North to Alaska--Denali
Actually there are two Denali’s—325,240 acres Denali State Park located 182 miles north of Anchorage http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/denali1.htm and nearby 6 million acre Denali National Park which is 237 miles from Anchorage. We plan to visit both for different reasons as you’ll see. Denali State Park’s main claim to fame is beautiful views of Denali itself. But based on my research it has nice hiking trails and the main campground, Byers Lake CG, is close to the lake, scenic and quiet. Alaska State Parks do not have reservations, so it’s first come, first served. Reportedly, it isn’t very crowded. One highly recommended hike is the 4.2 mile out-and-back Coal Creek trail leading to great views of Denali across the tundra. http://www.backpacker.com/trips/alaska/anchorage/denali-state-park-little-coal-creek-trail/#bp=0/img1 If you’re not into camping and hiking, views of Denali are to be had along the highway at mile markers 147.1, 158.1, and 162.3.
There are multiple options for getting to Denali National Park including rental car, bus and train. All have their advantages and disadvantages. Once again, when you arrive at the park entrance, there are multiple nearby options. If you’re camping, you can stay at Riley Creek CG, Savage River CG and Teklanika CG. Riley Creek is the largest campground with 147 vehicle campsites and closest to the entrance. Savage River CG is at Mile 13 in the park and much smaller at 33 sites. Finally, Teklanika is at Mile 29 and has 53 sites.
The first two have flush toilets. Teklanika has vault toilets. None of them have showers. All require check-in at the Wilderness Access Center near the park entrance. Reservations are recommended for all three. If you prefer, there are commercial campgrounds and motels just outside the park entrance that tend to be expensive as are most commercial RV parks in Alaska and British Columbia. If you’re eating out, expect high prices too. I use http://www.tripadvisor.com/ for motel and campground reviews, but it’s usually cheaper to make reservations directly with the motel or campground. Another good source for campground reviews is www.goodsamclub.com/travel/
Another reason for us stopping at Denali State Park is to arrive at the entrance to Denali National Park early in the day to allow time for a trip to the visitor’s center and time to drive the road to Teklanika Campground at Mile 29 of the only park road. The speed limit is 35 mph and the road is dirt beyond mile 15. The Denali National Park & Preserve entrance fee is $10.00 per adult (16 and over), children 15 and under are free. Camping reservations must be made well in advance and a minimum 3-night stay is required if you want to bring your vehicle. Reservations can be made online at http://www.reservedenali.com/ or by calling 1-800-622-7275 (domestic) or 1-907-272-7275 (international). I initially made my reservations online for a few days stay, but after further research decided to extend my reservation to 10 days. I couldn’t change the number of days online, so called the above number expecting the usual rigmarole, but was soon talking to a very nice woman who helped with the changes and also took care of getting my Tek Pass. Daily rates at the Tek Campground are $22, but your senior pass gets you in for $11—a real bargain. If you stay at Teklanika in an RV, you can ride the bus into the park as many times as you like with a $35 Tek Pass available by phone at 866-761-6629. Otherwise, you have to reserve each bus ride you want to take into the park and pay a separate fee for each trip. The bus is the only way into the park beyond Mile 15. The road is paved to mile 15, after that it’s a single lane dirt road. There are three kinds of buses in Denali: shuttle buses, tour buses and camper buses. Each can be reserved at: http://www.reservedenali.com/travel-agents.aspx In the shuttle buses, the driver serves as your guide, you can get on and off as many times as you want and you have to pick a destination at the time you reserve your bus. The general advice is to book a trip to Wonder Lake at the 85 mile marker on Denali Park Road. You can then get on off the bus anywhere along the road and then catch the next bus if there is room. Sometimes you have to wait for the next bus. In addition, you can sign up for ranger led tours at the website above. These are more expensive and travel the same road as the shuttle buses. The difference is the ranger. Finally, the camper buses are for tent campers/backpackers. The buses are school buses that are not noted for the comfort of their ride and the speed limit in the park is 35 mph, so allow plenty of time to get to your destination. Recommended stops include the Eielson Visitors Center, Polychrome pass and Wonder Lake. Wonder Lake is the location for that well known shot of Denali reflected in the lake if Denali is out. Wonder Lake CG is tent only and the bus does not take you to the actual campground, so you’ll need a backpack for your camping gear and your camera gear. The area is well known for its mosquito population in addition to the view, so be prepared. I had initially thought about camping at Wonder Lake for a couple of nights to get my copy of the Denali photo, but after reflection decided to use the bus for a day trip. Another option is to book into the Camp Denali & the North Face Lodge ttp://campdenali.com/ 1.5 miles from Wonder Lake. They provide meals as well as lodging, but because of the remote location everything is very expensive. Finally, you can book lodging in Kantishna 90 miles from the park entrance. http://www.alaskatravel.com/denali/kantishna-lodges.html Where ever you stay, be aware that the weather in Denali is changeable and it can rain or snow at any time resulting occasionally in road closures. Bring appropriate clothing for the weather including winter weather clothes. If you’re camping at Teklanika, bring enough supplies including fuel, food and water for your entire stay as there are no services beyond Mile 15. You’ll quickly note that there are no photographs this time. This will be my first trip to Denali and I didn’t want to publish other’s pictures. Photos of the Yukon and Denali can be found at yukonsights.ca/ and Alaskan photos at http://www.wildnatureimages.com/
If You Go:
I've written an e-book titled "Nature Photographers Guide to Alaska" with more reference material, lots of photos and my experiences based on three trips to that special spot. It's available on my website now.