Alaskan Adventures: Denali National Park
After our day trip to Kenai Fjord National Park, we walked back to the RV parking lot and started driving up towards Denali National Park. After seeing whales, porpoises, sea-lions and bald eagles, it was time to now see the land animals – bears, caribou, dall sheep etc. We started driving north from Seward to Denali. As this is a 8+ hour drive, we broke it up with an overnight stop in Anchorage.
On the way we stopped at Portage glacier. By then the sun was out and we had beautiful views of the glacier and the Turnagain Arm on the drive back. We stayed at RV park very close to the city centre. The RV parks in the city were smaller and noisier than in Seward (naturally!) and a couple of them looked a bit shady. Again, I can’t remember the names but its all in Milepost magazine – a handy guide to everything in Alaska mile by mile. Don’t forget to pick up a copy in Wal-Mart along with other supplies.
The following morning we showered in the RV camp, had breakfast and then made our way to Denali National Park. We had almost all day to drive up and make it to a 6:00 pm White water rafting trip. En-route we planned to do the short trail of Thunderbird falls and then an airplane ride around Mt McKinley near Talkeetna. The air plane ride was a bit expensive so we thought we will do it only if Mt. McKinley was visible.
This day was better than the previous day on boat cruise and we had a ball of time – fantastic company, stunning scenery, few RV’s on the open road. We pulled over at one of the many pit stops to have lunch while enjoying the views. We met another couple who had driven their RV all the way up from Iowa and were planning to spend their Spring and Summer in Alaska. And here we were on a 5 day road trip trying to see as much of this gorgeous state. Something better than nothing, eh?
Although it was sunny, Mt McKinley generates its own weather system, similar to Mt. Rainier in Seattle area. So while we enjoyed the plains and low mountains, the top of Mt. McKinley was covered in clouds. We decided to skip the air plane ride and instead continued onwards to Denali.
Once at Healy, the town closest to Denali National Park, we checked into the RV park, picked up our bus tickets for the trip inside Denali National Park which we had pre-booked online and then went White water rafting. According to our raft guide, the water level is much higher in August, making it the best time to white water in Denali. White water rafting was a great way to end the day after the long drive. Dinner was in one of the many restaurants in Healy which were all open at 11:00 pm and had some great music. What a mesmerizing journey so far!
The next morning was our day trip in the park. Personal vehicles are not allowed in the park (beyond the first 15 miles) and shuttles are the only way to go. We took the 8:00 am shuttle so we could go as far inside and hike around a bit. The ideal way to see this park is to stay overnight in the Wonderlake campground. Experience the sunset and sunrise in the park. But this early in the season, the campground was closed and we could go only up to Tolkat River. En-route we saw herds and herds of caribou, grizzlies, Dall sheep, bears and owls amongst other birds. Our initial plan was to hike around Tolkat River, but it was awfully cold and it started snowing at Tolkat. We took the shuttle back to Savage River and then hiked a bit around that area. The ranger recommended a few paths along the Caribou creek and we saw a couple of them just 100 ft away. I was a bit terrified when ne of them looked up and stared at us. They can outrun humans if they choose to. We slowly backtracked on the soft lichen covered trail and headed to the bus stop. It was going to be a while before the bus so we climbed up some rock formations to take in aerial views of the park. We took in some fabulous views of area – the lone bus on the lone track, scree covered mountain bases, different colors of the rock formations and the vastness and silence that is only seen in Denali with miles upon miles of plains set amidst the backdrop of the mountain ranges.
We hurried down as the next bus came around and we were back to the RV by 6:00 -6:30. AA couple of friends had skipped the hike and headed to the visitor center for seeing movies/information on the area, its natives etc. We all met up in the evening and headed back to Anchorage after some refreshments.
A visit to national par is always refreshing – the fresh mountain air, relaxed vibe, starry nights, trails and the peace and calm that is hard to get by in the cities. But even more it refreshes the spirit which is re-energized and humbled in the presence of tall conifers, cycle of life and majestic mountains!
Stay tuned on the next post on Whittier – the last of our Alaska series.