Bus from Into the Wild Alaska
Alaska,  We12inspire

About the Magic ‘Supertramp’ Bus from Into the Wild

About the Magic Bus from Into the Wild

Over the past months, I received quite a lot of questions about ‘the bus from Into the Wild’, also known as The Magic Bus. So in this blog, I will answer them for you, making the information available for everyone who wants to know more about it. Where to find it, where to find the replica, how the bus got there and why I choose not to go there (what??? yes, you read that right!…)
 
My first time in Alaska was back in 2007. I was assistant guiding a camping tour and the lead guide thought it would be fun to drive up to the Stampede Road for a bit to see where it would take us. We were driving a 14 passenger supervan and once the road got too bad, we decided to turn around before we got stuck. Until we actually got stuck in a big pool of mud … Luckily there were 12 people in our group to help us digging out the wheels and one hour later, we were on the way again. When we exited the Stampede Road and turned back on to the George Parks Highway, the lead guide told me the story about Chris McCandles and that was when I heard about Into the Wild for the very first time.
 
stampede trail into the wild alaska magic bus
 

Into the Wild

When I got home, I immediately bought Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and finished it within no-time. The story really got to me and I felt miserable for days, realizing Chris got stuck and had eventually died out there while he was all alone in the Alaskan wilderness. A few months later, the movie came out and suddenly everyone in the world, seemed to know who Alexander Supertramp was. In addition, they felt like they needed to go to Alaska and get over to that bus. The Magic Bus. Fairbanks City Transit System Bus 142. The bus that is stuck in the middle of nowhere and was left abandoned there in 1961 by the crew of the Yutan Construction Company.
 
As a part of my previous job, I sold trips to Alaska. Although the movie hype is pretty much over, I’m was asked every now and then if you can reach the bus and if yes, how to get there. I always answered with the same phrase: “you can get there but it’s not recommended and if the locals will have to come and rescue you, they won’t be happy. It’s Alaska, not Disneyland.”
 
Thing is, unlike many other American places, Alaska is not your typical tourist destination. If it would have been, someone would have thought of making a bridge across the Teklanika River and get busloads of tourists there, just to make money. Fortunately, they don’t and that leaves the only option to get there, which is by foot. Those who are fit should not have trouble with the trail but the big difficulty is the Teklanika River which has to be crossed by foot. Many hikers have gotten into trouble as they were not prepared for this or they just had no idea how to safely cross a river by foot.
 
In 2010 a female hiker died as she was swept away while crossing the river. This proves that hiking to the Magic Bus is no joke. Alaska is unlike any other place in the world. There is no cellphone connection, there’s nothing than vast wilderness around you. If you get into trouble, you’re there all by yourself. Local hunters don’t like people stepping into ‘their land’ and I’ve been told by various people that I talked to during all of my Alaska trips, that locals are tired of having to rescue hikers from the trail because they got into trouble. In fact, they rather don’t see any tourists coming there to see the bus at all…
 
magic bus into the wild alaska
 

To go or not to go …

Sure, I’ve been thinking of going to the bus as some kind of pilgrimage but eventually decided not to. There are various reasons, but the most important one being that nobody in Alaska asks for this kind of tourism. OK, maybe a few do, but most Alaskans are not amused by yet another hiker attempting to be the next Chris McCandles. Having been to Alaska seven times over the past years and having spoken to many locals, they see those tourists as fools and the next stupid adventurer. Do I want them to think of me like that? No. Will I become a better person if I go and see that bus? No. Is the trail really that stunning? No. Am I willing to risk my life to get to that bus? No.
 
Back in 2011 I did a serious river crossing while hiking in Iceland and I nearly got swept away. It was a terrifying experience and back then I swore to never do any river crossings anymore. Of course I did them again ever since, but I stayed away from the big rivers. I still recall the moment I was ready to give up my battle against the water and let myself be swept away by the river, my back then partner pulled me out of the water. Just as I’m typing this, shivers run down by my spine just by the thought of having to do such a thing again… water has always been and will forever be my worst enemy.
 
magic bus into the wild alaska
 

How to find the movie bus from Into the Wild

Luckily, there is an alternative. Sure, it’s not as good as ‘the real deal’ but it was good enough for me. If you head out to Healy near Denali National Park, you will find the 49th State Brewery there and they bought the bus that was used for the movie. Although it’s in a touristic place, when we were there, nobody seemed to pay attention to it and we could take pictures as we wanted. Kids were playing soccer in front of the bus and nobody even seemed to raise an eyebrow as I was taking pictures. That’s just how it works in Alaska…
 
Want to read more about Alaska? You may enjoy these:
Really cool and cold things to do in Alaska
‘Happiness only real when shared?’ About solo travel in Alaska.
Solo hiking as a female in bear country Alaska
 
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Anto is a 30-something outdoor fan who travels the world about 100 days a year, combined with a full-time office job. She loves to go hiking, enjoys a good class of wine and can usually be found with an iPhone in her hand. Favorite destinations: New Zealand, Patagonia, Austria and Alaska.

44 Comments

  • Yvonne

    Haha, leuk verhaal. Ik had geen idee dat die bus daar echt nog staat. Ik geloof ook niet dat ik interesse zou hebben erheen te gaan, als de hike er naartoe niet heel erg mooi zou zijn. Bovendien ben ik gewoon te lui om zo ver te lopen. 😉 Grappig dat er een alternatief is en die foto’s zien er erg cool uit

  • Robert | Traveljunks

    Ik begrijp het ook niet, maar nog minder dat van die hype omtrent een persoon die op een miserabele manier om het leven is gekomen vanwege zijn droom.

