Toklat River in Denali National Park

Toklat River Denali Confluence

Confluence of Snowmelt and Glacial Runoff in Toklat

The wide gravel bars of the Toklat River are braided with ribbons of crystal clear snowmelt mixing with the murky sediment-laced runoff from a faraway glacier in the Toklat River. This is a wonderful place with so much to feast the eyes on from near to far: huge mountain ranges capped with snow, tumultuous clouds riding the peaks and valleys, melting glaciers miles away washing silt and gravel from eons ago to mingle with the melting of last years winter snows.

With so much area to observe, the sun and clouds above cast huge and amazing patterns out over the tundra and up the mountainsides. We highly recommend capping your Alaska cruise with a trip into Denali and taking the shuttle bus into the real wilderness of Alaska.

Denali Park Bus Crossing the Toklat River

Denali Park Bus Crossing the Toklat River

Just don’t miss the last bus out of the park or you’ll be spending the night with the bears.

In Denali National Park, all glaciers monitored are retreating, with an average retreat of 20 m (66 ft) per year. The terminus of the Toklat Glacier has been retreating 26 m (85 ft) per year and the Muldrow Glacier has thinned 20 m (66 ft) since 1979.

Grizzly (Brown) Bear in Denali National Park Alaska

We had thought we’d seen an Alaska teeming with wildlife during our Alaskan cruise. Yes you can cover a lot of distance on a cruise and see much of the inside passage and the animals that tolerate these few ports of call along the way… but you will not be prepared for the vast expanse, magnificent beauty and amazing creatures that inhabit the park of the “The Great One.”

This young Brown Bear (or Grizzly) deftly hauled himself from the open tundra up the few hundred feet of rubble/scree to the side of the road where our bus was parked. He climbed with such speed he was upon us before we or the driver knew it. Although typically we would avoid such close encounters this juvenile got the jump on us and I was able to photograph about a dozen frames of his golden September coat backlit by the setting sun.

These pictures were all shot at 200 mm, 1/250th, f/2.8 or f/3.2

The National Park Service gives the following guidelines for bear encounters:

Denali National Park and Preserve is home to both black bears and grizzly bears. Black bears inhabit the forested areas of the park, while grizzly bears mainly live on the open tundra. Almost all bears seen by visitors along the Park Road are grizzlies. The bears of Denali are wild creatures, free to behave as they wish. If annoyed, these solitary animals can be very dangerous to intruders. For your own protection, and to keep Denali bears healthy and wild, please carefully read and abide by these rules.

If You Encounter a Bear

  • Running may elicit a chase response. Bears can run faster than 30 mph (50 km/hr). You cannot outrun them. If the bear is unaware of you, detour quickly and quietly away. Give the bear plenty of room, allowing it to continue its activities undisturbed. BACK AWAY SLOWLY IF THE BEAR IS AWARE OF YOU! Speak in a low, calm voice while waving your arms slowly above your head. Bears that stand up on their hind legs are not threatening you, but merely trying to identify you.
  • SHOULD A BEAR APPROACH OR CHARGE YOU—DO NOT RUN, DO NOT DROP YOUR PACK! Bears sometimes charge, coming within ten feet of a person before stopping or veering off. Dropping a pack may encourage the bear to approach people for food. STAND STILL until the bear moves away, then slowly back off.
  • IF A GRIZZLY MAKES CONTACT WITH YOU, PLAY DEAD. Curl up into a ball with your knees tucked into your stomach and your hands laced around the back of your neck. Leave your pack on to protect your back. If the attack is prolonged, fight back vigorously.
  • IF A BLACK BEAR MAKES CONTACT WITH YOU, FIGHT BACK.

Report all bear incidents and encounters to a ranger! Park rangers and biologists need this information to document bear behavior for research and management purposes.