We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Is Denali worth the trip in late May (5/21 - 5/23)?

Which Denali National Park and Preserve hotels are on sale?
mm/dd/yyyy mm/dd/yyyy
See hotels
Los Angeles
posts: 790
reviews: 16
Is Denali worth the trip in late May (5/21 - 5/23)?

We're leaving on a cruise from Whittier on May 24 and are probably going to fly into Anchorage on May 21, giving us three nights. Considering driving (or taking bus) up to Denali in the afternoon of the 21st, which would give us all day the 22nd and part of the day on the 23rd to explore the park. Will then return to Anchorage for the night of the 23rd and then bus or train down to Whittier to do a PWS tour and board the ship.

A few questions:

Is this enough time at Denali?

Is it worth going up there in late May when the shuttle bus will only go as far as Toklat?

If not, any other suggestions for our three nights? We've spent a few days in Anchorage before, so don't have much interest in hanging around the city.

Thanks for your help!!

MN
Destination Expert
for Alaska
posts: 13,486
reviews: 24
1. Re: Is Denali worth the trip in late May (5/21 - 5/23)?

I was at Denali about May 18-21, 2009. Though the shuttle bus only goes as far as Toklat, I really enjoyed going that early in the season. Realize that nothing will be green and you will probably see some snow, especially if you do any hiking.

But the Dall's sheep were still very close to Polychrome Pass and the park is not nearly as crowded as later in the season. It really can be hit or miss but my trips to Southcentral Alaska in May have both been really good weather.

I would try to do a flightseeing tour, from Talkeetna, especially if the weather is really good. I regret not having done that in May. When I returned just over a month later, I did a flightseeing tour with my nephew. It was really nice, but it was very cloudy.

Are you guys hikers? When do you arrive into Anchorage? You could do something like this:

May 21 pick up rental car, grocery shopping for Denali. Drive to Denali if you are not arriving too late. It is a 5 hour drive and if you have weather like I did last May, it will take you MUCH longer with all the stops to view the Mountain, etc.

May 22 take the earliest shuttle into the park. I almost was going to go again this year at this time and saw they now start at 7am this time of year (laat year the earliest shuttle this time of year was 8am). Get off the bus at Toklat, walk along the river bed and west (ask the bus driver and/or a ranger at Toklat). Decent chance to see a wolf by doing this. Catch a different bus back.

May 23 entrance area activities - visitor center film and exhibits, sleddog demo if they are doing them this early, film at the WAC, drive to Anchorage with a stop in Talkeetna.

May 24 PWS cruise and board ship.

I would strongly recommend having a car at Denali. You have a much broader selection of lodging available if you have your own vehicle.

Note - if you were able to get to Denali by May 19th, you could actually drive to Mile 30 in your own vehicle up until this date. Once the shuttle buses start operating on May 20, no more private vehicles (with a few exceptions).

John

Edited: 7:17 am, December 18, 2009
USA
Destination Expert
for Alaska, Denali National Park and Preserve, Yellowstone National Park
posts: 9,465
reviews: 44
2. Re: Is Denali worth the trip in late May (5/21 - 5/23)?

I love the park early in the season on the opening days. It is when I have seen the most wildlife close to the road before bus traffic. There is a pack of wolves that den across the road up a side creek right above the West Branch of the Tolklat RIver., not far from the bridge. So spend some time along the river looking for them.

I would add an extra day to that end of my trip if it were I! But it is still very much worth it!

The best way for DNP is a rental car, as John said.

USA
Destination Expert
for Alaska, Denali National Park and Preserve, Yellowstone National Park
posts: 9,465
reviews: 44
3. Re: Is Denali worth the trip in late May (5/21 - 5/23)?

The editing window times out fast!

That should say a pack of wolves that den across the road from the Tolklat rest stop up a side creek....

Healy, Alaska
Destination Expert
for Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
posts: 28,661
reviews: 35
4. Re: Is Denali worth the trip in late May (5/21 - 5/23)?

