Last year we did a 6 days trip in Alaska before taking a cruise, you can find my posts from back then. I came back here for the single purpose of making this warning - if you are short on time then don't waste your time on Denali park!!!
We had only 6 days but listened to everybody and did the 12 hours Denali bus ride, taking up a whole day. During our 6 days trip in Alaska we have seen all possible wildlife that one would expect to see in Alaska - BUT NONE IN DENALI !! It was the biggest waste of time EVER.
Yes, we have seen SOME animals (mountain goats, one bear) but from SUCH A DISTANCE, that it was absolutely RIDICULOUS . The only way you could recognize the animal is if you took a photo of it with your digital camera, with a x20 zoom lens, and then zoomed MORE digitally on your LCD screen! I am NOT kidding!
On the other 5 days of our trip, driving first to Valdez and then to Whittier we have seen FAR MORE WILDLIFE - ON THE HIGHWAY! Without paying an entrance fee, without sitting in a bus for 12 hours, etc!
On the way to Valdez we have seen a number of bear families crossing the road, mother and two cubs. We drove slowly next to them and then stopped the car for about 10 minutes while they were having their lunch.
In Alaska if you want to see wildlife - all you need is to drive on the highway !
It seems that Denali park enjoys good marketing and hype from the cruise industry and/or state officials, but if you have only a few days in Alaska and you are thinking about doing the bus ride, without actual hiking or camping, then there is absolutely no reason for you to waste a whole day there.
You cannot imagine the frustration of sitting on a bus for 12 hours and not seeing any wildlife. because the animals know to get away from the roads and hide up on the mountains.
The situation was so bad that some kids yelled "stop" to the bus driver (which is what you should do if you spot wildlife) for spotting squirrels !! (the same kind of squirrels you can spot in Central Park or anywhere else in America)