    Niet de hoofdpersoon van het verhaal en de film, maar alle dombo’s die er zo gelukzalig over mijmeren en het haast verafgoden van Mr McCandles gaan me sinds het boek uit is een beetje op mijn zenuwen. Het was een ongelukkige samenloop van omstandigheden i.c.m. een koppige dromer die geen goede voorbereiding heeft gehad. Met andere woorden, ik vind het gewoon dom wat hij deed..

    Je merkt waarschijnlijk dat ik de ophef nooit heb begrepen.. 😉

  • Rob

    Very good read, I totally agree with you about thinking twice about going out to the bus. Chris’s story is a tragic one and seems to have some sort of hold over people. I read somewhere that roughly 100 people a year still attempt to get out to see the bus. Although I didn’t grow up in Alaska but Alberta, Canada I have hiked in the Rocky Mountains and can say that if you are unprepared the wilderness can be a very unforgiving place.

  • Vicki | MakeTimeToSeeTheWorld

    Great read – i’ve had to google about the magic bus to get the full story – I think I missed the film and associated hype 🙁 but what a tale. I think it’s better for people to visit the ‘tourist’ version and let the other bus be claimed by the Alaskan wilderness. It’s really not worth the hike which could take your own life.

    • anto

      No worries, you’re not the only one. It’s been quite a hype but over for a while now. Check the movie or the book out if you can, definitely worth it!

  • Alina Popescu

    I’d so go for the tourist version! I’m not afraid of a hike, but they are not all made equal and unfortunately few of us are really equipped to deal with the wilderness. I would love to visit Alaska though, just because you’re pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and because it’s so gorgeous, but I’d do it with someone who knows it better than me.

  • mark wyld

    Far to hard core for me if you have to put your own life in danger just to find an empty bus. i would much prefer a few beers at the brewery and the tourist photo of the bus would be just as good

  • Drew

    Life is way too short to risk your life seeking a deserted bus. As you said, the Alaska wilderness is no joke. It is a place for seasoned and responsible trekkers, as chances are, no one will be around to help you. I don’t blame the locals for their attitude towards this type of tourism. If I had to risk my life saving people over and over again, I might be frustrated too.

  • Rosemary

    Always good to be cautious and consider the options before putting one’s life in danger. Like Mark, enjoy the park, stay safe and a photo will do just fine 🙂

  • Tess Andrade

    I read the book and watched the movie twice – i was completely fascinated about McCandless! Particularly as he studied law like me but had no intention of ‘fitting in’ – some say he was an utter idiot others say he ‘just got it’. I guess both is probably true. I agree with you though – i wouldn’t put my life in danger just to be able to say that I took a photo of the original bus. Nah…

    • anto

      Yes, so was I… he’s a very interesting personality! Both are possibly true indeed, I think it really depends on what your view on life and society is …

  • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers

    Great story and I get what you’re saying, but still … I would love to go out there and just be one with nature, not just for that bus. But you are right to say that it’s not Disneyland, I know that, but it’s on my bucket list none the less 😉

  • Trisha Velarmino

    This is really interesting. I thought the movie just made a pre-production for this bus. Never thought it’s real! But yes, I think I am okay with spending a night there but not more than that. Would love to visit soon!

      • Jamin Rice

        I can understand why some might think that way, but consider the advantage of a safe and quick alternative to the highly risky and lengthy hike. When Chris’ family went out to the bus, they did not hike. They took a helicopter. I have never had the desire to hike to the bus, but when I was offered a seat on a helicopter, of course I took advantage of the opportunity. It was a powerful and somber experience that I am grateful for.

    • anto

      It sais right here: ‘Fairbanks City Transit System Bus 142. The bus that is stuck in the middle of nowhere and was left abandoned there in 1961 by the crew of the Yutan Construction Company.’ I hope this helps 🙂

  • Bob

    Thanks for the reply anto, but I already knew it was left there by the company, but why was it left there? Do you have any info on that? 🙂

    • anto

      Nope but I’ve gotten in touch with a friend of mine in Alaska to see if she knows. If yes, I’ll definitely post the answer here 🙂

  • Bobby

    Thanks for inquiring! I really hope she knows. It’s one of my favorite movies of all-time. Watch it at least once a year ^_^

  • Pearl

    Bus 142 is anything but magical. Not sure why anyone would want to risk their life and the lives of local Alaskans who have to attempt to rescue them to follow the steps of an idiot. What McCandless did was not romantic or inspiring, it was just dumb and careless. There was not one thing he did that was right. He was no hero or someone to aspire to be. Putting McCandless on a pedestal has encouraged more and more people to follow his irresponsible path like recently deceased newlywed 24 year old Veranika Nikanava who was on her July 2019 honeymoon in Alaska. (link below) She drowned trying to cross the river to see a bus where a foolish man made all the wrong decisions and starved to death.

    As an Alaskan I wish the state would remove the bus so people with bad judgement would quit dying trying to see it. Not sure how many have to be rescued or die before they come to a realization as to what a hazard it is.

    https://www.outsideonline.com/2400297/hiker-dies-into-the-wild-bus-chris-mccandless

    • anto

      I can’t agree with you more Pearl and therefor decided to write this article a few years ago. People have no idea what it’s like to go to Alaska and many of them are stupid and only think about themselves when it comes to wanting to see the bus. I’m on your side and hope that with this article I can at least make people reconsider their idea to head out into the wilderness.

      • Pearl

        Thanks for writing this article, Antonette. Hopefully it will help keep a few tourists from making a fatal decision. As you know, there are so many better destinations in Alaska and any of them are exceedingly better and more interesting than this one. Bus 142 has become an evil specter beaconing mortals to their death.

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