Cruise Tour Destinations -
Denali National Park

The Denali National Park region -

We know you’ve heard the slogan, “as Big as Texas,” well; Alaska is more than twice the size of Texas. For many of us the scale of our 50th state is difficult to comprehend. Denali National Park and biosphere, at six million acres, is larger than the state of Massachusetts. It is the largest continually protected ecosystem in the world with only one road winding through nature at its best. Private vehicles are restricted, a park service decision to protect the natural environment and prevent human interference. The wildlife is still here to watch and their behavior remains essentially the way it has for thousands of years.

Your access to this unspoiled wilderness will not come without some sacrifice. You’ll travel by bus down a dusty, gravel road hour after hour. The wildlife here is not on a schedule, it is not a zoo. If you and everyone else on the bus watch closely it’s likely you’ll see the “Big Five”, moose, caribou, grizzly bear, Dall sheep and wolf. Remember, there is no guarantee. Even if a ground squirrel is your only wildlife sighting, the scenery alone is worth the trip. The treeless tundra will provide you with views on a scale unknown of in the lower 48. And, if the weather cooperates, Mt. McKinley will fill the horizon.

Denali National Park is home to 20,320 foot-high Mount McKinley, North America’s highest mountain. Alaskans commonly refer to the mountain as “Denali” or “The Great One,” the original name given by the indigenous Athabascan people. The mountain more than lives up to its name, from base to summit the mountains vertical relief is greater than that of Mount Everest. As with all massive mountains, it makes its own weather. 30-40% of visitors never see the famous peak. The Great One is visible from several viewpoints along the 92-mile Denali National Park Road. If not obscured by clouds, you will be mesmerized by the magnificent grandeur of this mighty peak.

Many of the Alaska cruise tours offered in the Denali region include an excursion into Denali National Park as part of your cruise tour package. Below is brief introduction to the tours available…

Tundra Wilderness Tour: A 7-8 hour excursion going into the park with a certified driver-naturalist. The tour travels to at least mile 53 and provides in-depth information about the history of the park, while keeping a close watch for wildlife and photo opportunities. A box lunch and beverages are provided. Wheelchair accessible buses are available, and all stops are wheelchair accessible. The tour makes stops approximately every 90 minutes for restroom breaks. Advanced reservations are highly recommended.

Natural History Tour: Focusing on the rich and cultural history of the park, this 4 1/2 to 5 hour tour travels to Primrose Ridge (mile 17). This tour makes several interpretive stops that depict the diverse culture and early pioneer influences that make Denali special. Lead by your certified driver/naturalist you’ll visit Savage Cabin for a living history presentation, experience an Alaskan Native presentation about the culture and view the film “Across Time and Tundra,” which depicts early visitor experiences. A snack and beverage are provided. Wheelchair accessible buses are available, and all stops are wheelchair accessible.

The Kantishna Experience: Join both a Certified Interpretive Guide and a Denali National Park Service Interpretive Ranger on this all-day adventure to the end of the park road. This trip lasts 11-12 hours and travels 90 miles one-way. This unique experience provides you the opportunity to learn more about the park and follow the trails of Fannie Quigley to the old gold town of Kantishna where you’ll learn more about its interesting history and role in Interior Alaska. Lunch, a snack and beverages are provided. Some walking is involved.

Experience Denali: In 2005, the park superintendent challenged park partners and the tour industry to develop new park excursions that would not put further demand on the finite use of the park road. Alaska Geographic, working with Princess Tours developed this four-hour park excursion in 2006. Participants on these excursions do not partake in the formal bus tours and therefore the program has been very successful in alleviating bus traffic on the park road. Experience Denali introduces visitors to Denali National Park by encouraging them to see the park through the eyes of a scientist. Education staff leads an exploration of some of Denali’s habitats as they travel to the Savage River area, where they take a short walk and participate in hands-on activities. Participants learn about current research in Denali, how it helps us better manage the park and they "become researchers" by using some of the tools of scientists. Of special note, in 2008 Princess guests rated Experience Denali in the 88th percentile of all activities on their cruise tour package.

The park entrance fee is included in your cruise tour package.

Few Denali National Park visitors who take a park tour leave unhappy.

Tour descriptions courtesy of
The National Park Service and Alaska Geographic

The land portion of Alaska cruise tours that concentrate in the Denali region typically begin/end (depending on whether you are traveling northbound or southbound) in Anchorage (for Whittier & Seward) and Fairbanks. A sample itinerary might include a 7-day Vancouver to Anchorage cruise, followed by a 1-night stay in Anchorage, and a scenic ride by rail to Denali National Park for a 2-night stay before re-boarding the train and heading to Fairbanks for 2 more nights. Your tour ends here and you fly home from Fairbanks.

Included in this package is the Tundra Wilderness Tour offering a full-day (8-hours) of exploring the parks untouched wilderness and two very worthwhile activities in Fairbanks, a nostalgic paddle-wheel trip on the riverboat Discovery and an excursion to one of the areas legendary gold mines.

The length of your stay in a given destination will determine which tours are included as part of your package.

A shorter variation, skipping Fairbanks, might be a cruise combined with motor coach service direct to Denali National Park for a 2-night stay including a full-day excursion into the park followed by rail service to Anchorage to overnight and then fly home.

Our recommendation, to those considering this cruise tour region, is to select a package offering a 2-night stay near the park entrance. Why would you do this? You will probably arrive late in the afternoon of your first night in the area. Because of the distances that must be covered and your mode of transfer you’ll have an early start to your day as well.

For instance, let’s look at the longer sample itinerary above. You are departing Anchorage by rail. The train departs around 8 A.M. in the morning. It will arrive in Denali around 4 P.M. in the afternoon. Besides being tired are you really ready to climb on board a bus after 8 hours on the train? If you have the energy, you are better off to spend your time on an optional land excursion like flight seeing or rafting.

On your second day you’ll spend most of the day experiencing Denali National Park on the Tundra Wilderness tour, a long day on a bus, but well worth every minute.

Since you’ll be departing Denali by rail you’ll have the morning and most of the early afternoon to further explore. The train to Fairbanks will depart around 4 P.M. You may want to consider an optional activity in the morning or head back into the park to see some of what you may have missed the day before.

Even Alaska cruise tours that focus on parts of Alaska beyond the Denali National Park region include a visit to the area. There are a number of variations to choose from. Princess cruise line is arguably the strongest in this region over other lines.

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