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The Best of Alaska’s National Parks: From Denali to Kenai

Come explore the National Parks of Alaska with our experts. Discover unique wildlife, stunning landscapes, and ancient forests as you explore one of the most unspoiled regions on earth.
Rating (4.63)
Program No. 1012RJ
11 days
Starts at

The Best of Alaska’s National Parks: From Denali to Kenai

Come explore the National Parks of Alaska with our experts. Discover unique wildlife, stunning landscapes, and ancient forests as you explore one of the most unspoiled regions on earth.
11 days
Starts at
Program No. 1012 RJ
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At a Glance

In the Alaskan Interior, grizzlies walk lowland rivers, caribou roams the tundra, Dall sheep cling to mountainsides and the golden eagle survey it all. To the south, the glaciers of the Kenai Peninsula carve the landscape as they have for eons. Join expert field educators in the boreal forest, on the tundra of Denali and along the bays of Kenai Fjords National Park.

Best of all, you’ll…

  • Watch for grizzly bear, Dall sheep, moose and caribou on a journey into Denali National Park.
  • Stretch your legs and minds on hikes that cross alpine tundra, through boreal forest and past mountain lakes.
  • Explore Kenai Fjords National Park on a day-long journey by boat to view marine mammals, tidewater and alpine glaciers and teeming seabird rookeries.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Arctic Dreams
by Barry Lopez
Based on Barry Lopez’s years spent traveling the Arctic regions in the company of Eskimo hunting parties and scientific expeditions alike, Arctic Dreams investigates the unique terrain of the human mind, thrown into relief against the vastness of the tundra and the frozen ocean. Eye-opening and profoundly moving, it is a magnificent appreciation of how wilderness challenges and inspires us.
Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival
by Velma Wallis
Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River Valley in Alaska, this is the suspenseful, shocking, ultimately inspirational tale of two old women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine. Though these women have been known to complain more than contribute, they now must either survive on their own or die trying. In simple but vivid detail, Velma Wallis depicts a landscape and way of life that are at once merciless and starkly beautiful. In her old women, she has created two heroines of steely determination whose story of betrayal, friendship, community, and forgiveness "speaks straight to the heart with clarity, sweetness, and wisdom" (Ursula K. Le Guin)
The Wilderness of Denali
by Charles Sheldon
Originally published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1930, The Wilderness of Denali is a memoir of three years of hunting the area of Alaska surrounding Mt. McKinley. It is a classic of American adventure—a book written by a man who was willing to risk his life in pursuit of grizzly bears and the elusive mountain sheep. The account was written each night by campfire as Sheldon discovered what is still regarded as the most scenic wilderness in America.
Mount McKinley: The Pioneer Climbs
by Terris Moore
This book is a great resource for those interested in learning about Denali's mountaineering history and the early climbs on Mount McKinley- North America's highest peak.
Wildflowers of Denali National Park
by Verna E. Pratt
This book is considered a classic plant ID guide for the Denali area and is a good "picture guide" to many of the flowering plants of central Alaska, more specifically the Denali National Park & Preserve area. It is arranged by color of the flower and then loosely by the family of plant.
Arctic Village
by Robert Marshall
This classic is an original work of literature by one of America's foremost conservationists and is an account of the people of the north, both Native and white, who give Alaska its special human flavor. First published over fifty years ago, the book is still a favorite among old-time Alaskans and, over the years, has prompted numerous readers to pack up and move to Alaska.
Last New Land
by Wayne Mergler
Through time, tales both oral and written have immortalized America's last wilderness. Editor Wayne Mergler scoured Alaska's literary tradition for the best writing the state has to offer and did not come up empty-handed. From the Native legends of the Creation to Jack London's stirring stories of frontier survival, to John Haines's more contemporary reflections on homesteading. The Last New Land gathers a rich and comprehensive sampling of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry about the Northland.
Two in the Far North
by Margaret Murie
This enduring story of life, adventure, and love in Alaska was written by a woman who embraced the remote Alaskan wilderness and became one of its strongest advocates. In this moving testimonial to the preservation of the Arctic wilderness, Mardy Murie writes from her heart about growing up in Fairbanks, becoming the first woman graduate of the University of Alaska, and marrying noted biologist Olaus J. Murie. So begins her lifelong journey in Alaska and on to Jackson Hole, Wyoming where along with her husband and others, they founded The Wilderness Society. Mardy's work as one of the earliest female voices for the wilderness movement earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Alaska: History of the 49th State
by Claus M. Naske
The largest by far of the fifty states, Alaska is also the one of greatest mystery and diversity. Geological forces have made its more than half-million square miles, a region of breathtaking beauty and awesome contrasts. And, as Claus-M. Naska and Herman E. Slotnick shows in this revised and updated edition of their book, the history and development of Alaska’s peoples has matched the diversity of its landscapes and seascapes.
Coming Into the Country
by John McPhee
Coming into the Country is an unforgettable account of Alaska and Alaskans. It is a rich tapestry of vivid characters, observed landscapes, and descriptive narrative, in three principal segments that deal, respectively, with a total wilderness, with urban Alaska, and with life in the remoteness of the bush.
Wilderness and the American Mind
by Roderick Nash
A classic study of America's changing attitudes toward wilderness since its initial publication in 1967. The Los Angeles Times has listed it among the one hundred most influential books published in the last quarter century, Outside Magazine has included it in a survey of "books that changed our world", and it has been called the "Book of Genesis for environmentalists".
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11 days
10 nights
28 meals
10 B 9 L 9 D
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Fairbanks, AK
River's Edge Resort

