

They did and my lack of sleep fate was sealed. I briefly visited the lounge to grab some snacks, a soda, and take in the views and then I went to bed.

More From This Trip:

Cancelled Flights and Driving to Denali in a Rush
Harding Glacier and Whale Watching in Seward
Best Balcony Ever at the Holiday Inn Express Seward
Wildlife Conservation Center Near Portage


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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.

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