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Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake

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Baltimore
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Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake

We are beginning to plan for a trip to Alaska next June and I am a little confused. I have been reading a great deal about the shuttle system in Denali National Park. My impression from the forum is that most people are concerned that even booking an early morning trip (before 7AM) to Wonder Lake will not leave them enough time to explore the area. From reading the 2007 shuttle schedule (June 8-28), it seems that 2-3 hours would be available even without depending on the final shuttle departure at 5:20PM. Am I reading the shuttle schedule properly?

How long is the hike from Wonder Lake to Reflection Pond? Would there be enough time to catch a returning shuttle?

Thanks for all of the great advice. Seems that I may need to plan for at least a week long stay in the Denali area.

fti
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1. Re: Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake

I love Denali and I stay there 3-4 nights every time I go.

If you take an early shuttle, you easily have 3-5 hours to get off, hike, etc before taking the last shuttle back.

If you hike from where the shuttle bus lets you off at Wonder Lake (near the campground) it is a 1-1/2 mile hike to Reflection Pond. But if Mt. McKinley is out, do this:

Ask the shuttle bus driver to drop you off at the "Y" - he goes left toward the Wonder Lake campground, you walk right toward Kantishna. Then it is maybe 1/4-1/2 mile from there to Reflection Pond. Then you can either walk back to the Y to get a shuttle bus, walk to Wonder Lake campground or walk toward Wonder Lake campground to the McKinley Bar Trail and hike there (recommended in my opinion - easy but nice hike).

Healy, Alaska
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2. Re: Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake

Thanks fti for such a great answer . . . I always struggle with the time thing - so much for being a local expert!

I think spending a week here sounds like a great idea . . . too many people are only here for a day trip and that's about it. There is so much to see and do - best of luck as you continue your planning! :)

Michigan
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3. Re: Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake

fti,

I have been reading that if you go all the way to Wonder Lake, and get off to hike, you may not be able to get on a later shuttle back...they may all be full...I am a little concerned about being stranded at Wonder Lake. Any insights here?

fti
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4. Re: Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake

If you take an early shuttle out, you will have 4-5 different shuttles that can bring you back to the entrance plus 1 or 2 camper buses that are never full. Shuttle buses depart with at least 4 empty seats on them to pick up hikers and backcountry campers. And the park service emphasizes that no one will be left in the park against their will. So I am sure it will work out. Be sure to bring a bus schedule with you and be sure you don't miss the last shuttle. And if you get off at Wonder Lake and get back on there, you won't have any problem getting a seat since that is the turnaround point. It is when you try to get on when you are at about mile 40 that the buses can be full already on the return, having already picked up hikers. But there will always be another bus that has room - you just have to wait 15-20 minutes.

Michigan
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5. Re: Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake

thanks fti for sharing your knowledge. I feel a little better now.

Baltimore
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6. Re: Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake

Thanks fti and coalminer. We were originally planning to do a Princess Cruise and Land Tour, but even the longest tour only allowed about 2.5 days between the Denali Princess Lodge and the McKinnley Princess Lodge. Considering the distances, the time spent on buses/trains, and the reviews about some of these packaged tours, I can't imagine traveling to Alaska and trying to see and experience one of the great national parks in such a short amount of time. So my new plan is to consider planning a 10 day self guided trip before boarding a southbound cruise.

Anyone have ideas for "must sees" that can be completed in a 10 day period without going at a breakneck pace. We enjoy beautiful scenery and wildlife and are novice hikers (although we are working to improve both our stanima and navigation skills).

Thanks for any advice.

fti
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7. Re: Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake

I did a Princess cruise last year but I knew from the start that I wanted to do an independent land tour. Ten days is a lot of time. I will probably let others like Coalminer and Manitoba Maple give you more specific itineraries but I would spend an absolute minimum of two nights at Denali NP, three if you want to do any hiking. Arrive day 1, maybe see the exhibits and film in the Visitor Center, maybe drive the first 15 miles of the park road. Day 2 all day shuttle bus to Wonder Lake. Day 3 sleddog demos and light hiking near park entrance then leave. If staying one more night, perhaps sign up on day 1 for a Discovery HIke with a ranger for this day (see www.nps.gov/dena then look for things to do, ranger programs, walks and hikes). Costs $29 and can be a moderate or strenuous hike but no fears of wildlife encounters on your own since there is a group of 11. You could also do rafting near there if you are interested in that.

Other places that might be of interest are Talkeetna (especially for flightseeing), Hatcher Pass/Independence Mine area, Fairbanks, Homer and Seward to name a few. If it were me with 10 days, I would concentra on Denali, Homer and Seward and maybe throw in Talkeetna and Hatcher Pass "on the way." You could also take an eastern route toward Valdez but if this is your first time, I would stick with about 2-3 nights in each of these places. You will need a night in/near Anchorage en route from Denali to the Kenai Peninsula.

John

Healy, Alaska
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8. Re: Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake

I totally agree with John about the additional places to see in Alaska. It seems to be what most people do - and then hit additional places if they have the time.

Good for you to be doing these things - I think you will love your trip up here . . . but then you have quite a bit of time to research and plan, as well as build up excitement! :)

Manitoba, Canada
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9. Re: Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake

John gave you some good ideas to think about (BTW, John, thanks for the clarifications on the shuttles. I’d been wondering about that too!)

With your interest in national parks and hiking, I agree that you could easily keep yourselves busy for 3 to 4 days at Denali. Did what John describe sound like what you’d want to do? Another idea is take a second, shorter shuttle into the park so you can do a longer hike at a different spot (have a day in between when you do your rafting, etc). Or instead of going to Wonder Lake, perhaps you might want to stay at Kantishna for a night. Lots of things to consider. Start writing down the things you’d most like to do and the approximate times it would take to do them, and that will let you know how many days to spend at Denali.

Will you be renting a car or RV, or using public transportation? Or some of each?

Since you want a relaxing trip, I think I’d skip Fairbanks (hopefully you’ll to come back to Alaska another time and see it then—it’s only an hour’s flight from Anchorage). I suggest you concentrate on Denali, then the Palmer area (Hatcher Pass, Independence Mine, Musk Ox Farm) and perhaps an hour west to Matanuska glacier and do a glacier trek. Then head down the scenic drive to Seward with many pullouts for photo ops, perhaps stopping at Girdwood overnight to go up the tram if the weather is nice, maybe visit Crow Creek Mine and try your hand at goldpanning. Nearby is Portage Glacier. Check out the visitor center, maybe take the one-hour boat tour to the face of the glacier. If you didn’t go to Matanuska Glacier, then you can hike an hour to the face of Byron Glacier. Also visit the Wildlife Conservation Center. In Seward, go on at least a 6 hour Kenai Fjords cruise to see wildlife and a calving glacier. Also visit the SeaLife Center . Do you like kayaking? How about fishing? Seward is great for both. Would you be interested in hiking the Harding Icefield? How about touring a sled dog kennel and taking a dog sled ride, either wheeled sled on land, or regular sled on a glacier?

Texas
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10. Re: Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake

NewEmptyNest,

I would suggest bringing insect repellent that contains deet or wear head net for wonder lake. I was there during end of June, there were a lot of mosquitos and they are big :)