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We are debating between the Tundra and Kantishna. They both seem like an awful long time to sit on a bus the day after sitting all day in the train. Is the Kantishna better than the Tundra ... our numero-uno goal on this trip is to see bears. Thoughts?
Your primary comment is the time on the bus. So with that I would certainly forget about Kantishna- a significant part of this tour, is lunch, with little time for anything else at the lodge.
I recommend you look at www.nps.gov/dena and find out about the Eielson SHUTTLE bus. If bears are your priority this is what you should be considering and not the TWT. It is very likely to see bears, but for the first time, I was skunked on an Eielson shuttle bus last year for bear sightings. Returned the following week for a Wonder Lake bus, and did see bears in the Toklat/Eielson section.
We took the Tundra Wilderness Tour in May and saw a lot of wildlife and wonderful scenery. It was a long but good time on the bus but we would have loved to keep going, unfortunately the Kantishna Tour was not available until June after we were gone. Half of the bus was napping on the way back so no one felt out of place doing that I think you need to at least go as far as the Tundra Wilderness tour to get the most out of your trip! Have fun!
I second the shuttle. We booked the shuttle to Wonder Lake and were fortunate enough to have a clear day. We got to Eielson, with lovely views of Denali and the Alaska range. It is a long day on a bus and you're ready to be off of it by the end of the day. There are VERY frequent stops though, from quicky five-minute potty breaks to longer opportunities at the more scenic spots along the way including Eielson.
If you don't have a clear day, you can always drop off at Eielson and take a nice hike. They actually shut down the trails when we were there because there was a bear just down from the center, who was kind enough to entertain us for quite a while!
I would say take the earliest shuttle you can stand. Get going bright and early and leave yourself the most options. You can stay with the same shuttle all day, or get off for a hike and catch the next one that comes by.