We awoke early the next day, not only because we were excited about touring Denali National Park but we knew that the amount of park we would be able to see was based on the time we reached the Wilderness Access Center at the Park’s entrance.
We grabbed a quick, but exceptional and complimentary, bite to eat at the Main Lodge and headed to the Park.
Quick check list of must have items to pack for a day in Denali National Park
- Jacket – preferably a windbreaker
- Hiking boots or shoes
- Snacks / Lunch
- Camera (extra batteries and memory)
- Map / Bus Schedule
(My brother would also like to note that a tripod doubles as a great walking stick.)
Things to Know about Getting Around Denali
There is only one road, 92 miles in length, in Denali National Park. Typically, one may only drive fifteen miles up that road into the Park to the Savage River Check Station. This station is where you will catch one of many types of buses to take you the remainder of the way through the park. We chose to take one of the shuttle buses.
These buses will pick you up and let you off anywhere along the road as you travel through the park. You do not have to return on the bus you originally started. They also stop at each of the visitor’s centers located along the way: Toklat River, Eilson, Wonder Lake and Katishna. The earlier you arrive to catch a bus, the further into the park you can go.
You want to make sure that you arrive at your final destination before the last bus of the day leaves there to return to the entrance so that you aren’t stuck on an impromptu camping adventure.
One other important thing to note is that there is no food or beverage available along the route. It is IMPERATIVE that you bring both of these items with you, you will need them. There are gift shops at both the Toklat and the Eilson stop, but they have no food items available for purchase, not even a token Denali candy bar. There is a shop at the Wilderness Access Center so if you make it into the Park without food or drink, you can purchase these items there.
We did find a wild blueberry patch however at the Wonder Lake stop, a very nice treat after a lunch of granola bars and cheese crackers.
Our Denali Experience
We found ourselves discussing how nice it would be to reside in Alaska as we drove through Denali. The view was again remarkable, brilliant, beautiful. I believe we saw approximately one hundred thousand twenty-two wild hares along the side of the road, a good year for them. We also saw a mother bear and her cub drinking at the river, a bear viewing us from road side and a bear scratching his shoulder on the back of the bus as he crossed the road behind us. We saw moose, wolves, Dall sheep, did I mention hares?
Our stop at the Polychrome Overlook was probably most impressive to me. Before us lay multicolored mountaintops, flowered fields and the East Fork River.
We decided on the return trip that we would get off the bus at the Toklat River rest stop and hike up the road on our own for awhile. The light was perfect, we crossed a shallow river on foot and we just enjoyed the serenity and quiet of our surroundings. We spent an hour, just Ryan and I, along the main road. We even found a location where glacier melt met the river, the contrast was amazing.
Just the trip to Wonder Lake and back is 11 hours. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the Park early enough to get the trip out to Katishna, I guess we have a reason to return.
Moose Cow and Calf in Denali