Denali National Park trip was an awesome adventure holiday for my visit in late May-early Jun 2017. My main goal of the trip was to see as many Alaskan wildlife animals as possible - not in a zoo but in the wild. Did I see any wildlife in the end? Lone Wolf, Grizzly Bears, Mountain Goats, Caribou, Moose, Dall Sheep, Red and Arctic squirrels etc. IT WAS AWESOME!
Getting your bearings right is very important, it can totally be a waste of money if you are visiting the Denali National Park in a heavy rainy day on a shuttle bus tour or missing your bus schedule. As such, It is essential to visit the Denali visitor center on your first day to talk to the rangers and plan your days without regret. With rangers' advice, you will then be able to understand the weather condition, recent animal report (if anyone has seen bears, wolves etc), safety guide, operating hours etc.
We drove around Alaska by car but to get around to the inner Denali National Park, getting on the shuttle bus was the only option. There are still various easy trails starting from the Denali Visitor Center if you do not have much time to get around.
We were really lucky to have seen a lone wolf crossing a bridge from a distance. Our driver stopped the shuttle bus in order not to disturb the wolf while provided a good angle for photography/ viewing spot. I saw the amazing creature with my binocular but I couldn't get a close photo of the wolf since the wolf quickly went back to the bush heading to the forest.
Tips: Binocular is absolutely necessary if you would like to spot wildlife in Alaska. In many occasions, I spotted the most amazing action/ moment using the binocular instead of taking photos.
Our driver claimed that was the first wolf he saw in 2017, that really made us feel special to have the opportunity spotting one in the wild.
Throughout the whole trip, we always wanted to see any grizzly bears in the wild yet worried about the danger of facing them up close. I guess, seeing the Grizzly Bears in the shuttle bus was the safest way to experience it. We spotted three grizzly bears in the bush but we were not close enough to take a clear photo of them. Once again, my binocular was really useful to spot them with a clear view.
A caribou is a subspecies of a reindeer in North America. There were a number of caribous with beautiful antlers crossing the creeks and some lied down on the ground. Since it was the beginning of summer in Alaska, I couldn't help but wonder if it was the animal migration that we witnessed in Denali National Park.
Mountain Goats & Dall Sheep
Mountain goats inhabit mountainous habitats (high altitude) in North America, climbing steep angles in the mountain. The shuttle bus trip could be for hours, hence you can easily find those mountain goats hanging around the rocky mountain grazing grasses, mosses, ferns, herbs, sedges, lichens, twigs and leaves from the low-growing shrubs and conifers of their high-altitude habitat.
In Australia, I often shocked by the sudden crossing Kangaroo or even Koala (Yes, Koala can be really FAST in action) while driving in a safe speed limit.
In Alaska, driving long distance from Anchorage to Denali National Park, Seward and Homer could be very tiring. Although there were road sign warning Moose crossing, I actually didn't expect to have a HUGE Moose suddenly decided to cross the road. Of course I managed to stop the car safely and luckily with no car around the path at that moment but the HUGE Moose was freaking out and jumping back to the forest. If you are planning to drive in Alaska, watch out for the Moose in the forest that may cross highway anytime. Be aware, be cautious not to knock them down or run them over.
Red & Arctic Ground Squirrels
Alaska Squirrels were really adorable and I found them everywhere in Denali National Park. So far I'd seen many Red Squirrels and some Arctic Ground Squirrels during the trip.
Tips for the first time travelers:
Consider getting a good pair of binocular - buy it, borrow it or even renting it.
* Camera Lens
If you are into photography, 100-400mm lens was really worth it.
The best way to explore further into the Denali National Park to me was to get on the shuttle bus. Private vehicle may only drive through the first 15 miles to Savage River during summer (late May - early Sep), only shuttle buses are allowed to continue the route all the way to Kantisha.
There were many options for the bus trips: Non-narrated Buses, Narrated buses or courtesy buses. We chose Transit Bus (to Toklat) - Non-narrated buses which was cheaper than tour buses with the flexibility to disembark and re-board (pretty much like a hop-on & hop-off bus) anywhere along the road.
If you are going to make a reservation for the same route/ shuttle bus trip, I would suggest to arrive at least 30mins in advance to ensure you are on the queue to board the shuttle bus. Sometime the crews may not let you get on the bus if they bus is "full". They allowed approximately 4 seats unoccupied to ensure the people along the road could hop on the shuttle, so don't be surprised if you saw the empty seats but were not allowed to board.
I would strongly advise to book the tickets in advance instead of buying it on the spot. Remember to arrive at least 30mins prior to your departure time. Many travelers chose to buy ticket on the spot and hence many of them were on "standby" to have the seats occupied.
We were really lucky to have a chatty bubbly experienced driver who did all the talking throughout the journey and cracked some jokes along the way. In addition to this, most of the tourists in the bus were nice, friendly and easy going. Although the shuttle bus was crowded, we always made rooms for each other to share the window view, take photograph/ watch wildlife with binoculars instead of being selfish to block each other. It was a relaxing tour and we managed to spot wildlife such as lone wolf, grizzly bears, caribou, moose, mountain goats and Dall sheep.
Tips: Binocular and good camera lens are very important if you would like to maximize your opportunity to watch the wildlife.
In every stops, you may find transit shuttle schedule for your reference to decide if you would like to hop on the next or the shuttle after. Many tourists really walked to the mountain with their backpacks or hiking sticks to check out the wildlife or simply just to experience the nature.