Yes! Usually we have great weather then, but as mentioned, it will still all be snow covered. So while you'll miss seeing the park green/blooming the wildlife and scenery opportunities are just great. I think you'll be happy you made time for Denali. :)

Los Angeles
posts: 790
reviews: 16
5. Re: Is Denali worth the trip in late May (5/21 - 5/23)?

This is great info everyone! We are most likely taking a non-stop flight from LA the morning of the 21st which gets in around 12:30 PM, so it sounds like pleanty of time to drive up to the park that day. How are the roads that time of year? Being from L.A., we have verry little experience driving in snow, as you can imagine! That flight seeing tour sounds nice, although we'll be on a bit of a budget, so not sure if we can squeeze it in. I've also read about river trips near Denali, are those running that time of year? Is it worth squeezing one in? As far as hiking, we are not serious hikers but we're both in decent shape and do like to do a little when visiting places like this. What about the tour buses vs the shuttles? I like the idea of being able to get out and hike from the shuttle but wonder if we'll be missing out on any important site seeing and/or narration if we don't do a tour? They are pretty pricey too!

Healy, Alaska
Destination Expert
for Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
posts: 28,661
reviews: 35
6. Re: Is Denali worth the trip in late May (5/21 - 5/23)?

We don't have snow on the highways in May (unless something dreadful happens) - it just hasn't melted in the areas around Denali park, so you should be fine driving up.

Most things are up and running by May 15 including the rafting at least I think so . . . I would recommend Denali Outdoor center for that - excellent company/reputation.

Take the shuttle bus - most drivers have been doing it for many years and offer excellent narration. It isn't a guarantee, but I think you'll love the shuttle - and the flexibility to get off and hike around - or just walking the road is a good thing to do as well. :)

Los Angeles
posts: 790
reviews: 16
7. Re: Is Denali worth the trip in late May (5/21 - 5/23)?

Sounds good. Thanks again for your help! I'm sure I'll have more questions between now and then ;)

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
posts: 7,967
reviews: 29
8. Re: Is Denali worth the trip in late May (5/21 - 5/23)?

We went to Denali NP back in the summer of 2006. Our first day at the park we did the Wonder Lake Shuttle and thoroughly enjoyed it. The next day we were booked to do one of the tours that only went in about 50 or 60 miles. The only real difference? WL shuttle was more than half the price of the tour, went further into the park and not crappy boxed "lunch". The narration was as informative and the willingness of the driver to stop for wildlife viewing more patient.

We were so dissatisfied with the Wilderness Tour that when we got back to the transporation center, we asked for refunds under their "100% satisfaction" promise. I received my full refund by the same credit card as the payment, no questions asked.

MN
Destination Expert
for Alaska
posts: 13,486
reviews: 24
9. Re: Is Denali worth the trip in late May (5/21 - 5/23)?

>>We were so dissatisfied with the Wilderness Tour that when we got back to the transporation center, we asked for refunds under their "100% satisfaction" promise. I received my full refund by the same credit card as the payment, no questions asked.

Aramark is really good about that. Last summer I had a problem with a camper bus being totally full going back to Wonder Lake in the evening because a shuttle bus broke down and they put all the shuttle bus people onto the camper bus. I wrote and just mentioned how frustrating it is when that happens, how few camper buses there are (only two in the late afternoon/evening to Wonder Lake), etc. I realize the buses are "space available" and that mechanical problems happen, but when you have been hiking all day and want to get back at 7.30pm to cook dinner and it end up being 9.30pm instead.... Anyway, even without asking, they credited my credit card for the cost of my bus ticket. I was a bit surprised they even found my account and my credit card number, but I guess they could find it through my EMail address.

John

Los Angeles
posts: 790
reviews: 16
10. Re: Is Denali worth the trip in late May (5/21 - 5/23)?

Thanks again for the feedback everyone, this really helps. The tour bus idea is out for sure!

About the rental car, is there any reason we might need a small SUV vs. a regular car?

Given there shouldn't be any snow on the roads, I'm thinking a regular car will be fine, but thought I should ask to be safe.