In today’s installment of “So you want to take an Alaskan vacation”, we’re going to talk about Denali National Park and Preserve. And if you need a refresher of how we got here, don’t forget to read Part 1 and Part 2.
When I left off last time, we’d just finished running the Anchorage Marathon and were getting ready to take RVs to camp in Denali.
This part of the trip is going to be the most difficult to write about. Why? Because SO MUCH happened. Plus, the magnificence of Denali National Park and Preserve is almost impossible to explain. But, I’ll do my best.
We rented the RVs from Great Alaskan Holiday and they came with everything we needed except food, a camp stove, and wash basins. Thankfully, part of our group went shopping for ALL THE FOOD the day before and our group leader could borrow some other items from Sierra Club friends.
All of our meals while camping were planned out so there was never any scrambling or wondering what to make. I promise, that made life so much easier.
Anyway, the morning after the race we loaded up the three RVs and started the 6+ hour drive from Anchorage to Denali. The drive went pretty quickly and before we knew it we were at the Denali Visitor’s Center.
We didn’t hang around for too long, though, because several of us wanted to hike the trail from the Visitor’s Center to the Sled Dog Kennels!
Yes, Denali park rangers still use sled dogs to get around in the winter. Why? Because there’s only one road in all of Denali! Yes, six million acres with one road.
While we were visiting the sled dog kennels, suddenly all of the dogs jumped up on their houses and started howling and barking. Turns out there was a mama moose about 100 yards away!
Also, the dogs got SO EXCITED when it was time for the demonstration. They all wanted to participate!
After visiting the kennels, we hopped on a park bus for a ride to our campground for the night: Savage River.
Savage River is the last campground in what it called “front country.” Meaning you don’t need a special permit to drive your RV to Savage River and it’s the trail head for one of the last “groomed” trails: Savage Alpine.
There are not very many marked trails in Denali, and most of the trails are short (less than 2 miles) and near the park entrance. One of the reasons Denali exists is to provide people with a place to explore a trail-less wilderness, and a result of this is a limited trail network. – Denail website
We set up our RVs for the night. Again, don’t forget it doesn’t get dark! We all went to bed fairly early, though. We had a busy next day planned!
One thing to note: even though we were sleeping in RVs, they weren’t hooked up to power or water. We were rationing the onboard propane and water and, as such, weren’t cooking, using the bathroom, or showering in them. Thankfully the campsites had nice outhouses and outdoor running water spigots. But, it did mean no showers!
In the morning, we layered up (it was chilly in the mornings but got warmer throughout the day), ate breakfast, and then headed out to hike the Savage Alpine trail. Our group leader had helped build this trail!
This was really when I started to see what people mean about not being able to describe Alaska. It’s so….expansive. And beautiful. And in less than 4 miles of trail you can experience almost every kind of terrain possible. I just couldn’t stop marveling at the views.
A little over four miles and several hours later, we arrived at the Savage River, reconvened with our RVs, and then it was time to head into back country!
What does that mean? I promise to explain in Part 4!