Denali National and State Parks

Visited June 28 – July 7, 2017

The day before we left Fairbanks to drive to Denali National Park, we became members of the Mt. Denali 30% Club and we didn’t even know it!  We later learned that only about 30% of visitors actually get to see the mountain because it’s usually shrouded by clouds.  But we saw it from almost 300 miles away in Fairbanks, through the viewing window wall at the Museum of the North!  The next day was another clear one, so we continued to see it as we drove.  We saw it yet again on our tour in the national park and twice more in the state park.  Once you know it’s elusive, it becomes a quest to see it and I found myself checking the webcam several times a day, even though I had already seen it several times in person! 🙂

Describing the Denali parks requires every superlative in the book–spectacular, breath-taking, stunning, awesome, majestic, glorious, striking…all of the above and more!  The parks are also vast, unspoiled, and protected, yet unprotected.  In Denali NP, there are no fences and only one road going in that’s 92 miles long.  There are several hiking trails, but they only cover a small fraction of the huge wilderness, intentionally, to keep it a natural and wild habitat for the animals.

Vehicles are somewhat restricted so the animals don’t have to be.  I like that.  Cars are allowed to mile 15 but only tour buses further than that.  Of course, we wanted to go the whole way so we took the 92-mile non-narrated tour, but our driver Tim gave us terrific info.  He’s been driving at Denali for 19 summers!  We saw lots of animals including four of the “big five” species—Dall sheep, caribou, moose and grizzlies!  The fifth, wolves, eluded us.  Our friends Sharon and Roque were on a bus about an hour behind us and they saw a wolf with some small prey in its mouth, whoa!

The Dall sheep were just white specks moving high up in the hills, but we had seen similar species close-up in Yellowstone and on the Alaska Hwy.  We saw moose, caribou, bears and cubs not far off the road and one grizzly was ambling down the middle of it!  We followed it almost a mile because we could not get around it, and didn’t want to!  It’s always exciting to see a traffic jam on the road ahead because you know that means wildlife has been spotted!

We loved our full and fantastic 12-hour day on the bus, and every other day we had in the park, rain or shine!  We hiked a lot and enjoyed all the exhibits and films in the various visitor centers, plus ranger programs and the sled dogs demonstration.  I’m pleased to report the dogs have a good life, working hard in the winter, then resting and training in the summer.  They are so strong and love, actually beg, to run!

We also saw our friend Dan who is working his fifth season in Denali as a radio technician.  He had great hiking tips for us and we got to see behind the scenes how it is to live and work there, very cool.  We see why folks keep coming back!  We had a super meal together at the 49th State Brewing Company.  I recommend the “907” lager…and any food on the menu; it’s all amazing! 😉

About an hour and a half south of the national park is Denali State Park.  If you know me, or have followed this blog from the beginning, you know my favoritism toward Florida State Parks.  I didn’t think they could be beat…but in Denali they have met their match.  This state park is about 50 miles long and over 300,000 acres with multiple campgrounds, trails, rivers, lakes, and mountain viewpoints.  We dry camped in both the North and South View sites.  The North View site has even better and closer views of the Alaska Range and Mt. Denali than the national park!  We had gorgeous weather and full view of Denali, so we just parked our chairs in front of the rig and enjoyed it all day and into the “night”.  We sat and chatted with two other couples and watched the sun set behind the mountains at 11:30 pm, wow!

Earlier in the day, we chatted with Bruce who was translating/leading a van tour for three couples from Germany.  They had just been asking him about Americans who live in RVs…when we pulled in and set up HOME!  We invited them in for a tour and they were buzzing with enthusiasm and questions!  At the South View, we chatted with a couple who saw our FL tag.  They retired to FL a year ago…to Homosassa (where we lived for 14 years)!  You may recall we had a similar encounter with a couple in Vermont last summer.  Usually, folks have never even heard of Homosassa much less know where it is, so these two couples were as delighted as we were to share this crazy small world experience. 🙂

If you get to go to Denali, and we hope you do, please make sure you allow a week or more to explore both the national and state parks.  It’s an ultra-understatement to say there is so much to see and do, plus more days mean more chances for good weather days and views of those spectacular mountains, especially “The High One”!

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