From Seward, we boarded a coach bus and headed out on a 10 hour trek inland to Denali National Park and Preserve, past scenic glacier-topped mountains, freshwater lakes, and vast forests.
We made a stop in Anchorage for lunch, and I was THRILLED to find that the finish line of the Moose’s Tooth Marathon was only one block away! If only I could have had a helicopter pick me up that morning from the ship and deliver me to Anchorage hours earlier, I’d have been able to include an Alaskan Marathon on this trip. I’m just as happy to cheer on runners as they complete the race. Hmmm…. Perhaps my goal should be to attend a marathon in each state. 😀 Moving along…
We arrived in Denali around 6 pm. We stayed in the McKinley Chalet Resort, a charming cabin-like resort provided with the cruise package. Our rooms were steps away from the river, which borders and separates us from the park boundaries. We later learned that a small islandin the river behind the grounds was home to a mama moose and a recently spotted brown bear.
We ate at the best (and only) pizza place in town, Prospectors, which served almost every Alaskan beer imaginable, and crazy concoctions of pizzas. On our second visit, we tried the delicious “Definitely Not in the Lower 48” (reindeer sausage, ground elk, mozzarella and roasted red peppers.
Monday, we boarded an official Denali National Park bus for our guided Tundra Wilderness Tour into Denali National Park and Preserve. This is a 6 million acre wilderness and is closed to most vehicles. This tour took us to mile 53 (Stony Hill Overlook) on the Park Road, the only road going through Denali Park (ending at mile 94). Only official park vehicles are allowed past mile 14 (so if you want to see Mt Denali, you’ll need to take one of the tours).
I’ve heard that you only have a 30% chance to seeing Mt Denali. The weather and cloud coverage block its views most days. We were among the lucky few that were able to gaze upon the stunning mountain. At 20,310 feet, it is the highest peak in North America.
With the help of our bus driver, fellow passengers, and passing vehicles, we spotted wildlife, including but not limited to: a cow Moose near a river, a bull moose in the tundra, Dall sheep in the mountains, a brown bear beside a stream, a herd of caribou crossing the river (and the road), and two sets of silvery brown bears and their cubs frolicking in the vast Alaskan tundra.
We had time to explore the Visitor’s Center, where I tried on these (heavy!!!) antlers:
The seven hour tour brought us back to our hotel around 3 pm. Jeff and I loaded up a backpack and a few more layers and headed back to Denali Park for a hike. We took the Taiga trail and Horseshoe Loop trail (6 miles round trip), passing through wooded areas and beautiful lake views. We didn’t see any moose or bears, only a ground squirrel or two, but the views were worth it!
The next day, Jeff and I took an early shuttle to the Visitor’s Center, and we then hiked to the Mt Healy Overlook. At 3700 ft, and 8 miles round trip, it was pretty steep. I got a good workout in, but the views at the top were amazing! Not to mention the wild blueberries! The vastness is incredible.
We hiked back into town, and making the most of our time in this Fall like weather and inhaling the clean, crisp air.
That evening, we had s’mores around the camp fire before going on a guided nature tour on the resort grounds. I learned all about mushrooms, white barked trees (I can know identify a Cottonwood, Birch and Aspen tree), glacier rocks, and about the native trees.
The next morning, we boarded the McKinley Explorer back into Anchorage, where we’d fly home. I love trains and this was the most luxurious car I’d ever travelled in!