Activity note: Check-in from 3:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Program Registration: 3:00-5:00 p.m. After checking into your room assignment, come to the Road Scholar table in the main lobby to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing the up-to-date schedule that reflects any changes, other important information, and to confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in.

Dinner: In the dining room at the River's Edge Resort in Fairbanks, we’ll have a buffet dinner with coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: Orientation. Just before dinner, the Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. Distances and durations of hikes may be affected by weather/local conditions. We will have evening presentations by local experts at the Denali Education Center. Topics will vary from natural history to mountaineering to living in the interior. Occasionally, presentations are part of a community offering, integrating us into the local culture. Periods in the schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

Museum; Coach to Denali; Check-in; Orientation; Speaker
Denali National Park
Denali Education Center

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; The drive is about 120 miles, approximately 2 1/2- 3 hours. Light town walking up to 2 miles; mostly paved, 1-4 steps possible, minimal elevation change.

Breakfast: At the River's Edge Resort, the breakfast buffet offers a variety of options each morning such as eggs, a breakfast meat, breads and/or cereal, coffee, tea, and water.

Morning: After checking out of the hotel, we'll board the motor coach and head to the Museum of the North for a deeper look into the history of Fairbanks, an introduction to Alaska's ecology, and a selection of Alaskan art.

Lunch: Along the way, we'll stop at a local restaurant full of local fare and flare.

Afternoon: We'll arrive in Denali at the Denali Education Center (DEC), our home for the next four nights. After arrival, we’ll have a short orientation to DEC, its amenities, and the 10-acre campus. Snacks such as toast, fruit, and granola bars, as well as coffee, tea, and water are available at all times. Alcoholic beverages are not available for sale on campus but can be purchased at a nearby general store.

Dinner: Riverside Hall buffet. Meals at the Education Center strive to be varied and flavorful. Coffee, tea, and water area available at each meal.

Evening: We’ll gather with a member of the DEC year-round staff to learn about the seasonal trials and joys of life in Denali. Groceries, babies, outhouses — we'll hear about it all.

Denali National Park, Guided Hike, Sled Dog Demonstrations.
Denali National Park
Denali Education Center

Activity note: Getting on/off a bus. Driving 30 miles total, approximately 1 hour. Hiking; 2-miles on a maintained trail; approximately 3 hours total; uneven ground, rock steps, some rugged areas, no significant elevation change.

