Our time in Trapper Creek complete, we continued north on the Parks Hwy until we turned left onto Denali Park Rd.
We checked in at the registration desk and went to find a spot in Riley Creek CG. We only reserved an “A” spot, which is the largest sites they offer, then you drive around and find one you like. I’m actually not a huge fan of this, Thousand Trails CG’s are like that and I found it annoying. It was MUCH easier when we had the car with us. In spite of their system, we found a very nice site and Bill got us backed in in no time. There was very little set up since all sites are “dry” – no electric/water/sewer. Knowing this ahead of time, we drove up from Trapper Creek with plenty of water. There is a convenient dump station we can use on the way out.
The goal for the rest of the day was to get to the center where you sign up for park tours. The options are almost endless. I should mention that some sort of tour is needed if you want to get more than 15 miles into the park. In a lot of parks, 15 miles in might be plenty – but in Denali – the 92 mile park road is barely the tip of the MASSIVE iceberg! So – decisions, decisions, decisions! Thankfully we know a few people who’ve come to Denali before us and we had somewhat of an idea of what to expect. Sort of.
There is basically 3 ways (for those of us not interested in backpacking) to get into the park past MM 15. One way is to stay at Teklanika CG, which makes you eligible for a Tek pass. The Tek pass allows you to get on the shuttle during the length of your stay – since that is the only way you can leave the CG. Staying in Tek means a minimum 3 night stay, with only one IN and one OUT – hence the need for the Tek pass for the shuttles to leave the CG.
Everyone else needs to decide if they want a detailed naturalist on board type tour ($$$) or just a ride out to their destination, hopefully with a shuttle driver that does more than drive (look-out for and stop for wildlife and tell you info about the park as they drive along). Both options need you to choose your final destination, how far do you want to go or better asked – how long do you want to be on the bus? Shortest ones for the Eielson Visitor Center (8 hours), then Wonder Lake (11 hours) and finally Kantishna, at the end of the road, 12 hours, 92 miles). The miles noted are one way. You may be asking why does it take so long to drive 184 miles! Well – it isn’t a road like the kind you are used to driving. It is gravel and has pot holes and switchbacks, where one direction needs to pull over to allow the other direction to pass. They cannot drive very fast; they shouldn’t for safety road conditions, also we are on the look-out for wildlife!
Considering weather conditions, rainy and cloudy, we opted for the shortest trip on the shuttle, out to Eielson Visitor Center. We had learned that if weather conditions improved and we wanted to go further, out to Wonder Lake, we could upgrade there. I wish I could be typing that’s what happened, but it was not to be. Our best mountain sighting was the pic from my last post on our day in Talkeetna.
We did see some wildlife, which was nice, some up close – some pretty far off. We were told they were sheep, but all I saw was little bitty white dots, which more closely resembled sheep with the binoculars. We saw some of the beautiful area, but a lot of it was obscured by clouds. Oh well – can’t control the weather.
We started our second day in Denali at the Visitor Center, as we hadn’t seen all of it when we had stopped in before.
The Rangers do a free sled dog demonstration and talk, we decided to check it out. These dogs are Alaskan Huskies and look like you would expect sled dogs to look, unlike the dogs I saw at Seavey in Seward. They are also larger. I asked the ranger about it and he said it’s because those dogs are bred and raised strickly for speed, while the National Park dogs are work dogs and are bred and raised for strength. They work throughout the winter months in the park, bringing supplies out into the park after the road is closed. They also do patrols. It was very interesting to see the differences between these dogs and the Iditarod dogs. Also of note, there weren’t any puppies there – yet. They only have one litter a year and it hasn’t been born yet – the mother dog, Annie, is due next week. The one thing I did noticed that was exactly the same was how excited the dogs got when they were being chosen to get hitched up to the cart. Crazy jumping and barking!
Since the rain had stopped, instead of taking the bus back to the visitor center, we took the 2 mile walking trail back. It was nice to be outside with nature around us. Bill even picked some blueberries that were growing along the sides of the path. Too bad we didn’t have a bowl with us! I would have loved some blueberry pancakes for breakfast!
That evening, we took a ride up to see the Grande Denali Lodge. It looked so cool sitting up on the hill – we had to check it out. What we didn’t expect were the signs we would see – see them for yourselves! They had us cracking up!
Bill thought it would be nice to drive out ourselves the 15 miles we are allowed to drive into the park. We hoped to see some wildlife, but not this time! I got out at the final lookout spot and snapped a few pics.
We never lost hope that the skies would open up and we’d get a view of the mountain, but it was not to be this trip! I’m so glad we got the glimpse of it on our day in Talkeetna with Tracy & Lee! While this is not the exact post I had hoped to write about our visit to Denali National Park, we still had an enjoyable time seeing what we could see!
I’ll leave you today with these pics of our final few minutes in the park. They were taken while at the dump station right in Riley Creek CG! It brightened our day to see this momma and baby moose!