Journal/Blog‎ > ‎2012‎ > ‎July‎ > ‎

Denali - One of the Coolest Places on Earth!

posted Jul 23, 2012, 6:50 PM by Michael Schwarz   [ updated Jul 10, 2016, 2:19 AM ]

July 17- July 24

Denali National Park

We stayed at the Riley Campground at mile 1 of the park road.  Locations in the park are measured by mile markers.  Cars and RV's can drive to Savage River at mile 15 on a nicely  paved and maintained road.  After that, you need a special permit, be camping at Teklinika Campground, or be on a park bus.  Camping at "Tek" gets you to mile 29.  We tried to get a space there but had waited a little too long to make a reservation. 

Denali has been the 1 and only place in Alaska and Canada that we had to make a reservation in order to get a camping space.  To get past mile 15 you need to board a park bus to Eilson Visitor Center (mile 66), Wonder Lake (mile 80 something), or Kashtina Camp (mile 92-end of the Park).  Once you board a bus you can get off at anytime and go hiking, enjoy the scenery or whatever.  When you are ready to get going again you wait on the side of the road and wait for a green bus to go by.  If they have space you can get on, if not you wait for the next bus.  Michael and I opted to buy a ticket to the Eilson Center as the 66 mile trip takes 4 hours each way.  The road is gravel and goes up, down and around many mountains.  When I say park bus I really mean an old school bus painted green!!!  Other than seeing the park the reason for traveling into the wilderness is for a chance to see the tallest mountain in North America - Mt. McKinley - at 20,232 feet.  Only 30% of visitors see the whole mountain because of clouds! It's so big that it generates its own weather system.

Mile 40 from the bus to Eilson

1st glimpse of The Mountain. That's about 1/3 of it. The rest of it is obscured by clouds.

Mile 66 - Eilson Visitor Center

Lots of clouds around the top of the Mt. so we decided to hike the Alpine Trail for a better view.  It was only 0.8 miles.  How hard can it be!!!! 1,800 feet straight up.  That's the Visitor Center waaaaaay down there.

See the little black dots on the side of the hill?? Those are hikers.

Ahhh.  Made it to the top.

Unfortunately the clouds didn't lift. Sitting up there, we could see the outline of the rest of the monster behind the clouds, but it didn't show up in the photo...

There was still lots of beautiful vistas to appreciate

We weren't the only ones at the top looking for a glimpse of McKinley!!

On the bus ride back we saw a bunch of Caribou


And some Dall Sheep

And a momma grizzly and her cub.  They were kinda far away

and some more Caribou

and some nice scenery
Couple of days later we decided to be brave and go for a nice hike.  There are no trails in Denali.  You just pick a spot and start hiking. It looks like it would be easy but this brush is knee high and the ground is uneven, boggy, rutted, wet.  It was hard going.  We went about 3 miles and the mountain we were aiming for didn't get any closer so we had lunch and headed back.

The next day we signed up for a moderate level Discovery Hike. A Discovery Hike is one that is guided by a ranger and limited to 11 people.  We boarded a green bus and headed to mile 49.  After 2 1/2 hours the bus driver left us off at the side of the road. We opted to leave the group and hike on our own because the group had some people who wanted to speed hike and a couple of ladies who were really slow.  One of them even fell at least 3 times. Here we are at the top of yet another mountain.

Ewald! - look what we found at the top!!
At the end of our 5 mile hike we headed back to the road to catch a bus  back. Luck day! As we burst from the bush a bus was coming down the road. Saw some wildlife on the ride back to the campground. Dall sheep right on the side of the road.

I'm ready for my closeup Mr. Demille

A lazy caribou.  He never did stand up

A momma moose and her baby

We also took a 2 hour white water rafting trip down the Nenana River on class III and IV rapids.  We had a choice of being just passengers and letting the guide do all the rowing or we could be paddlers and the guide yells out instruction.  Since it was our first rafting experience we opted for being just passengers.  Next time we would definitely be paddlers!!

Next we are off to Fairbanks, about 128 miles north. In the meantime

Cocktails await . . .