Written by stvchin on 25 Jan, 2013
I'm writing this to help others who are looking to stay at the Denali National Park entrance area, which is just outside the park. It seems that most visitors to the park will end up staying in this area. Although modern technology gives us satellite…Read More
I'm writing this to help others who are looking to stay at the Denali National Park entrance area, which is just outside the park. It seems that most visitors to the park will end up staying in this area. Although modern technology gives us satellite and drive by maps, it was still difficult for my friends and I to figure out what to expect until we arrived.If you’re not camping in Denali National Park (DNP) then a good portion of your stay will be probably be spent just outside of DNP by the entrance area. The DNP entrance area, also called the Nenana River Canyon, is home to seasonal accommodations, as well as shops, restaurants, and activities. The Nenana River Canyon lodges are the most convenient, as they’re close enough to walk into DNP. But for those who don’t like to walk, there are regular shuttles from most lodges into DNP. The George Parks Highway runs straight through the middle of the Nenana River Canyon area.The four large lodges in the area are the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, McKinley Chalet Resort, Grande Denali Lodge, and the Denali Bluffs Hotel. While some of these lodges either belong to or are partnered up with cruise companies, you can still schedule a stay at these lodges, independent of the cruises. I noticed these cruise company affiliated lodges seem to have the most regular hourly shuttles to and from DNP. There are smaller lodges in the area as well as hostels which have shared shuttle service to DNP.On the east side of the Parks Highway are the shops and restaurants. Most of these shops and restaurants are on a nice elevated boardwalk. I do recommend some of these restaurants, such as Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse. There is a Subway sandwich shop which is open 24 hours, making it a good source of sandwiches for the DNP Discovery Hikes, as other restaurants open too late in the morning. There is a nice little ice cream shop with various local flavors, such as huckleberry ice cream. There is a nice coffee shop which also makes sandwiches, a photo processing shop is there for those that still use film, or want to print out their digital photos. There are also two small markets. The prices in these stores are quite expensive, as outside of any mini-marts in the lodges, these two small markets are pretty much the only markets available to buy groceries and snacks. Also included in the shops are various restaurants, and shops for rafting and off road adventures, as well as aerial tours of the Denali area. Our Nenana River rafting adventure started out here, as well as the shuttle to our off road ATV adventure.Looking around the Nenana River Canyon area, Mount Healy and the Nenana River sit immediately to the west. The town of Healy is about 10 minutes up the road to north. We would end up at Healy for a few activities, as well as the 49th State Brewing Company for a really good dinner. Looking south along George Parks Highway, the entrance to DNP is about 1.5 miles from the center of the area, and many people make the scenic and easy walk down the trail to and from the park. We noticed that there is a point on that trail where the various rafting companies set up and board the rafts.We made a few interesting observations of the area. We found ourselves far enough north in latitude that there is barely any darkness, maybe two hours in July. The rest of the time is very bright twilight, most of the time it’s bright enough to read a book outside. This makes for interesting nightlife as you can still do a lot with the extended daylight. 8pm feels like 3pm. Workers tell us that in June, around the solstice, the sun does set, but barely below the horizon, and there is no darkness, just really bright twilight. That would be an interesting sight to see.It was a bit breezy at times, as it's a canyon area. Plus there was intermittent drizzle. I suggest sweaters, a waterproof jacket, hat that covers the ears, and maybe even gloves. If you're going to hike around outside, I'd recommend mosquito spray or lotion. You could encounter wildlife, as our shuttle bus encountered moose a few times. I'd advise a whistle or something to scare off wildlife should you encounter them while hiking around.Various workers have told us that the Nenana Canyon Area is basically closed down during the winter, and only starts to come to life around early May. This is when workers arrive to prepare the lodges and businesses for the imminent arrival of the tourists when the lodges open around mid-May. Then town closes down around September when the lodges close down. A lot of these workers are either students, some locals from surrounding areas, and nature enthusiasts who use the job as a means of financing their hiking treks. Our rafting guide was a medical student who goes either hiking or kayaking in the evening after his rafting job. But I must that regardless of the business, all of the workers were very professional, nice, and efficient, and kudos to them and their management. They really did make our time in the area a really wonderful one. Close
Written by MilwVon on 27 Sep, 2011
Continuing with Sunday 9/18 . . .I went back into the park, in hopes of seeing those sheep and the bears closer. I was fortunate to arrive at the location for the afternoon bear jam before there was anyone else (other than a park ranger)…Read More