Breakfast: At Riverside Hall, we’ll enjoy a breakfast buffet with rotating choices such as eggs, hot and cold cereals, granola, and fresh fruit, plus coffee, tea, and water.

Morning: Boarding a bus, we’ll travel to Denali where we will get to know the landscape and history of Denali National Park with one of our field educators. Be sure to bring your camera on this wilderness walk along the Savage River Loop Trail, as this is a great spot to see caribou, Dall sheep, marmots, squirrels, and ptarmigan.

Lunch: Out in the field, we’ll have the packed lunches we made after breakfast featuring sandwich fixings, snack bars, and fresh fruit.

Afternoon: Returning to Denali’s Visitor Center, we’ll then take the shuttle buses from the Denali Visitor Center to the kennels at the park headquarters, about 1.5 miles from the Visitor Center, to meet the four-legged heroes of Denali and watch a mushing demonstration. Denali National Park is the only Park in the world that has a working sled dog kennel and the 30-minute Ranger presentation also includes the opportunity to pet and visit with Denali's most well-traveled four-legged rangers! Those who would rather spend this time exploring the Visitor Center are welcome to do so. Denali's main campus includes the renowned Denali Visitor Center, the Morino Grill restaurant, and Alaska Geographic bookstore. There will be time for independent exploration and our Group Leaders available to answer any questions. The Visitor Center features an impressive exhibit hall and regular showings of the park film, "Heartbeats of Denali," a 20-minute non-narrated film that shares visuals of the various seasons, landscapes, and wildlife of this beautiful place. We’ll then return to the Denali Education Center (DEC) campus.

Dinner: Riverside Hall buffet.

Evening: Evening presentation topics and locations will vary depending on local speaker availability. Presentation topics range from learning about living in Denali to predator-prey relationships to climbing the mountain. The schedule for evening presenters in Denali will be announced on the first day of the program.

Subarctic Ecosystems, Walk in Alaska's Boreal Forests
Denali National Park
Denali Education Center

Activity note: Getting on/off a bus; driving 20 miles one way, approximately 1/2 hour total. Walking 3 miles on a maintained trail, approximately 4 hours; shorter steep sections, roots, rocks, and we patches possible. Approximately 400 feet elevation change total.

Breakfast: Riverside Hall buffet.

Morning: In a classroom session on campus, one of our expert field educators will teach us about the sometimes surprising, always extreme conditions that shape life in Denali and define a subarctic ecosystem. In this 3-hour interactive session, we’ll learn how the complex geology of interior Alaska is connected to annual precipitation, why geographical location determines the adaptations of plants, and how the Native peoples survived for generations in one of the most formidable climates on Earth.

Lunch: Riverside Hall buffet

Afternoon: Next, we’ll set out to explore the world’s largest biome, the northern boreal forest, on an expert-led walk on one of Denali's maintained trails. Arriving to the trail head by bus, this forested trail is occasionally steep with 400 feet elevation change, affords beautiful views and an intimate look into the serenity and severity of Alaska’s boreal forest.

Dinner: Riverside Hall buffet.

Evening: Gathering together, we’ll settle in for a presentation given by a local speaker on a topic pertinent to the program theme.

Heart of the Park, Eielson Visitor Center
Denali National Park
Denali Education Center

Activity note: Getting on/off a bus. Driving about 65 miles one way, approximately 8 hours total aboard, with rest stops every 1-1.5 hours. Walking up to 1-mile throughout the day; opportunities for more walking dependent on personal preference. Maintained trails are available around the Eielson Visitor Center. Trail length and difficulty vary significantly from less than 1 mile on easy, compact terrain, to longer hikes on more challenging terrain that can be uneven, rocky, and steep.

Breakfast: Riverside Hall buffet.

Morning: Boarding a shuttle bus, we’ll travel to the heart of Denali National Park on a day-long journey to the Eielson Visitor Center. Along the way, we’ll enjoy commentary about the park from our bus driver while we take in breathtaking views of the Alaska Range and its many peaks. Have your cameras ready as we might have a good chance to view Denali's wildlife, which may include caribou, grizzly bears, Dall sheep, moose, wolves, and more! Opportunities to stretch our legs will be available throughout the day; we will stop periodically to observe wildlife when sighted, for restroom breaks, and for photo opportunities.

