Riding The East Fork Transit In Denali National Park

When we visited Denali, you could only reach mile marker 43 in the park. In the past, you have been able to go to mile marker 92. But a mudslide took out part of the road. It sounds like it will be years before it is fixed. This post will share all about riding the East Fork Transit In Denali National Park

East Fork Transit Bus

It is 100% still worth it to go on the bus ride 43 miles into the park! Below we share all the details on taking the bus.

East Fork Transit Tickets

There were 2 tour options – 1 being a wildlife tour and the other a more information tour. Both of these would have cost over $100 for adults and over $50 for kids. Where the East Fork Transit was only $32 for adults and kids 15 and under were free.

I confirmed that the 2 tour options and the East Fork Transit all go on the same road and the answer was yes. That made the decision easy for me and we opted to do the East Fork Transit.

We bought our tickets at the Riley Creek Mercantile and met at the Denali Bus Depot (there is plenty of parking) 20 minutes before our departure time.

Here are the 3 different options for the bus rides:

Riding The Bus

We got on the bus. Lucky for us, it wasn’t full, so we were able to spread out a bit. After a short safety overview with our driver, we were on our way. Note – seatbelts are required on National Park buses.

Our bus driver was also a tour guide – which he said they discourage but he would do it anyways.

From my understanding, they all do this in some format or another. He didn’t by any means give us a full-on tour. But he shared a lot of information as we were driving into the park.

The other thing they tell you is to yell STOP if you see any animals. The drivers view is focused on the road so he asks all the passengers to help with spotting animals.

The goal is to see all 5: Bear, Moose, Dall Sheep, Wolf and Caribou. But most people don’t see that since seeing a wolf is hard!

On our way out to East Fork we saw multiple bear. Though most of them from a distance so be sure to have your binoculars with you. Dall Sheep – again the distance with their white coats sticking out against the mountain and Caribou.

The bus stops about 1 hour into the trip from the Bus Depot. Everyone can get off to go to the bathroom and take in the view. There is not a bathroom on the bus so this is a good thing to keep in mind.

From there you get back on the bus and drive another 60-90 minutes to get to East Fork. East Fork is a turnaround place for the bus and is right on the river. At this point you are welcome to get out to use the porta potty and/or to head down and go hiking on the river bed.

East Fork Stop

East Fork Stop - steps down into the hiking area.

A set of stairs takes you down to the river bed. Before heading down, a sign says Grizzly Bears are in this area, so be prepared. If you stay on the river bed it is a wide open area so you would see if anything was there.

BUT always be sure to have bear spray if you plan to head down and out on a hike.

You can walk as far along the river as you like. Just be sure you know the bus schedule and when the last bus comes for the day so you don’t get left behind!

Knox hiking at the East Fork Area

We chose to head down to the river bank and walked around for about 30 minutes before heading back up. They do have a bus that just stays there. Which you can get in and sit down in to get out of the wind while you wait for the next bus to pick you up.

When we were there, there was a person to check in with to tell them how many people we had and that we needed to get on a new bus. I wasn’t sure how this process would go. But we were able to get on to the next bus that came without a problem.

From there we headed back to the Bus Depot. On the way back we saw more bear, Caribou super close up – they walked right across the road in front of us and the highlight was seeing a fox!! The fox also walked right towards us and across the road.

We saw more Dall Sheep as well. On the way back the driver recommended you get off at a point called Cathedral if you wanted to do some off trail hiking. Unlike most National Parks where they tell you not to go off trail. Denali National Park encourages it and it is really the only way to hike on the road into the park.

Hiking On The Bus Ride

The driver told us that there were run off areas and that those make for great hiking trails. We opted not to get off. I was worried about getting on another bus and how long we would have to wait.

But if you did choose to do this you just tell the driver to stop – really anywhere you want along the road and they will drop you off. When you are done just flag down a green bus you see and they will pick you up.

It is an interesting concept for hiking in a National Park!


We made it back to the Bus Depot and the whole trip was about 5 1/2 hours. They had told us it would be 5 hours – and we added the 1/2 hour by stopping to walk on the river bed. If you never got off the bus (besides the bathroom stops) I would expect it to take 5 hours.

I am glad we opted to do the East Fork Transit ride since there were times when people in our family fell asleep on the bus and if you have paid for a tour you don’t want to be doing that!

When in Denali be sure to get on one of the buses and hopefully when you are there you can go all the way back the full 92 miles into the park.

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Everything you want to do know about riding the East Fork Transit bus when you visit Denali National Park! Should you take a tour or just get on the transit bus? We answer that for you! What can you expect on the bus - we cover that too!

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