Continuing with Sunday 9/18 . . .I went back into the park, in hopes of seeing those sheep and the bears closer. I was fortunate to arrive at the location for the afternoon bear jam before there was anyone else (other than a park ranger) there. She said that the three had been sighted but headed down a ravine, not to be seen since for about an hour. I told her I would just park and wait to see what might happen. About 15 minutes later, they all appeared. Hurray - the bear jam was on.I stayed for just under an hour, until the bears crossed the road and headed up high into the hillside. I got a lot of nice photos of them eating berries throughout this little valley area.I was also able to photograph the sheep much closer (in both directions) at Toklat which made me happy.I got back to TEK around 6:15pm and decided to head "out" of the park maybe for a shower, but for sure, for dinner in Healy or Glitter Gulch. Initially I was thinking of Rose's Cafe again, but instead opted for the Prospector's Pizzeria & Alehouse. They were very busy, with a long wait, but I was offered a seat at the bar so I took it.Dinner was good - - minestrone soup and a steak/cheese sandwich. Got back to camp around 9:30 and went right to bed.Monday 9/19 . . . busy day! Got up early and headed out at 7:30am. The mountain was out but with some clouds collecting nearby. It was very windy at the MM62 overlook. Headed on to Eielson. Not much in the way of animal sightings so far other than three caribou on the tundra just before the visitors center. Decided to use the time at Eielson to download photos from cameras to laptop and start packing up my car (rolling sleeping bag, bedding, etc). After about 90 minutes, headed east back out towards TEK.Bears were seen up high just below Stoney Dome (MM63) so I stopped to see if they would come further down. They did, resulting in another hour or so of up close viewing of the mom + cubs. This bear jam was huge! People reported being caught in the back-up nearly a mile away, for a long time. Some of the best photographing of these three was during this time.I continued on east, stopped at Toklat for lunch. Enjoyed watching the sheep work their way down about halfway from the top of the cliff. They still looked like "dots" to me, but I took a few photos just the same.Once out at the entrance, my plan was to take a shower at Riley before heading to Fairbanks for my evening/red-eye flight. The mercantile was to be open until 4:00pm so I thought arriving at 3:15p would be plenty of time for a shower. NOPE - the laundry dept. needed all the towels at 2:00pm so the showers were closed. Because I had my own towel, I talked them into letting me take a shower . . . thank you! I couldn't imagine getting on a plane having not showered in three days. (I later found out I could have gone to an RV park nearby so it would have worked out.)After my shower, came back to a dead car. It had been running but conked out while I was on my cell phone with my hubby. I called the rental company in Fairbanks, they thought I was out of gas (no way - - had a quarter tank when I got to Riley). They called someone and after a three hour wait, he arrived with 5 gallons of gas. "NOPE - you have plenty of gas" he told me. Seems it was the fuel pump going out and that the fuse was shorting out due to "cold gas". YES that is what he said "cold gas". WTH . . . I'm in Alaska in September and the gas is cold enough today (it was near 55f) to short out the fuses???Anyway, he got it fixed up enough that I could limp the truck back to Fairbanks. I was told not to buy more than three gallons of gas at a time and that I should actually have enough to not worry about buying any more before getting to town.The 130 mile drive was a bit nerve-racking since I had to worry about it cutting out again and getting stranded. I didn't dare stop along the way, just in case, as much as I wanted to take some photos of probably the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen in my life. OMG was it beautiful. The reds in the sky, the glowing affect on the yellow birch trees along the hills . . . it was spectacular. Thankfully my friend Susan got some wonderful photos on her return from Denali that evening which will serve to refresh my memory in the future.Anyway, I got back to Fairbanks without incident. I stopped for a chicken sandwich at KFC on Airport Way. I was feeling confident about the car, so I headed out to Susan's place in North Pole for a short visit before making my way to the airport for my 1:30am departure.All in all, in spite of some of the inconveniences along the way, it was a wonderful weekend! I was fortunate to find the couple from Juneau to do the ride share with on Saturday & Sunday . . . and to obtain the Monday pass from another couple the week prior to the trip. Having the three days on the park road was perfect, especially since I made good use of Friday without a road pass.I don't know if or when I might ever do this trip again, but I can say without hesitation, that it was great and I would recommend it to anyone interested in seeing the park at your own pace and comfort level.p.s. I'd be remiss to not mention that the folks at the Fairbanks Rent-a-Wreck were very good in working through the fuel pump issue with me; assuring I'd get back in time for my flight that evening. They were very accommodating and "took care of me" in terms of my inconvenience that afternoon/evening. Thank you Peter & Andrew!!! Close
The Denali Park Road Lottery occurs annual in mid September, at the end of their season, weather permitting. The National Park Service conducts a drawing whereby 400 people are selected for each of the four days of the road lottery. This year there…Read More
