After landing in Anchorage we rented a car. It was late in the evening as we started driving north on Highway 3 towards the true wilderness of Denali National Park. We saw the sunset at about 11:00 pm and slept in a hotel in the town of Trapper Creek.
It was early Sunday morning when we drove on Petersville Road. Visibility was impeccable. We stopped on the road and took a short walk on the tundra. The view was magnificent because we could see “The High One” perfectly. Mount McKinley (native name Denali) is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,237 feet above sea level. What an awesome site we witnessed from about only 50 mile away.
We got back on Highway 3 (George Parks Highway) and continued driving north to Denali Viewpoint South. The vista here was impressive. We could still see Mount McKinley (about 40 miles away) as well as Ruth Glacier. This great gorge is deeper than the Grand Canyon. As we gazed at the landscape of majestic beauty we shared our lunch (two muffins, some Triscuits and a few pieces of fruit).
The wind had picked up as we arrived at Denali Viewpoint North. We could still see Mount McKinley (about 35 miles away), but the clouds soon covered the mountain. When we finally arrived at the national park sign we were thrilled with excitement. Denali was our 55th and we only had four more to accomplish our quest of visiting all 59 American national parks together as a family.
We parked our vehicle at the visitor center then went inside to gather maps and get the best trail advice. Our first hike was a three mile round-trip that began on the Taiga Trail. We hiked down to Horseshoe Lake where we saw a beaver dam. There were no beavers, but we had fun exploring this park for the first time.
Later, we checked into our cabin at Denali Hostile Lodge (located about ten miles from the park entrance). Our main dinner course was our fresh and delicious King Salmon that Winston caught during our visit in Katmai National Park. The meal was complemented with hot tea, buttered toast and Triscuits.
The next morning we woke up at 3:49 am. It was 39 degrees when we arrived at the Wilderness Access Center. Our adventure this Monday morning was a bus tour on Park Road to Wonder Lake. Our bus left at 5:15 am and we sat in the front row. Our astute raspy voiced driver was spectacular. Moreover, the wildlife we saw along this 160 mile, eleven hour tour was superabundant.
Luke was hoping to see a bull moose. It is one of his favorite animals and Denali did not disappoint him. We not only saw several large bull moose, but a few female moose as well. It seemed like about every 20 – 30 minutes there were animals to be seen. The distant visibility was not clear. Throughout the day we never saw Mount McKinley.
We stopped at the Savage River for a quick break. This is where only designated tour buses and special authorized vehicles can drive further along Park Road. Soon after we continued on our journey, a bear with two cubs walked in front of the bus. They slowly walked to the other side of the road and into the wild. We watched with pleasure from inside the bus.
Our next stop was at the Eielson Visitor Center (elevation 3,733 ft.). The panoramas were terrific even though we could not see “The High One”. Before we got to Wonder Lake we saw many more animals. There were ptarmigan, dall sheep, a coyote, more moose and bears. Once of the best animals that we saw was the caribou. Some of the caribou had huge antlers and we amazing to observe.
It began to rain as we reached Wonder Lake (mile 85). We put on our rain gear, got off the bus, and started hiking on the McKinley Bar Trail. As we made our way through the spruce forest we were very cautious. We did not want to surprise any wild animals.
The silence of only the rain drops provided us serenity and keen awareness as we hiked on the trail. It was exhilarating being in isolation, one with Mother Nature. Truly the wilderness enlightened our senses. When we finished the 2.5 miles one-way hike to the McKinley River we were less than 30 miles away from the summit of Mount McKinley. Even though we could not see any of the mountain, we had a great time exploring together.
We hiked the muddy trail back to Wonder Lake. During our entire expedition on foot we encountered no wildlife. A different bus picked us up and drove us to our car. Along the way on Park Road we experienced many more wildlife encounters. With unfortunate weather we had plenty of fortuitous happenings. We slept well that night back at our cabin.
Everything was packed and we were on the road before 5:15 am. The fog was thick, but we discovered a beautiful bull moose before we entered the park. Furthermore, after we began driving on Park Road we spotted a stunning porcupine eating a shrub on the side of the street. Next, we watched a sensational cow moose eating her breakfast.
We went as far as we could drive and started hiking from the Savage River parking lot. We first hiked the Salvage River Loop and then the Salvage Alpine Trail. It was a tough hike over ten miles long. However, the panoramic views of the park and the accomplishment of finishing the hike were well worth the struggle.
Seeing a few prairie dogs made Luke happy. We prefer being on the trails all by ourselves. It takes sacrifices like getting up very early and packing enough sustenance to get us through the strenuous hikes. Lastly, we soaked our feet in a freezing cold stream, Alisa became a Junior Ranger, and the boys stamped their national park passport. Denali was our 55th American national park canceled.
Enjoy your American National Park Quest Tee Shirt.