Denali National Park Bus Tour
June 5, 2016 •

So today was the big day, the centerpiece day of our fast trip into Alaska. We would be taking one of the bus tours that are allowed to drive the entirety of the park road, a 92-mile journey west to the locale of Kantishna. This is the only developed road within the gigantic Denali National Park. Non-authorized vehicles can drive in 15 miles.

We were picked up by the tour at our hotel a little after 6 in the morning. We then picked up a few more people, then started the drive to the entrance. The driver's name was Doug or Dave. He was amusing, with a good sense of humor.

The first fifteen miles are paved, to the Savage River Ranger Station. The route cuts west through a broad valley of spotty fir and dense leafy underbrush. We saw wildlife immediately, mainly moose at first, then caribou.

Past the checkpoint, the road continues, now gravel, but well maintained to accommodate the big busses. We stopped about every hour to get out, take photos, and use the restrooms since the busses did not have any on board. We stopped at the Teklanika River at about the 30th mile, then the Polychrome Overlook at about the 48th mile. Here, we were nearly 4,000 feet in elevation, and it was quite cold, but the views were amazing, despite the low clouds.

At times, the road hugs the steep slopes of the mountains, with thousand-foot drops in places. The driver assured us that they have never lost a bus on these trips, that they're always found at the bottom.

We then stopped at the Toklat River, the 55th mile or so. Here, there is a bookstore, of all things. The National Park has a small outpost here. The driver had hot water for coffee, plus cookies. Not surprisingly, everyone beelined for the toilets.

We then stopped at the Eielson Visitor's Center (mile 66), with up-front views of the big peaks, assuming the clouds would ever lift. Somewhere along this stretch we spotted a grizzly bear off in the distance. Two caribou were circling it, but the bear stayed put. Normally, a bear might chase down a caribou, but some people were able to take a zoom-image of the bear and see what appeared to be a carcass with it. Presumably, the bear had caught a baby caribou and was eating it, while the other two caribou were its mom and sibling, trying to scare off the bear. It was sad for the baby caribou, but awesome to see this --- nature in its rawest form.

We finally rolled into the Kantishna area. In the olden days, it was an actual town, a remote town of miners and recluses. The most famous resident is a woman named Annie Quigley, who hunted, trapped, farmed, mushed and all those things on her own for many years. She was famous for years, and her home is still maintained by the National Park service. I took a tour of it later.

We stopped at the Denali Backcountry Lodge, where there was a big lunch waiting us. We ate, then had about two hours to wander the area. This is where I visited the old house, plus explore other buildings, the nearby Moose River. The weather was misty with a steady drizzle.

We started the drive out at 2:30, and it went faster since we didn't stop as often, but we did stop again when we saw another grizzly, a momma bear with two cubs high on a slope. I took one image of it but it came out terribly. I was content to watch it without photographing it.

We were back out to the main highway at 6:30 p.m. and dropped off at our hotel. The day had been fantastic, despite the worsening weather. I never did see Denali.

(The name of the peak, Denali, is now official, replacing Mount McKinley. The old name was never popular with Alaskans, who have always called it Denali. The McKinley name got attached to it by a miner back around the time McKinley was running for president. McKinley had no conection to Alaska. In 1980, when the park was formed, it was named Denali National Park. The peak's name was formally changed for good in 2015. It is simply "Denali", not Mount Denali, or Denali Peak. Years ago, I had ideas of climbing it, but decided that I was not that interested. However, I would have liked to seen it.)

Teklanika River looking West.

Now looking North.

Dad at Polychrome Pass.


The Nephster

Dad and Bro at the bus.

Toklat River, southeast.

Toklat River, North.

Toklat River, southwest.

Big peaks, at the Eielson Visitor's Center.

More massive peaks.


Denali Backcountry Lodge.

View of the buildings.

More buildings.

A suspension bridge!


June 4: Riding the Alaska Railroad

(c) 2015 Scott Surgent.