The Denali Park Road Lottery occurs annual in mid September, at the end of their season, weather permitting. The National Park Service conducts a drawing whereby 400 people are selected for each of the four days of the road lottery. This year there were more than 10,000 people who paid the $10 entry fee at a chance to drive the Denali Park Road. Those selected in the random drawing are also assessed an additional $25 for their road pass. Since entries are limited to one per person, David and I enlisted some family members (seven of them) to enter the lottery too as winning passes are transferable to others. Out of our nine entries, my sister's mother-in-law did win a Saturday pass. Hurray!I had previously made my plans for this weekend that would include staying four nights at the Teklanika Campground (TEK). I also planned for camping using a rental car from the Fairbanks' Rent-a-Wreck office. Since many rental agencies do not permit their vehicles on unpaved roads, the Rent-a-Wreck option seemed most suitable for me. Driving car and sleeping vehicle all in one, for $100/day.With one day inside the park secured, I then set about trying to make arrangements for additional passes to drive the Park Road. While the sale of passes is strictly forbidden by NPS policy, there were several being offered and sought for prices as high as $200-$300 on Craig's List. I refused to pay anything more than the face value of $35 which seemed to be acceptable in the eyes of the NPS. Unfortunately, there were none going for such a low price, which left me to more creative solutions.I was able to secure a ride swap with a couple from Juneau. They had a pass for Sunday, but unfortunately no camping reservation as TEK was already sold out. We worked it out so that they could camp in my campsite and we'd ride together on Saturday on my pass and then on Sunday on theirs. Perfect!The week prior to the lottery weekend, I had someone from another travel website offer me their pass for Monday as their plans had changed. We had previously communicated about the possibility of a ride share too, so they knew I was looking for a Monday solution. With my check for $35 off in the mail to them in California, I was now set for three days inside the park.My original plan was to try to secure a ride for Friday once I arrived at TEK on Thursday, but it worked out well to not have any plans Friday as I used that day to see and do some things that I had never been able to do before. I especially enjoyed the Denali Kennel visit and demo . . . and my hot shower at Riley Creek Mercantile.On Friday I was in bed by 9:00p and up around 5:30a the next morning. I awoke to a nice shimmering aurora curtain to the north. It lasted around 15 minutes as the twilight grew and probably faded out whatever was there. Friday night/Saturday morning was bitter cold. I was starting to question my decision to sleep in the truck!Lottery Weekend: While the plan was for us to ride on "my pass" on Saturday and ride on "theirs" for Sunday it turned out the guy had "riding issues" so they drove both days and I paid for gas. That worked out for me since the Suburban was getting around 12-14MPG.On Saturday 9/16 with them driving, it seemed they were more interested in seeing the mountain than wildlife, so our drive "in" was a bit more hurried than I like. We stopped long enough to get the photo, but not long enough to see what else developed. This included a stop & go where the three bears were at in the distance around MM64. We did arrive at the Stony Dome overlook of Mt McKinley in time for a full view photo op. It was breathtaking, as clouds seemingly appeared from the north. Just beyond there, we also saw a small herd of caribou . . . probably 12-15 animals of all sizes.We continued on to the Eielson Visitor Center for a short stop, and then onto Wonder Lake and to the end at Kantishna. By Eielson the mountain was starting to be covered and at Wonder Lake, no view at all. BOO! While the drive to Kantishna was interesting, it was a long way to go to see no wildlife. For that matter, we saw nothing beyond Eielson until our drive "out" to Riley for showers. We saw moose along the posted "rut" area at MM9-10 but none very close to the road.It was breezy and cold all day on Saturday. I was concerned about sleep that night, so I went to bed with double layers of thermals inside my 0 f rated sleeping bag. Saturday night was warmer; in fact, I woke up a bit on the "hot" side on Sunday morning.Sunday 9/18 we got a late start because the gal of the couple was not feeling well. She went with us, but slept in the backseat for the entire trip . . . except for when she was barfing. ARGH . . . not a fun way to spend the morning.The guy and I decided to take a bit more time with wildlife viewing, and was fortunate to see the momma + 2 cubs just before the McKinley Overlook at MM62, at approximately MM58-59. We spent some time there photographing, including when she and cubs wandered up the road right in front of us. Very cool.We also saw a porcupine run in front of the car where the park road crosses the TEK River (around MM32) and a fox near Polychrome. The car in front of us stopped first, with their two kids and mom running AFTER the fox (who had gone behind our car). I could not believe it! I did get a quick photo as the fox run up into the bushes on the hillside.We then headed on to Eielson where we filled up our water bottles and used the facilities. We headed back to camp, without much to see along the way. There were sheep up high on the cliffs near the Toklat River Visitor Center and a pair of bears again around Sable Pass, but very far away.We arrived back at TEK campground at 12:30 and they broke down their camp and packed everything up. With them leaving the park, they left their road pass with me, which had been the prearranged plan.Continued in Denali NP - Road Lottery Weekend (part 2 of 2) . . . Close
This was my third trip to Denali National Park in five years. On my prior two visits to the park David and I used the required NPS shuttle bus service to enter and explore the park. This trip, however was different as it was during…Read More
