Heading to Denali National Park I realized I did not know much about it, other than is was supposed to be beautiful and it had views of the highest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley.
We booked four days at Riley Creek Campground and drove the beautiful Parks Highway to Denali from Fairbanks. I learned a few things my first day at the park:
1. Denali means “the high one” in the native Athabaskan language, and most Alaskan’s refer to it as Denali, not McKinley (I was getting a little confused….)
2. When you see the top of Denali highlighted in sunlight TAKE A PICTURE, don’t drive away to make a salami sandwich because you are hungry and then plan to take a picture after lunch. Chances are you will never see it again. (We were there four more days and never saw the clouds lift again from Denali). I have a beautiful picture in my mind though!
3. Moose are huge when you see them up close. Like a Clydesdale with very large antlers. I wish there was moose spray, they scare me.
4. If a Grizzly or brown bear attacks, don’t run, wave arms, play dead if it charges. If a black bear attacks fight back (WTF? seriously? Fight a bear?) My plan for both scenarios is to release the bear spray and pray it works.
Our second day in Denali was spent hiking. There are not a lot of “formal” trails in this National Park, but you can ask the shuttle driver to let you off and hike pretty much anywhere in the park. But after seeing 14 huge grizzlies I am not sure I am hard core enough for that (I saw the documentary Grizzly Man, I saw how it ends!) We did take a really fun hike that gave us stunning views of the mountain ranges.
The third day in Denali we took the shuttle bus to the Eielson Visitors center, which is an eight hour day on the shuttle. We saw more wildlife than I ever imagined we would see. Also, the scenery was other worldly. The mountains looked green screened in, their reddish colors contrasted with the green tundra around them, making them just pop against the blue sky.
My absolute favorite moment during our time in Denali was watching two grizzly cubs play. They would chase each other into the fast flowing river, and just when we thought the current was about to take them out, they would swim hard, jump onto the river bank then dive back in. I have never see anything like that other than on Animal Planet. It was something I will never forget.
Overall, we loved Denali and plan to go back one day, I may even back country hike if I can just get over my fear of grizzlies….