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One question seen continuously in these forums is the difference between the Denali NP Shuttle Buses and the Tour Buses. So this will make a starting point for the experts to jump in and create a good source of information on this issue. It is particularly important in Denali NP because private vehicles are not allowed past the end of the paved section of the Park Road at mile 15. The majority of the visitors who travel along the lone Park roads 95 miles must use either the shuttle buses or the tour buses. Both types of "tours" use heavy duty school buses. The only difference in the buses is one type is tan and the other is light green.
The Park Shuttle Bus system allows you to chose how far into the park you go. Different shuttles go to Toklat River (mile 53), Eielson Visitor Center (mile 66), or Wonder Lake (mile 85). The newly rebuilt Eielson Visitor Center is now complete and beautiful! The costs of the shuttle is determined by how far you choose to go. You can get off a shuttle bus and hike in Denali NP and then catch a later shuttle bus with seats available. No food or drink are provided. The costs are much cheaper than the tour busesand range from $19 for Toklat River to $33 for Wonder Lake. Roundtrip tours take from 6 hours for Toklat River, 8hours for Fishcreek, and 11 hours for Wonder Lake. The drivers seem to be very knowledgable about the park and the wildlife. The buses will stop whenever someone shouts to stop for wildlife.
The alternative tours are the Tundra Wilderness Tour and the Natural History Tour, which are used extensively by the cruise ship lines for their land tours that stop in Denali NP. The tundra tour goes to Toklat River, mile 53 and can sometimes go a little further if a clear day. This tour is approximately $85. The history tour goes only to the end of the paved road, mile 15, and does not provide a lot of opportunities to see wildlife. This tour lasts about 4 hours and costs $56. Both of these tours include a box lunch and drink. They also have a guide on board to provide narration.
All of these buses can be reserved in advance and is a good idea during the busy months of June, July and August. On the shuttle buses, 35% of the seats available are held back for last minute travelers and are available only 48 hours ahead of time to give everyone an opportunity to see this magnificant park.
Denali NP's website provides additional information on the shuttle bus schedules at www.nps.gov/dena or phone 907-683-2294.