Denali on my own pre-cruise

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693 Posts
Joined Jan 2001
I'd like to spend a day or two in Denali pre-cruise. Has anyone done this who can offer suggestions?

I plan on flying into Fairbanks, renting a car, and driving to Denali.
Are two nights sufficient in Denali?

My cruise leaves from Whittier so I thought I'd drive from Denali to Anchorage or Whittier the evening before embarking on the cruise. Is there a hotel and car rental drop-off in Whittier, or should I stay in Anchorage and take a bus/train to Whittier?

Any suggestions would be appreciated!
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Next cruise: Coral Princess, 2018 (Alaska)

Previous cruises:
Avalon Siem Reap, 2017 (Mekong River)
Celebrity Reflection, 2016 (Mediterranean)
Legend of the Seas, 2015 (Southeast Asia)
Century Legend (Avalon), 2014 (Yangtze River)
Celebrity Summit, 2013 (Bermuda)
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Allure of the Seas, 2011 (Caribbean)
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Pacific Princess, 2010 (Mediterranean/Holy Land)
Celebrity Solstice, 2009 (Mediterranean)
Independence of the Seas, 2008 (Europe)
Rhapsody of the Seas, 2008 (Alaska)
Legend of the Seas, 2007 (Mediterranean)
Celebrity Constellation, 2005 (Caribbean)
Brilliance of the Seas, 2005 (Mediterranean, missing honeymooner cruise)
Jewel of the Seas, 2004 (British Isles/Norwegian Fjords)
Grandeur of the Seas, 2003 (Baltic/Scandinavia)
Splendour of the Seas, 2001 (Mediterranean)
Vision of the Seas, 1998 (Mediterranean)
Majesty of the Seas, 1993 (Caribbean)
Monarch of the Seas, 1992 (Caribbean)
Wasilla, Alaska
947 Posts
Joined Apr 2012
Avis is the only rental car agency in Whittier.
If you want to avoid the one way drop off fee, you could fly into Anchorage and drive to Denali; then drop the car back off in Anchorage and take the train to Whittier.
At Denali, it's recommended to use the shuttle buses to access the park, not a tour.
Denali lodging options:
2,055 Posts
Joined May 2009
Originally posted by psygist
I'd like to spend a day or two in Denali pre-cruise. Has anyone done this who can offer suggestions?

I plan on flying into Fairbanks, renting a car, and driving to Denali.
Are two nights sufficient in Denali?

My cruise leaves from Whittier so I thought I'd drive from Denali to Anchorage or Whittier the evening before embarking on the cruise. Is there a hotel and car rental drop-off in Whittier, or should I stay in Anchorage and take a bus/train to Whittier?

Any suggestions would be appreciated!
Whittier is tiny. I would suggest dropping off in Anchorage and do a transfer to Whittier.


Alaska Railroad train to Whittier

Coral Princess and the Port of Whittier

The Coral Princess

Train depot in Whittier
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NCL Star - December 2017 - Mexican Riviera
NCL Jewel - June 2018 - Alaska Northbound Vancouver to Seward

Past Cruises
NCL Escape - June 2017 - Western Caribbean
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Captain Impractical
Redmond WA
8,732 Posts
Joined Sep 2009
I think you should look at and price several options to see what works best for your time frame and budget.
(Also, look at the flight times to see when you could arrive in Anchorage or Fairbanks. If you land by late afternoon, you might be able to get a few hours of driving out of the way. ie it's about 2 hrs to drive FAI to Denali, or 2 1/2 hrs to drive Anc to Talkeetna which is halfway to Denali)

- price AVIS for a one-way Fairbanks to Whittier
- price any rental car that you can pick up in FAI and drop off in Anc. ( For Anc to Whittier you can take a cruiseline transfer, bus, Alaska Railroad, or independent vendor. You could either drive to Anchorage the night before the cruise, OR, leave Denali by 7am, drop off the car in Anc then catch a transfer.)
- price a RT rental car in ANC, plus a $35 independent transfer to Whitter. It's about a 5 hr drive to Denali. (if you reserve NOW for next summer its about $35 a day RT)
7,462 Posts
Joined Feb 2004
We just returned from a DIY to Denali. We spent only 2 nights there, and I wish we had booked another. However, you can do it with only 2 nights. We came by train from Anchorage, so by the time we arrived, there wasn't much time left in the day. If you leave Fairbanks by car, you will arrive much earlier, and you could conceivably do a tour the same day. Or, you could choose something else that first day and book a shuttle for the second day. I definitely recommend doing one of the Park's green shuttle buses.