This was my third trip to Denali National Park in five years. On my prior two visits to the park David and I used the required NPS shuttle bus service to enter and explore the park. This trip, however was different as it was during the annual "Road Lottery Weekend" when 400 cars per day (for four days) are allowed to drive the entire 92 miles, weather permitting. This entry will chronicle my first-time experiences utilizing some of the park services and programs during my lottery weekend.I had camp reservations for four nights at the Teklanika Campground (aka TEK), located inside the park at MM29. This is the same location where we camped last summer and as luck would have it, I was able to get the exact same campsite next to the bathrooms and food container, that we had last year.I arrived to the park on Thursday, the day before the lottery was scheduled to begin. Driving down from Fairbanks, time would allow me to schedule a ride into the park on the very last shuttle bus of the season. With the "Tek Pass" campers at the TEK campground can ride the shuttle buses throughout their stay at a significantly discounted rate. For me and just one ride, the price was the same as a one ride Eielson Shuttle ($31.50).My pick-up time was 1:40p but the driver Travis was a bit early. No worries, however, as I was ready at the shelter outside the campground. It was a lovely day and the bus was less than half full. It was nice to have not only a full seat to myself (and my camera equipment) but also the seat across the aisle was empty allowing for easy back-n-forth access should a wildlife viewing be sighted on the other side of the bus.The shuttle ride to the Eielson Visitor Center was rather uneventful as midday is not the best time for animal viewing. We did see a pair of bears, a small herd of caribou and some dall sheep . . . all at some distance from the road. Mt. McKinley was out in full view, making this a first for me at Denali National Park. Having been inside the park some five or six days previously, I had never seen "the mountain" before. The best photo op from the shuttle bus was at the Eielson Visitor Center, where we stopped for about an hour.At Eielson, there are opportunities to hike up into the hillside or down on the tundra. They also have some very nice exhibits inside, along with flushing toilets and running water. This stop is the highlight for many on the shuttle bus system.On Friday I enjoyed my time at some of the other park exhibit areas that I had not had the opportunity to do during past visits to Denali. At the Visitor Center "Campus" there are a number of exhibit areas including a small theatre where they were showing a 20 minute movie "The Heartbeat of Denali". While I enjoyed the movie and the beautiful scenery, I was shocked at the rudeness of several who talked through the entire thing.After my time there, I headed over to the Denali Kennels for their 2:00pm demonstration. Arriving early enough to enjoy the place to myself, I got to see most of the 34 dogs that call the Denali Kennel home. It was especially fun to see Pingo and her three pups since I'd been following them on the webcam for the past seven weeks since their birth. They were so big now; ready to be weaned from momma.The "demonstration" was more like a 20 minute show, featuring a historical explanation on what the dogs mean to the operation of Denali National Park and how their role is to help preserve the park's wilderness and heritage. There was a demo with a park ranger riding a sled being pulled by five dogs. These dogs, like all other working dogs I've seen in Alaska, really enjoy their work of pulling the sled.We were told that their training was just beginning for the upcoming winter season. By late October or early November, they would be used to help patrol the park as well as to move park rangers throughout the park with supplies necessary to live remotely in the harsh winter of Denali.The last "new experience" I had during this trip was the Riley Creek Mercantile showers. After camping without running water for a few days, being able to get out to the mercantile for a shower was very nice. Ordinarily when camping at TEK, vehicles are not permitted to depart the campground until leaving making this shower run impossible. Many will use the shower facilities in their RVs as we did last summer, or simply sponge bath for the time they are in the park.The showers at Riley Creek cost $4 per person and are located inside the restrooms. The ladies side had six shower stalls; I'm guessing the men's had a similar number. For your $4 you not only get a hot running water shower, but also a towel. It did take a while for the hot water to come, but when it did, it felt very good. If you are considering this, be sure to have your own soap and shampoo as there is none provided. A nice feature of the restroom area is the electrical outlets available. I saw several women using curling irons and blow dryers on their hair. Me? I used the outlets to recharge my camera batteries while showering!I really do like Denali National Park not only for its natural beauty but also for the services the National Park Service provides there. Close
Written by J. Stephen on 25 Jul, 2005
I was taking a mid-afternoon hike in early August along the beautiful Savage River Loop Trail in Denali National Park, and was not more than half a mile from returning to the parking lot where I had left my vehicle. Grizzly Bear was on my…Read More
I was taking a mid-afternoon hike in early August along the beautiful Savage River Loop Trail in Denali National Park, and was not more than half a mile from returning to the parking lot where I had left my vehicle. Grizzly Bear was on my mind because I had seen one from the highway just an hour earlier, a couple of miles or so before reaching the place where I was now.
