I will be both in Denali (one night) and Mc Kinley (2 nights) and am now confused. Are they in the parks so that I can use the National Park Service or are at such a distance that I will only be able to use the Princess land tours? Some commenters at the message boards are negative about using the cruise tours and staying only for a limited land visit. We cannot stay longer and I specifically wanted to spend time at the National parks. I would appreciate any advice.
I am a poster who is no fan of cruisetours. If you want to visit the National Park - you are in the wrong location as the McKinley Princess is 100 miles away from the entrance, and no transfers available between the two on a cruisetour. This lodge is also out in the middle of nowhere and 40 miles from the nearest "town" - Talkeetna. You will be limited to the Princess shuttle and Princess tours from the lodge. They do offer some "tours" to the state Park at Beyers Lake- kayaking- but there is no comparism here to the National Park touring opportunities. The Denali Princess is right outside the entrance. On a cruisetour you will be purchasing and have included a park TOUR. This is not the best option if your priority is exploring the park. My min. distance in is Eielson mile 66. There are many ranger programs and some guided hikes to also consider. The sled dog demo is usually enjoyed by most.
You can take this with a grain of salt- but with your interest and priorities- an option that would allow this much better than your current plans would be to have a rental car and stay 2 nights near the Denali Park- (the Denali Princess is only a so so property in my opinion). This will allow you to enjoy several activities there plus a bus into your destination, then one night in Talkeetna for some flightseeing which is superior there. Also a great Alaska town that is unique. Again this would allow you to see everything in between and not be on a fixed transportation schedule that may not go to your places of interest.
Karen16, I am so glad to hear you say that the best bet is to rent a car and stay 2 nights near Denali. That is just what we are doing in late August. We will be staying at the Denali River Cabins and then taking the 6 to 8 hour National Park bus tour (not the one offered in connection with the cabins which is 13 hours - too long for my sister-in-law) into the Park. I am really looking forward to that part of the trip. These message boards are wonderful and provide really good information.
If going independent- I do NOT recommend the TOUR buses. They are very costly for what you get- take a SHUTTLE. There are 3 stops past the Tundra Wilderness TOUR buses- so the 13 hour one (Kantishna) isn't the only option. For the same distance as the Tundra Wilderness TOUR mile 53,- take the Toklat shuttle for less than $25, you need to bring your own food and drink in with you. Eielson is mile 66 (min. distance in for me), Wonder Lake mile 85 (avoid this before the end of August- over run with bugs), Kantishna mile 90. Savage River shuttles are FREE, same distance as the Natural History tour- but with the bonus of ranger activities available.