We stayed at the Grande Denali Lodge, and I can definitely recommend it -- a fabulous lodge/hotel with restaurant, lounge and coffee bar, and their shuttle service into the Park and to Downtown Denali (Glitter Gulch) is very good.

Whatever hotel you choose, they should be able to provide you with a boxed lunch for your shuttle (provided you have time to notify them the night before your tour). However, the Wilderness Activities Center, where the green shuttle buses depart from, has a great selection of sandwiches, pastries, drinks and waters for purchase.

I would suggest you return your car in Anchorage, spend the night there, and take the train or bus to Whittier.
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Syracuse, New York
50,489 Posts
Joined May 2000
I would suggest you look further at options, they are numerous.

Are you also touring Fairbanks? Or flying there because you are short on time? Do you have plans in Denali and know what the area offers? Really look into this, as 2 days is minimal in my opinion.

A one way Fairbanks/Whittier car rental cold be an excellent choice. Depends on you? It could be you want a stop in Girdwood, Crow Creek Mine, Winner trail for the hand tram, Alaska Wildlife conservatory, Portage Glacier Visitor Center, hiking near Portage, all would be significantly superior with a rental car. Any interest in Talkeetna, Matansuka Glacier? Look at you WHOLE itinerary and find the best use of your time with your transportation selection.
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Happy Alaska travels

[email protected]
629 Posts
Joined Jun 2007
We spent two nights in Fairbanks and two nights in Denali before boarding the ship in Seward. We thought the 4 days prior to cruising was just enough for us.

Tampa, FL
731 Posts
Joined Mar 2013
I paid the one way rental fee from Anchorage to Denali and then to Seward. We stayed at hotel in Healy and could stop anywhere along the way from Anchorage to Seward (conservation center, goats on hill, whittier, etc.). The extra price was worth it to us. We saw a lot of animals on way to Seward and a lot of moose along road to Healy hotel. Enjoy Alaska whatever you decide.
West Webster, NY
4,854 Posts
Joined Jan 2007
We spent two nights in the Denali area (our hotel was in Healy) and I wish we had had another. Depending on what time you arrive, you will have an afternoon to sightsee. The next day will (or at least should) be spent on an 8hr tour of the park. You'll be tired after that full day of touring the park. The next day you'll be leaving for Anchorage/Whittier so you won't have time to see other things in the Denali area. I recommend spending three nights there so you have time to see and do more. I wish we had had that third night.
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United States
269 Posts
Joined Oct 2015
My biggest suggestion is to allow much more driving time than what a NAV or something like Google Maps allots. The reason being is you will probably want to make many more stops along the way than you might guess. I did a two week/~2,000 mile road trip around Alaska this past May/June and even the shortest distance drives took HOURS. Because there is just SOOO much to see. Unless you can totally focus on driving and ignoring the scenery you'll run short on time. Our shortest distance for a day was Fairbanks to Healy/Denali (about 110 miles) yet it took us from around noon until 7:00 PM. There was just too much scenery and things to see along the way - I'm glad we allowed plenty of time as we very much enjoyed our trip! Good luck!
outside of Anchorage
1,824 Posts
Joined Apr 2005
I would suggest, although it is a long day, that you take either the park tour bus or the Native owned bus that goes all the way back to the end of the road to Kantisha..Yes, it is long, but the bus drivers are excellent spotters and if you spent all of that money to go there, why not see as much as you can. I will also tell you that they leave at 6 AM and return around 7-8PM. They do use old buses but they are pretty comfortable. There are numerous stops and snacks at least on the native owned bus. If you stay at Denali Cabins just before the park, the bus leaves from there, and returns you to there. The cabins also have a shuttle which will take you into "glitter gulch" to shop or get ice cream...or pizza. There is a restaurant at the cabins that opens at 515 AM so you can get breakfast before getting on the bus. If you stay longer, you can get the shuttle to the visitor center, visit the dog kennels there which patrol the park in the winter, and see a demonstration and go for an ATV ride, a jeep ride down the Denali "highway" which is a dirt road. You can drive into the park by yourself only for the first 13 miles...most of which have lots of administration building along side of them. Look at all of your option. I agree, 2 nights is too short.
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