As I topped a rise on the trail I saw six people in front of me standing perfectly still, their eyes fixed on something ahead. In a hushed but urgent tone they motioned for me to stop and look. There, perhaps 200 yards ahead and directly on the trail was a large grizzly bear. He was intent on digging a hole into which he sank his entire front limbs and head. I presumed he was digging up an arctic ground squirrel since I had seen a few of them in the area. It was obvious that the bear was hungry to be digging for his dinner so intently.
Tingling with excitement, I pulled the bear in as close as possible with my camera, wishing I had a better telephoto lens. At this point I did not yet know that I would soon be much too close to the grizzly for comfort.
Suddenly the Grizzly backed out of the hole he had been digging, apparently unable to unearth the ground squirrel. He turned, looked toward us, and then began to lumber in our direction. His gait quickly turned to a lope, and he closed the gap between us in a very few seconds.
The six people I was with included one older couple, and a young family of four. The older couple stood their ground, muttering something about being native Alaskans and having seen Grizzlys in the wild before. The family (man, wife, son and daughter) began a very fast walk back down the trail, away from the road and our parked vehicles.
I backed away more slowly, singing loudly and not caring how badly it sounded, just so long as the grizzly heard "I love to go a-wandering along the mountain track ... Valderee, Valderah ... my knapsack on my back." Bears have poor eyesight but very keen senses of smell and hearing. I felt that as soon as the bear recognized we were humans he would turn off the trail and avoid us.
To my horror, the bear continued to advance. At this point the older coulple were about 30 feet closer to the grizzly than I was and the young family was disappearing around the bend in the trail behind me. The older man was trying to take a picture, while his wife waved her arms franically and shouted at the bruin. This is exactly what all the books tell you to do in a such an encounter. The purpose for lifting your hands is to appear as tall as possible to the beast, and since the wild creature is not familiar with the sound of a human voice, the shouting is to frighten it.
The bear approached, now slowly, to within 8 or 10 feet from the couple. The man quit taking pictures and joined his wife in yelling and flailing his arms. Apparently the trick worked. The bruin, looking a bit confused, turned and bounded off the trail and into the river. Although it does not show too well in this photo, the Savage River was swift-flowing and probably four feet deep at this point. However, the grizzly bounced easily through the water, over a gravel bank, and up the hill on the other side.
Up the bank on the other side of the river was the front half of the loop trail, where I had been hiking just 30 minutes earlier. I looked over and saw that there were several other vacationers on this section of trail. Closest to where the bear emerged from the river was a lone male hiker.
The grizzly approached this man even more agressively than he had the couple, appearing to me to be aggitated by this second human encounter. The bear made a bluff charge to within a few feet of the man, then stopped suddenly. Apparently the man had read the same instructions for scaring away a bear that we had because he was clawing at the sky and yelling loudly, "Shoo, bear, shoo; go away, bear!"
While taking advantage of the situation to make tracks back toward the trailhead, I stopped just long enough to take this shot, praying all the while for the man's safety. Although in this photo it appears that I am on the same side of the river as the bear, actually I was shooting across the river, which makes a bend at this point.
After climbing uphill for about 40 feet, the grizzly stopped and paused for a moment. He then turned, and shot back down the mountain even faster than his first charge. My heart lept into my throat. I felt sure I was within a a millisecond of witnessing the poor hiker's demise. But a second time the bruin stopped. He looked to me to have been close enough that the frightened man could smell the stench of the bear's breath. It amazes me that a 600-pound bruin could accelerate and then stop so quickly.
The hiker on the opposite shore was successful in frightening the bear away the second time, and now the grizzly continued downhill, crossing the river again to my side and coming directly toward me. All this while I had been walking slowly back toward the trailhead, and was now within about 200 yards of a small ranger station which sits beside the highway there. I was much closer to the bear than to the safety of the building, which was not much larger than a toll booth. Through the windows I could see that it was already packed with other hikers. A brave park ranger came out to meet me, urging me get back to the safety of the building, which I was only too eager to do. "Hurry, but don't run or walk too fast," the ranger shouted. Doing so might have triggered the beast's instinct to chase.