If you are taking your bicycle along, remember to make a reservation for your bike on westbound buses.
During the shuttle bus journey, it was really awesome to enjoy the breathtaking view of Alaska which was all over the place like a beautiful backdrop that never ends.
Tips: if you would like to enjoy the spacious shuttle bus seats with less passengers, you can take a later bus maybe after 3pm for your return trip. The driver said there were generally less travelers after that. We went back after 3pm and it was just less than 6 people in the shuttle, how cool was that to enjoy the beautiful view without anyone blocking it.
Visiting Denali National Park was indeed an incredible trip with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to immerse into the magnificent view and to get a closer look at these Alaska wildlife roaming free in their natural habitat. If you have the opportunity to visit Alaska and if you enjoy the nature and the wildlife, Denali National Park will be a great destination for you.
Alaska Native Heritage Center is a renown cultural center and museum in Anchorage that I didn't want to miss when I was planning the two weeks trip. Reason? Besides the fact that I am always curious about different cultures, in doing so will make the rest of the trip more meaningful by knowing the history and the native culture. Alaskan Natives are the indigenous people of Alaska, United States of America, such as Iñupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and a number of Northern Athabaskan cultures.
Since the Alaska Native Heritage Center is in Anchorage, I visited the center on the first day.
Alaska Native Heritage Center
8800 Heritage Center Drive
Anchorage, Alaska 99504
If you do not have a car during Summer, you can always check out the latest shuttle bus schedule via their official website. During the summer season, ANHC has a complimentary shuttle schedule that runs from various locations.
They planned their schedule with various event such as the speaker talked about the history, culture, dance move etc. It was rather interactive, they encouraged the audience to ask questions and they answered it professionally. I was lucky to join the audience just moment after it started, very informative and educational. There were other schedules such as small walking tours, native dance etc.
With the background decorated by the Alaska map, it was easy to understand his explanation with the graphic demonstration. Moment after, it was the next schedule - Alaskan Dancing Performance. The same speaker explained in detail on the music instruments, the songs and the dance move along with the stories behind all those.
With all the demonstration of the dances (male dancing, female dancing and group dancing etc), they then invited the audience to the stage to experience it.
I chose to walk around randomly to check out the area but you can choose to join the small tour just like the photo above. The advantage of joining a tour (if you manage to catch the schedule, it doesn't run hourly but based on schedule) is to have a tour guide with you. As for my choice, I chose the flexibility to check out the native house, tools and read all necessary information from the displayed boards.
The whole experience was wonderful, remember to visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center if you are planning your Alaska trip.
Before traveling around Alaska, I had this concern that if I would be so lucky to see any wildlife animals during this trip. After tonnes of research, I found many tourists had no luck in seeing animals during their travel - could be due to weather or their luck.
Some Alaska experts from forum stated that there is usually no bears appearance in May. Given the fact that my travel was in late May - early June, I was at the border line of the luck if he/she was right. If you are experiencing the same problem, visiting the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center should be in your itinerary. I used it as a backup plan, in case I couldn't see any animal in the wild.
In the end, I was lucky to have seen many wildlife animal including white wolves, grizzly bears, moose, caribou, mountain goats, Dall sheeps, Alaska Red Squirrels etc. I will get into more details in the coming post but this post will focus on the Wildlife Conservation Center.
For my personal travel, I usually support the wildlife conservation center instead of the local zoo. I would like to see animal in the wild but not in a cage. The Wildlife Conservation Center provides care for displaced animals that no longer able to survive in the wild. Some adopted animals were orphans or severely injured that require a safe place to receive medical attention, they may be released to the wild once recovered or they may just live in the center for the rest of their lives.
You will expect to see some explanation boards for the animals, some facts about the animals as well as how the particular orphans were adopted. These were some porcupines explanation, very educational. The below porcupine only has three legs due to the human trap injured one of its legs.
The field was huge, I drove around with car but walking around at different spots. You can also choose to take some field trips to receive the guides' educational tour but that comes with some fees.
During the visit, I saw bears, moose, muskox, caribou, porcupine, deer etc. I was hoping to see any wolves but I couldn't find it when I was there. If you are planning for a road trip to Alaska and happen to drop by the center, I would suggest to bring your own lunch to enjoy it at the end of the field. Please note that I still had to walk for some distance to check out those wildlife even if I drove to the field, hence remember to wear comfortable walking shoes.
Alaska is a bear country, there are many notice boards to remind the tourists of the tips for traveling in bear country.
Since I always wanted to check out how big were the bears, walking on the secured decks was an ideal way to do so. The black bear was seen at the bottom of the deck at one point but slowly moved towards the cave to rest. I guess I was lucky enough to capture the moment before the black bear returned to the cave. As for the grizzly bear, the bear was pretty much a superstar attention seeker who loved to get close to the fence where the tourists gathered. During my visit, a tourist bus just dropped off a whole bus of tourists whom were just as excited as myself to check out the Grizzly bear.
Alaska Packing List
In addition to the normal travel check list that I listed under the Mooliday Tips, below are the more detailed important check list for Alaska Travel.
1. Layered of Clothes
2. Comfortable shoes
3. Sun protection
4. Skincare products
5. Insect repellent
6. Light winter accessories
7. Formal attires
8. First aid kit and medication
9. Travel photography/ videography
10. Backpack or tote/dry bag
12. Zip lock bags
13. Fishing license
Went to Alaska in 2017 Jun, absolutely enjoyed the whole journey with the opportunity to immerse into the nature scenery along with the wildlife encounter.