Denali National Park is considered by many to be the crown jewel of Alaska.
Alaska is always the highlight of my year. This will be my tenth trip.
This trip will accommodate dayhikers as well as backpackers. We can establish a car camping base at Riley Creek Campground located near the park entrance and headquarters. Campsites cost $28/night and will accommodate up to three tents and 8 people. There are flush toilets but no showers. Showers can be had at the park store for a fee.
Savage River is anotherdrive in campground that is located 13 miles into the park. it has group sites that will accommodate 9-20 people and no limit on the number of tents. Group sites are $40.
For those that don't like to camp, private lodging is available in the town of Denali, a couple of miles from the park entrance. If you choose this option, plan on having your own rent car or using the shuttle buses.
The better restaurants, bars, gift shops etc are also located in the Denali township. Dining out can be a bit pricey in this part of Alaska. Expect to pay roughly twice what you would pay in Texas. I usually have breakfast in camp and pack a lunch. I like to go out to dinner if I get back early enough.
There are no trails in Denali aside from a few dayhiking trails near the park entrance. All hiking is done off trail. However if you stay on the high ground you will often find game trails that serve quite well, but they do come and go so there is always some bushwacking involved. Higher ground tends to be dry with short vegetation and spectacular views. Low ground tends to be wet and brushy, but there's a lot of wildlife there. You can drive your car down the park road as far as the Savage River at mile 15. Hikers park their cars at the many pull-offs along this 15 mile stretch and just start hiking cross country. You can expect to see anything from moose and caribou to grizzlies, black bears and wolves in this area. Beyond mile 15 is another 70+ miles of road that is only accessible by park bus. Bus fees range from $26.25 to $50 per day depending on how far into the park you wish to go. Lot's of wildlife is seen from these buses, including the aforementioned animals and dall sheep. On a clear day, Mt McKinley (also know as Denali) can be viewed from several points on this road. It is the highest point in North America at over 20,000 ft. It is an imposing sight and viewing it on a clear day is one of the trip's highlights. The bus driver will drop you off anywhere along the road you like. If you see a mountain that you'd like to hike up, yell "stop please" and ask to get off the bus. When you finish your hike, you simply wave down another bus. Your bus pass is good for the whole day in either direction as far into the park as your pass allows.
There are 2 ranger guided hikes offered every day. They must be reserved in advance. They are free except for the bus fee; usually about $35. These are very interesting and enjoyable hikes. The rangers I hiked with pointed out and explained all kinds of things that I would have just walked passed and never taken notice of. There are literally hundreds of different routes that rangers can take and no route can be used on a ranger hike more than twice per year. This is designed to keep the park as wild as possible. Sometimes when on a ranger hike you might see a different route that you would like to hike on another day. The ranger usually knows if the hike - say a peak you want to climb to - is doable as a day hike.
Backpacking is allowed by permit only. Unlike other National Parks, you have to apply for a permit in person no sooner than the day before beginning your hike. You may find yourself in a lottery for a permit in popular areas. Backcountry permits are for a maximum of 4-6 hikers depending on the unit your permit is for. As a result some of our group may leave the main group for a few days now and then.
Getting there: Fly to Anchorage Friday or Saturday. Those that arrive early can pick up supplies like fuel canisters and bear spray for those who want it. In addition, there is excellent hiking just outside of Anchorage. I like to get in a good dayhike on Saturday to bird peak where the views of snowcapped mountains and glaciers are incredible. Anchorage has lots of gift shops with good selections at reasonable prices. There is also a great pizza/brewery place that we usually go to Saturday night.
We will depart from the Motel 6 in rent cars on Sunday morning. From there it's about a 5 hour drive to Denali NP. After checking in and setting up camp, we can check out the ranger hike schedule, dayhike or whatever. Since we will be car camping for the most part, cold beers, wine, etc are not out of the question. Fire pits are provided. Quiet time in the campgound is from 10 PM to 6 AM.
Camp can get pretty buggy but I never had mosquito problems while hiking. Bring long sleeves, glove liners and a headnet with a wide brim hat to keep the net away from your skin.
I would never go to Denali without my binoculars. There is so much to see and binos make a huge difference. A camera of course is a must.
Climate: It's Alaska! It gets cold, it get's warm (think layers) and we will get rain. Nights are usually in the mid 40s to 50s. I like a 32 degree down bag with a thermarest and a good waterproof tent. Good raingear is a must. I use a pair of high top gaiters, lightweight REI rain pants and a lightweight Marmot or North Face rain jacket with gererous pit zips for ventilation; about $90 each. I own a very expensive E-vent rain jacket that has no pit zips (supposedly breaths so well it doesn't need them - that's just hogwash). It's heavy, bulky and miserably hot when hiking even on a cool day. If your thinking about buying one, buy mine. I also bring a lightweight down sweater or fleece jacket, warm hat and warm waterproof gloves to wear on those cool breezy days and at night. Please have a quality pair of hiking boots that are well broken in and good hiking socks and liners. Bushwacking crosscountry is hard on your feet.
Return to Anchorage on Sunday or Monday August 11-12 to catch a flight home. My flight leaves ANC at 12:55 AM Tuesday.
PLEASE READ THIS: Members will not be allowed to bring a guest on this trip. If you want to bring someone along, they can join NTO and then sign up for the trip themselves. Doing so relieves the trip organzer of any liability. Please be aware that the trip organizer is never responsible for your safety and well being. We are all adults here. We try to look out for each other, but everyone is responsible for their own safety.
I was in Denali last summer for a week and only began to scratch the surface of what this park has to offer. You could go there every summer for the rest of your life and not see it all.
Cost: The Motel 6 is $135/night plus tax. Rent cars are about triple what you would expect in the lower 48. Gas is about $1 more per gallon than home. There is an entrance fee for all national parks. Google the park website for details. Camping fees will be divided equally among the people at each site. Same for car rentals and gas. Everyone will have to make their own hotel and flight reservations. I will schedule planning meetings to work out the details.