I walked steadily, but it seemed to take forever. All the while the grizzly was closing the gap between us. At this point I felt like changing my tune to "Nearer My God to Thee," the last song the orchestra was playing as the Titanic went down. Instead I just shouted bear gibberish. Walking backward and waving one hand over my head, while clicking my camera with the other, praying that each photo wouldn't be my last. By the time I reached the safety of the ranger station, the grizzly was about 20 feet behind me.
At last, safely inside the building, the bear lumbered on by, then turned and walked up the road for a short distance before disappearing again into the fastness of the Denali wilderness. I stayed put until the ranger assured me that the grizzly was far out of sight.
Written by Jack Ventura on 26 Oct, 2002
The George Parks HighwayArguably the most celebrated guidebook for Alaska is The MILEPOST. There are other websites that reproduce its mile-by-mile account of Alaska’s scenic highways. First published in 1949, before Alaska was a state, and updated annually since, the guidebook has become…Read More
The George Parks HighwayArguably the most celebrated guidebook for Alaska is The MILEPOST. There are other websites that reproduce its mile-by-mile account of Alaska’s scenic highways. First published in 1949, before Alaska was a state, and updated annually since, the guidebook has become a venerable institution. These days, modern travel has made the reference book less relevant, in my opinion. Someone touring Alaska by bicycle might find it useful, but would anyways be ill-advised to carry the weight of the book.
To be sure, there are certain points along the highway that are worth taking special note. But by and large, the road is analogue, one long stretch of continuous beauty. There are no on-and-off mileposts which can define or capture Alaska’s hinterland. And, especially for a group like me and my friends sharing a rental van, the whole point of driving the George Parks Highway is to pull over wherever you feel like.
There are several topnotch websites on general Alaskan tourism, and I recommend starting at travelalaska.com for additional information on the route from Anchorage to Denali. None, however, will quite prepare you. It’s an easy drive, a moderately long one at 240 miles that will pass as one timeless inhale/exhale for the vistas, and the scale, of America’s "Last Frontier".
WasillaWasilla, 42 miles from Anchorage, has the last supermarket you’ll see for the next couple of days. Stock the cooler. Buy some snacks. Fill your cup with coffee. Etc.
WillowWillow, 27 miles from Wasilla, has the last gas station. Fill your tank with gas, no matter the gauge’s reading.
State Wayside Rest StopIf you need clean restrooms, sheltered ramadas, or large granite boulders that serve as tables, milepost 186 is the best place to stop. The tour buses originating from Anchorage go 10 miles further to a turnoff at the Broad Pass Summit for their mid-trip break. As for us, at Wasilla’s supermarket, everyone handed Tammy and Joey a 10-bill and asked them to surprise the rest of us with a full course picnic lunch. This was the perfect waypoint to enjoy our craft-your-own deli sandwich & scoop-your-favorite potato side roadside feast. The views from the rest stop gave us a good look at terrain changing into lush alpine tundra.
TalkeetnaI was a fan of a TV series from the late 80’s called ‘Northern Exposure’. Because of it, I have this romantic notion of the prototype small, isolated, eccentric and friendly frontier Alaskan town. A decision, on the fly so to speak, as we drove back to Anchorage on the Parks Highway, took us to Talkeetna and preserved this precious image I have.
We’d taken a leisurely morning’s leave of Denali, and were making good time. By the time we neared Talkeetna Junction at milepost 99, it was close to noon. We were getting hungry, and I think, itchy in each other’s close company on a road already traveled. We hadn’t planned it, but I took the junction. Fourteen miles along Talkeetna Spur Road, a country drive interspersed with houses and small patches of farmland, we rounded the wide arc of a meadow to see several modern structures, including a fire station garage. Slowing down along smaller and older buildings, the road abruptly ended in a 90 degree left turn onto packed dirt, apparently Main Street of the small town of Talkeetna. I saw several cars and railroad tracks to my right, so I turned that way instead and parked the minivan.
We did a sound check of our FRS two-way radios and dispersed, happy to be out of the van.
Main Street, all three blocks of it, was an interesting mix of craft stores, eateries, and a few souvenir shops. Nothing caught my fancy eye, as I hopped in and out of them. My nose though caught the unmistakable smell of a crab-boil from a restaurant with a narrow entrance.
