Denali, the "High One", is the name Athabascan native people gave the massive
peak that crowns the 600-mile-long Alaska Range. Established as Mount
McKinley National Park in 1917, it was enlarged by 4 million acres (to 6 million
acres today) and redesignated as Denali National Park in 1980. It
exemplifies interior Alaska as one of the world's last great frontiers for
wilderness. The vast wilderness in Denali enables a spectacular array of
wildlife to live together in a sustained natural balance.
Getting there ...
We had spent our first four days at Kenai Fjords
National Park in this Alaska trip. After one night in Anchorage, we started
our journey to Denali in the morning.
- Alaska Native Heritage Center
The Alaska Native Heritage Center offers a unique experience to learn
and explore the traditional ways of Alaska cultures. There are six
authentic native village settings alongside a picturesque lake outdoors, and
also some dancing and traditional game shows performed indoors.
- Driving to Denali
After an early lunch at the Native Heritage Center, we started the 5-hour
driving to Denali. One of the must-stop view points is the Denali
Viewpoint South at mile post 134.7, which offers the best panorama of Denali
Mountains along the road system (if the mountains are not covered by clouds).
- Denali Rafting
We first checked in to Denali Cabins where we will stay for one night before
we went to the park for the next few days.
After dinner, we were picked up from the cabin to start our rafting tour at
6:30PM. We booked the McKinley Scenic Run which float on the Nenana
River bordering the Denali National Park. The river was icy cold at 34
degree F. We were provided the wet suits which were kind of cool
when we put them on. Even with the wet suits on, it was still cold since
it was cloudy and windy, and the splashing water was freezing. The whole
rafting trip last for about three hours. Can you imagine that we were
still on the raft at 9:00PM!
The Second Day ...
- Denali -- Horseshoe Lake
We drove to the Denali National Park visitor center in the morning.
After watching an film about Denali, we took the popular Horseshoe Lake
- Bus Ride into Denali
After a quick lunch at the visitor center, we went back to Denali Cabins
to prepare for the bus ride into the park at 1PM. We booked the next
three nights at Denali Backcountry
Lodge which is one of the only few options located in the heart of
Denali at the end of 92-mile park road in Kantishna.
The wildlife in Denali was definitely the highlight of the bus ride.
The bus driver was very knowledgeable and was working hard to look for wild
animals for us. Whenever some one spot an animal, he/she just shouted
"stop" and the bus will stop to let everyone search for the animals.
If you really want to see wildlife, you will need to take one of the tour
buses that went into Denali. According to the bus driver who
participated in a survey before, the chance to see a wild animal is 3% to 97
% for the first 30 miles vs. the last 60 miles on the park road.
On the way to Kantishna, we were lucky to see all "Big Five" in Denali:
Caribou, moose, Dall Sheep, bear, and wolf.
The Third Day ...
- Wonder Lake / Blueberry Hill Trail
We signed up a casual walk (Blueberry Hill trail) around the Wonder
Lake. The view was gorgeous with Mt McKinley (although there was some
low cloud blocking the mountain top from time to time). We were
considering ourselves lucky since many people may stay in Denali for a few
days without actually seeing Denali mountains. Blueberry Hill was
really a good name because it had so many blueberries along the trail that
were so tasty even I liked them very much.
- Camp Ridge Trail
We went to the moderate Camp Ridge Trail after lunch. The trail
was around 4.5-mile round trip for about 1600 feet elevation gain with a
spectacular view of the Alaska Range. Although we were high enough to
see the full mountain range, the "High One" was already hidden behind its
own cloudy climate system.
The Fourth Day ...
- Moose Creek Trail
Moose Creek Trail was another easy casual walk along an old mining road
beside the Moose Creek. There were quite a few beaver dams on the
river, but the guide said the beavers had disappeared from the area
mysteriously for the last few years. We saw some
bear hair on a tree, and a
shedded moose antler on the
- Gold Panning
We picked a relaxed activity, Gold panning, offered by the Backcountry
Lodge in the afternoon. It was a tedious and time-consuming process to
sift through the rocks and sands to find nothing.
The Fifth Day ...
- Bus Ride
It was another exciting experience on the bus ride out of the park. We
had to depart at 6AM because there were some people who needed to connect to
their train at noon at Denali Depot.
The wildlife was abundant like the way when we came in. It was like a
"bear day" to us: we encountered total 7 bears at 3 different locations.
It was long way to drive back to
Anchorage where we would stay for the last night. The downtown
Anchorage is a small area of just a few blocks. We had a nice
panoramic view from our hotel room at the 17th floor.
The Last Day,
I took a walk to the Coastal Trail around dawn for a nice stroll.
Before we went to the airport for our flight, we stopped by Lake Spenard
just beside the airport to see the float planes. I was hoping to catch
some take-off or landing of float planes, but at least I was able to take
some pictures of the calm lake and float planes.
Going Home ...
The aerial view of Anchorage area was also astonishing
like everywhere else we visited in Alaska (but I was hoping I can sit on
the left hand side to get a better lighting from the southern sun).
We had a long 3-hour transit time at the Portland airport, so we had a
nice early dinner and many rounds of bridge card game which Linus and
Iris finally learned in this trip.
Alaska's pristine wilderness landscape and diverse wildlife have been on
my wish list for a long time. Kenai
Fjords and Denali, two of the most accessible national parks in
Alaska, are only the beginning of our Alaska experience. My wish
list will only get longer for the years to come.
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