Lunch: At Eielson Visitor Center, we’ll have sack lunches with a sandwich, snack bars, and fresh fruit.

Afternoon: At the Eielson Visitor Center, we’ll have time for independent exploration to take in the many interpretive displays including a 3-D model of Denali that can help one visualize the various climbing routes, both past and present. Rangers will also be on hand to answer any questions that you might have. A shuttle bus will then set out for the return trip to Denali Education Center. However, if you wish to spend some more time independently at and around Eielson Visitor Center, hiking Denali's pristine wilderness this is an option. The Group Leader can offer information on how to return to the Denali Education Center for anyone interested in staying longer and hiking independently.

Dinner: Riverside Hall buffet.

Evening: At leisure.

Wildlife of Denali, Maintained Trail Interpretive Hike
Denali National Park
Denali Education Center

Activity note: Getting on/off a bus. Driving about 15 miles total; approximately 1/2 hour. Walking 3.5 miles on a maintained trail, approximately 4 hours; compact gravel, boardwalks, roots, rock, and stairs. About 250 feet of elevation change.

Breakfast: Riverside Hall buffet.

Morning: Denali is home to 39 of the most iconic mammal species and an impressive 169 bird species. We’ll join a Denali Education Center field educator in class in our Riverside Hall as they discuss the extraordinary adaptations that allow local wildlife to survive in Alaska’s extreme subarctic climate. During this educational program, we will get to examine several fur pelts, skulls, and hooves from these regional species as we learn about how they are surviving in the North.

Lunch: Riverside Hall buffet.

Afternoon: After traveling the short distance by bus to the trailhead, we’ll explore the rich and varied habitats of the area with one of our field educators along a 3.2-mile maintained park trail. Watch for evidence of wildlife as the trail winds through the forest- putting your newly gained wildlife knowledge to the test. We’ll return to the DEC upon completion of our hike.

Dinner: Riverside Hall buffet.

Evening: A local speaker will join us for an informative presentation.

Through the Alaska Range, South to Seward
Gateway Hotel

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach. Driving 375 miles, approximately 9 hours total including stops.

Breakfast: Riverside Hall Buffet

Morning: After checking out of the hotel, we’ll journey via motorcoach to the harbor town of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula, home of Kenai Fjords National Park. Dependent of weather and visibility along the way, we may get a glimpse of Mt. Denali as we pass through Denali State Park. We’ll stop at several places to stretch our legs and take photos of the magnificent views afforded in this beautiful landscape.

Lunch: We'll enjoy the sack lunches made earlier that morning at a stop along the way, or en route aboard the motor coach.

Afternoon: Upon our arrival, we'll check into our rooms with some time to relax and freshen up before dinner.

Dinner: At the hotel, we’ll have a buffet dinner from a local Seward restaurant. Dinner includes coffee, tea, and water; other beverages available for purchase

Evening: After dinner we'll gather in our group meeting room to familiarize and acquaint ourselves with the differences between Seward and Denali and to go over the schedule for the upcoming days.

Behind-the-Scenes at SeaLife Center, Exit Glacier Hike
Gateway Hotel

Activity note: Getting on/off a bus. Driving about 25 miles total, approximately 1 hour. Walking and standing at SeaLife Center. Hiking 2-miles round trip, approximately 2.5 hours; moderately strenuous terrain, some steep inclines, rocky areas, and sloping terrain. There are some benches along the way to rest.

Breakfast: The Gateway Hotel will have a buffet breakfast with coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Morning: After taking a shuttle bus to the SeaLife Center, we’ll have an expert-led behind-the-scenes exploration during which we’ll learn about the center’s marine wildlife research, rehabilitation projects, and life-support systems. We’ll also discover what it takes to care for seals, sea lions, octopus, seabirds, and 154 species of fish that are all housed at the SeaLife Center.

