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September definitely is a lower travel season in Alaska. I am not sure what you mean by fround tour - please explain. I would take the shuttle bus inside Denali National Park and it can never hurt to reserve that in advance. But if you show up and have flexibility and more than 1 day in the park, you can just show up and hope for the best.
Other than that, you can just "wing it" as we say. The only problem with not having reservations is that you waste precious time trying to find a place, figuring out which is available, which has a good price or a good location, etc. But reservations are not essential.
You will get some better deals in September for sure - fewer people, etc! The prices will be great. There are lots of little cabins and such that have much better prices than the touristy hotels.
Everything is shut down around Denali in mid September. The park will close bus service mid Sept. - around the 17th. All this info with specific dates is on the NP (National Park) website.
However, they keep the Murie Science & Learning center staffed with Rangers year round, and the dog teams are still for winter travel for the rangers and you can always drive in the 13 miles to Savage River as long as the roads are open. We love stopping by and seeing the dogs with our little boy (9 a.m. - 4 p.m.). It was during the off season I saw an entire wolf pack!
Here is another idea - You can apply for a lottery to drive into the park I believe Sept 18-21 of 2009. The deadline this year (I am FOR SURE on this) is June 30 - so MUST apply June 1-30.
If you are not awarded a ticket - you can check out Alaska Craigslist. Some people need to trade dates, sell dates, or are just willing to give them away. I would recommend posting a "Wanted" posting once lottery spots have been awarded. They will post on the NP website, so you can check to see if you have a spot before you post.
We did this last year and it was AWESOME. A long drive - good weather. Some years it's raining or snowing- you just never know. Saw several bears, goats, ptarmigan, fox, moose.
Seward and Valdez - should have no problems getting hotels. You should be able to get a good rate. The one thing about Alaska is - sometimes there can be a great fishing weekend, or a big event going on - so I would call ahead as much as you know just so you aren't stranded!
You can always camp out of your car too if desperate - lol!
My personal rule of thumb is that if there is something (activity, particular lodging) that I _really really_ want to do, I will make a booking for it regardless if I will be visiting during the offseason. When visiting Cairns, Australia in the off-season, I was told by many "don't worry, just show up", and as it turns out for one particular activity we couldn't get reservations even a month in advance. I had known I had wanted to do that thing 6 months prior, and I should have trusted my gut and booked it then.
Now I know Alaska is not Australia. But I have learned my lesson, and that's my particular approach no matter where I go. I'm going to be in Seward towards the end of August, when things are winding down, but I still booked my cabin last October. I found one I fell in love with and didn't see the point in waiting.
Care824, good advice.
I had my hotels/B&B's and my "must-do" tours for my late August/early September trip booked months ago. If people know their itinerary, no reason not to pre-book the important things. It's different for those who are just cruising around in an RV or car with no precise plans of when they have to be somewhere, but those of us who have our itineraries pretty much set in stone have no reason to wait.
Besides, some places offer early-booking discounts. I've saved hundreds of dollars on pre-booked accommodations, tours, and car rental. :-)
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