Past the town’s corner petrol pump, the road took another sharp left. But, there was a footpath ahead through dense bush. The track opened up to reveal the magnificent sight of the convergence of the Talkeetna River and Susitna River. Walking a well worn path along the banks, I came to a cluster of buildings in the manner of alpine chalets. I went in and spoke with a woman at the desk of the Talkeetna Motel Restaurant & Lounge who confirmed my suspicions: it’s a good spot for river run salmon. But, she explained, most people charter boats.
Talkeetna is better known for mountaineering. Almost all attempts for the summit of Mount McKinley start here with registration at the National Park Service office across the street from the Talkteetna Motel. I don’t know how that works, but my bet is that the airstrip that runs through the middle of town has something to do with it, perhaps taking climbers aboard planes and helicopters to the mountain’s staging camps.
The airstrip notwithstanding, Talkeetna is a tiny town. There’s Main Street, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Street. And then, there’s B, C and D Street. Presumably, non-existent A Street is the footpath along the river. Seemingly every other house had a shingle or sign declaring itself to be a bed & breakfast inn.
One of my friends was calling in a hearty Boston-style clam chowder on the walkie-talkie at a place on Main Street. I can’t recall the name of the restaurant, but I did note its cute exterior, a converted country home painted yellow with white trim and an inviting screen door. And clam chowder sounded like good refueling grub for the final stretch of the highway back to Anchorage.
Written by Linda Kaye on 22 Nov, 2000
Kantishna is located at the end of the road in the Denali National Park (about an 80 mile drive). We had a great driver named Mike. He drove a typical school-type bus and because there were only about 25 people on board, each…Read More
Kantishna is located at the end of the road in the Denali National Park (about an 80 mile drive). We had a great driver named Mike. He drove a typical school-type bus and because there were only about 25 people on board, each of us had a window with a terrific view of the park. Mike was more than willing to stop the bus if any of us spotted bears, moose, caribou or other wildlife. In all, we saw 13 bears, several moose and caribou and countless dall sheep.
According to Driver Mike, only 2% of all people who visit the park actually get to see Mt. McKinley in its full glory, and not covered with clouds. We had the most spectacular view and realized WE were included in that 2%. Words cannot describe the beauty of the mountain that stays cloaked in white year round. We stopped at several viewing points along the way to Kantishna to admire the mountain, referred to by the locals as Denali- the Great one.
Kantishna is made up of a guesthouse, restaurant and individual cabins. Upon arrival we were treated to a delicious lunch and had a change to walk around the grounds and visit their museum. A woman who had participated in several of the Ididirod races presented a dog sled demonstration and talked about her life in Alaska.
When it was time for the trip back, Mt. McKinley was engulfed in clouds and no longer visible. But WE had seen it and it was the most beautiful site imaginable.
The Princess Wilderness Lodge Dinner Theatre presents a musical called the Music of Denali. As you step into the building we are immediately transported back to the gold mining days of the 1800. Everyone is in costume of the period. We were…Read More
The Princess Wilderness Lodge Dinner Theatre presents a musical called the Music of Denali. As you step into the building we are immediately transported back to the gold mining days of the 1800. Everyone is in costume of the period. We were seated at a table with two other couples (total of 8 people) and the “all you can eat” meal of baked salmon, potatoes, barbecue ribs were served in old tin pie plates- family style. We had a great opportunity to visit with the other people and find out what they had been doing. After the wonderful baked apple dessert was served, all the waiters and waitress moved to the stage for the performance. It was a great show about the history of Denali- the Great One, renamed Mt. KcKinley after President McKinley’s visit there. The play, The Land of the Midnight Sun, recounts the first ascent of Mt. McKinley in the 1800s and they got the audience involved by teaching us a song with hand gestures. It was a riot.
Track a little bear- drink a little hooch
Tell a loota bull, eat a little moose
Build a little fire- gotta keep warm
Kill those skeeters- before they swarm
Eat a little food- have a lotta fun
We’re in the Land of the Midnight Sun
The cost of the dinner and show was $25.00 and was a complete evening of fun.