Lunch: At the Alaska SeaLife Center, we’ll have boxed lunches with coffee and water.

Afternoon: Next, we’ll travel by bus to Exit Glacier. As we get closer to Exit Glacier, be sure to watch for the date markers along the roadside; these markers indicate where the glacier’s terminus was located at that time! Once we arrive we’ll be joined by a ranger who will lead our interpretive walk to the edge of the glacier while teaching us about the ecosystem that surrounds this iconic icy behemoth. After our hike, we’ll return to the Gateway Hotel.

Dinner: At the hotel, we’ll have a buffet dinner including coffee, tea, and water; other beverages available for purchase

Evening: After dinner we'll gather for a presentation by a local expert on glaciers and glaciology.

Kenai Fjords National Park Marine Wildlife Cruise
Gateway Hotel

Activity note: Short walk to the small boat harbor: less than a mile. Getting on/off a boat; riding approximately 7.5 hours.

Breakfast: Gateway Hotel buffet.

Morning: After a short walk to the small boat harbor, we’ll board a catamaran style boat for a full-day, expert-led field trip into Kenai Fjords National Park and Resurrection Bay. Throughout the day a Park Ranger will be aboard the boat to interpret what we are seeing and answer our questions. A great opportunity to spot wildlife, so be on the lookout as we travel through this strikingly beautiful habitat. We may be lucky enough to see whales, sea otters, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, puffins, eagles, and more. Along our route, we will also pass two active tidewater glaciers- the Holgate and the Aialik.

Lunch: Aboard the boat during our Kenai Fjords adventure, we will have a buffet meal of regional favorites with coffee, tea, water, and non-alcoholic beverages included; other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: We’ll continue our expert-led field trip aboard the boat in Kenai Fjords National Park and Resurrection Bay. Upon our return to the dock, we’ll transfer back to the hotel. Before breaking for the evening we'll meet and discuss the following day's schedule and our travels north to Anchorage. The rest of the evening is yours to do any final exploring of Seward.

Dinner: On your own. Explore the local fare and flare that Seward dinning has to offer. Ask your Group Leader for suggestions within walking distance, or strike out on your own and explore this small harbor town.

Alyeska Tram, Native Heritage Center, Program Wrap-Up
Anchorage, AK
Lakefront Hotel

Activity note: Check-out by 9:00 a.m. Getting on/off a motor coach. Driving about 130 miles to Anchorage, approximately 3 hours with stops and lunch along the way. Expected hotel arrival approximately 3:00 p.m. Town walking up to 3 miles; mostly paved, 1-4 steps and gentle inclines possible.

Breakfast: Gateway Hotel buffet.

Morning: After checking out, we’ll depart Seward aboard a chartered motor coach bound for Girdwood. Once here we'll ride the tram to to top of Mt. Alyeska to enjoy lunch and, weather permitting, views of the surrounding area.

Lunch: Lunch at the Boar Tide Deli and Dine- located at the top of Mt. Alyeska

Afternoon: After lunch, we'll gather to take the tram back down the mountain's base. From here we'll head to Alaska Native Heritage Center where we'll learn about the many and varied cultures that have shaped Alaska's history. After our time at the Native Heritage Center we'll check into the Lakefront Hotel, our accommodations while in Anchorage.

Dinner: We will share a farewell dinner in a private room at the Lakefront Hotel. Coffee, tea, and water are included with alcoholic beverages available for purchase.

Evening: During the program wrap up we’ll tell stories and share some of our favorite experiences from our time in Alaska. We'll recount our explorations of two of Alaska's incredible national parks and the new knowledge that we'll take home with us. The remainder of the evening is at your leisure or to prepare for check-out and departure in the morning.

Program Concludes
Anchorage, AK

Activity note: Check out by 12:00 a.m. Hotel offers 24-hour airport shuttle service. Continental breakfast provided.

Breakfast: Lakefront Hotel Buffet

Morning: Hotel checkout is at noon. The Lakefront Hotel offers a 24-hour courtesy airport shuttle service- allowing you to head to the airport at your convenience. This concludes our program. If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!

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