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A bit overwhelmed about best use of time (single traveler)

New York City, New...
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A bit overwhelmed about best use of time (single traveler)

Hi all.

So, I'm reserved round-trip on the Denali Star and four nights at the Denali Bluffs at the end of August, and the only thing left to do is lock my within-park transportation.

I understand that Wonder Lake would be a commitment to a full day on the shuttle without doing much more than eating a bagged lunch at Eilson, confirming whether or not the mountain is out while at Eilson, and getting a quick photo op at Reflection Pond before turning back. Although I've read for many years that it's a must-do, I've been reading conflicting opinions on whether or not "going the distance" is worth it. Some people are saying yes if the mountain is out, while others are saying time is better spent in the Eilson area even if the mountain is an all-clear to go, so now I'm not quite sure what to do. I assume I should get the 3 days for 2 option, but the question is, to Wonder or Eilson? I'm aware that I have to be very flexible due to the changeablity of the weather, and that even with three days there's a possibility of the mountain not being out at all during my stay.

Going solo, I obviously plan not to put myself in any danger so will only be venturing off the bus with plenty of other people around. I plan to do the Ranger-led Eilson Stroll one day, and possibly the Nature Walk from the main Visitor Center, but does anyone have advice for other must-dos which I can do safely? From what I've been reading, I should also do the Savage River Loop for good chances to see the Park's smaller wildlife (enough other people walking it withstanding).

Finally, I've read that the shuttles make bathroom stops every 15 minutes, but are there opportunities for refilling water bottles? Do I need to buy a hydration pack for this vacation, and if so, what capacity should I choose?

Thanks for any advice.

5 replies to this topic
Winnipeg, Canada
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1. Re: A bit overwhelmed about best use of time (single traveler)

"I've read that the shuttles make bathroom stops every 15 minutes"

No. If they did that they'd never get more than a few feet from the entrance. By the time everyone got off the bus and back on it would be time for another stop.... Potty stops are about every 1.5 hours.

I know you can refill water bottles at Eielson, I don't believe there is water available anywhere else. If you don't plan to remain on your original shuttle (and thus could leave everything on board), make sure you have a backpack or something to carry your water and other belongings.

As for the photo op at Reflection Pond, that is seldom available. First the Mountain has to be visible (usually shrouded in clouds) and second there has to be no wind. Even a slight breeze causes ripples that ruin the reflection shot. Your shuttle driver should have a good idea if the shot is possible or not.

To leave your options open, book Wonder Lake. It doesn't cost a lot more and you can decide on each day how far you want to go.

IMO the view from Eielson is better than the view from Wonder Lake, but WL is a bit closer to the Mountain and you'll see the kettle ponds along the way and also have more opportunity to look for wildlife (though most are seen by the time you get to Eielson). BTW, there should be blueberries at WL at the end of August. Yummmm!

This site gives you a general idea where to look for wildlife: https:/…wildlife-viewing.htm . Of course, no guarantees what you'll see or where you'll see them.

Los Angeles
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2. Re: A bit overwhelmed about best use of time (single traveler)

End of August is a good time to go to Denali -IMHO= the animals seem to be on the move and the tundra is starting to turn colors- very pretty.

I have taken the Wonder Lake bus the past few years and yes it is long but you really get a chance to see the park- especially if you aren't into walking/hiking alone

The Bus makes stops but I would plan to bring enough water- sandwich -snacks etc with you in a small backpack!

Enjoy!

fti
MN
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3. Re: A bit overwhelmed about best use of time (single traveler)

I agree with Maple that the famous Reflection Pond photo is rare. I have spent dozens of nights at Wonder Lake Campground over the years and have gotten that shot multiple times. But for the average day tripper, it is hardly a goal worthy of noting.

However, as BackRoads mentioned, you are traveling in late August. The autumn colors will be phenomenal. I would definitely book the shuttle to Wonder Lake. You can always get off earlier but at least you have a guaranteed seat to Wonder Lake. There definitely are animals between Eielson and Wonder Lake. It is just a matter of timing if you see them. Moose are especially common in that area, but I have also seen bears, wolves, caribou, owls and more.

You might consider a moderate ranger-led Discovery Hike when you are there. You can only sign up no more than 2 days in advance. When you arrive on the train, I suggest you not take the Denali Bluffs hotel shuttle right away. Go to the visitor center (right across the street from the train station), ask the rangers about the Discovery Hikes for the next two days, then walk or take a free shuttle to the Wilderness Access Center (WAC) to pick up your shuttle bus tickets. Then call the Denali Bluffs hotel and ask when their shuttle departs (I think it is once an hour). There are also films at both the Visitor Center and the WAC that you can watch if you have time to wait for the shuttle to arrive.

New York City, New...
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4. Re: A bit overwhelmed about best use of time (single traveler)

Thanks, all.

I've been leaning towards Wonder Lake, but I've been reading that alot of people didn't think Wonder Lake was worth it if you're not camping there overnight. There's apparently not alot of time there (I've even read someone complain that they had to choose between the walk to the lake and the bathroom stop) and the bus doesn't even leave you positioned for the famous view that everyone wants. Also, conditions for the view are rare and mosquitoes are terrible. Are the additional wildlife opportunities worth going further than Eilson?

Thanks again!

Winnipeg, Canada
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5. Re: A bit overwhelmed about best use of time (single traveler)

"I've even read someone complain that they had to choose between the walk to the lake and the bathroom stop"

Well, go to the bathroom at Eielson and either hold it until you return to Eielson or...there are lots of bushes around....

"the bus doesn't even leave you positioned for the famous view that everyone wants"

If you want that for sure (knowing your chance to get the famous reflection shot is very low), take a Kantishna shuttle and ask the driver to let you off right at Reflection Pond as you go by. You can either wait for the Kantishna shuttle to return, or walk back to Wonder Lake stop and hop on one of the shuttles that go there. Take along a current schedule so you know when to expect the later shuttles. If it turns out that the Mountain is covered in clouds on the day you're there, you can hop off at Wonder Lake or even Eielson. Decide on the day.

"mosquitoes are terrible"

Not in late August. You probably won't see any at all. Though you will find some yummy blueberries if you wander about.

"Are the additional wildlife opportunities worth going further than Eilson"

Of course there are animals in that area--whether they're in view or not, no way to predict.

I suggest you buy a ticket to Wonder Lake (or even Kantishna if you want to try for the near-impossible shot without having to walk there) and decide on the day how far you want to go.

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