Written by QueenOfTheRoad on 28 Nov, 2008
The town itself was rather underwhelming, but we were there, like most, to see Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America. Only once we got to Denali, we found out that it’s hard to see any of the mountain’s 20,320 feet from within the…Read More
The town itself was rather underwhelming, but we were there, like most, to see Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America. Only once we got to Denali, we found out that it’s hard to see any of the mountain’s 20,320 feet from within the park, or at least from as far within the park as we were willing to go. Traffic in Denali is strictly regulated and buses (unfortunately not ours) are the only way to get around. (Yeah, bicycles are allowed, but don’t we know each other well enough by now to understand that was not in the cards?) So Tim and I made the mistake of taking a tour in an aging Park Service school bus. It wasn’t (just) that I was spoiled after spending the year in our luxury Prevost. Packed with forty-nine other people traversing narrow, winding, Park Service maintained roads over which large animals routinely cross, I was horrified, but that had nothing to do with the bus. The rule on the tour was that anyone could yell STOP for anything at any time: animal sightings, picture opportunities, bloody noses (this really happened. They sent the kid off the bus – to be eaten by a bear, I suppose. Or is that sharks?) Our overly helpful guide/driver even got walkie-talkies for us slobs in back, so that we could more easily communicate our wishes to him on this hell ride. Unfortunately, "Stop the bus. I’ll catch a cab" was not one of the possibilities. The problem started with the very first animal sighting, a caribou. An older woman across the aisle from us let out a bloodcurdling scream. I thought perhaps the poor animal was being eaten by a bear. Since I had only seen the one Alaskan bear and there was little I could do to help poor Rudolph anyway, I craned my neck in the caribou’s direction. But, no. He of the mega-antler bling (someone should tell those poor, misguided creatures there is such a thing as over-accessorizing) was placidly grazing in a wide-open meadow, oblivious to the commotion it was causing in our claustrophobic space. It didn’t even flinch when the woman let loose with what appears to be the Tourist Rallying Cry: "WALTER! GET THE CAMERA!" Tim and I hadn’t been on organized tours in quite some time and as we shot each other pained looks, we remembered why. "This is going to be a very long trip," we said in unison. What does Walter’s wife do when she needs to get his attention for something really important? Like, say she’s being strangled by a stranger, which I can assure you, nearly occurred several times during the nearly eight-hour ordeal. Then there were the Dall sheep. Someone would shout, "STOP THE BUS!" and we would . . . for dots of white on a hill, which we were told were frigging sheep. OK. Our guide didn’t really say "frigging" sheep. Being a naturalist named (what else?) River, he called them Dall sheep. Was there really anyone on that entire bus who had never been to a farm?"But they’re mountain sheep," Tim protested the first time I made this quite excellent observation. By the sixth, he delighted in spotting the frigging sheep himself, only to withhold the information from the rest of our wool-crazed herd. At one point, River even stopped the bus on his own, struck a pose, and in a misguided effort at channeling Marlin Perkins, announced he was going to scan the mountain ridge with his binoculars for the, thus far, elusive bear. I rolled my eyes at my husband. "If they’re that far away, who gives a shit?" I asked. To which Tim replied, already half out of his seat, "Let me get the walkie-talkie for you." The eight hours crawled by slower than I’ve often prayed Tim would take highway exit ramps. The boxed lunch didn’t help. In fact, as we were exiting the bus, I left a soda can on my seat. Tim went back for it, chastising me with, "This isn’t an airplane." To which I responded, "Really? Couldn’t tell from the lunch." But Denali had one more indignity in store. As we disembused, River (whose name while working in the Lower 48 during the off-season is probably Bernie, Tim observed), apologized for the paucity of animal sightings."I think what’s important to take away from today," he asserted, "even more than what we did see, is what we didn’t: strip malls and coffee shops and restaurants and . . ." the rest of his words were drowned out by rousing applause from the entire load – except us. Like Walter and Edna could survive more than a day without any of that stuff. Close
Written by ThereSheGoes on 19 Mar, 2004
I found out about working up North on the internet. I interviewed over the phone, and flew up there by myself, a 21-year-old single girl, knowing no one and having no idea what I was getting myself into. I would recommend doing that 100%. It…Read More
I found out about working up North on the internet. I interviewed over the phone, and flew up there by myself, a 21-year-old single girl, knowing no one and having no idea what I was getting myself into. I would recommend doing that 100%. It was the most amazing summer I have ever had, and I am still trying to convince my boyfriend to let me go back.
I did Denali the cheap way, and had lots of fun. My grandparents did it the expensive way, and while they saw lots, they say they wouldn't do it again. Therefore, I recommend doing it cheaply.
Camp in the park, or near it. You are okay in a tent as long as you don't have food inside. If you have a car, while you are in the area, don't use it. You see a lot more and get more exercise if you don't use it. Hike all the local trails, then get on the bus and hike all the trails out in the park. Eat where the workers eat. We know what is good, and what won't make you sick the next day.
If you are a family going up north, the bus ride into the park is long. You are on a brown painted school bus for a minimum of 5 hours, which bored me sometimes - I can't imagine a 4-year-old. This is more of an older kid trip.
And if you get the chance, take the train down to Anchorage. It is a beautiful ride.
I could go on forever about Denali. It is a truly wonderful place that I will continue to visit, so long as I keep getting chances to.