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Denali National Park, Alaska

Hannah Fleming

3:06 PM Friday afternoon I’m outside my office in Santa Monica waiting for an Uber to LAX. Memorial Day 2016 will be spent in Alaska.

12 hours later (3:00 AM) we’ve safely arrived at our Dads, and are happily getting a few hours of sleep before heading to Denali.

Day 1: Meet Ned

After months of following my Dad’s trips (#RidinWithNed), I was very excited to finally meet the rig - Ned. By 10:00 AM we were on the highway headed North to Denali National Park with the hopes of clear skies and temperatures above freezing.

Four hours later we spotted it, Denali. The mountain is the tallest peak in North America, rising 20,310 feet into the Alaskan sky.  As we neared the park it became obvious we had lucked out with amazing weather, and were in for a beautiful weekend. I say this because while 50% of visitors are able to see the mountain from outside the park, only 30% of visitors inside the park are able to spot the magnificent mountain.

Following quick stops at the Wilderness Adventure Center to check in, and the Visitors Center to have our National Parks Passport stamped, we continued to mile marker 29.1- Teklanika River Campground.

We didn't have time to take another shot as a moose was standing 30 feet from us on the other side of the road!

We didn't have time to take another shot as a moose was standing 30 feet from us on the other side of the road!

Day 2: Teklanika to Toklat

The park is only accessible via one road - Denali Park Road. The road runs from the entrance, all the way to mile 89 - Kantishna Mile. The road is completely accessibly by bus (after June 1st), but only accessible by personal vehicles as far as Teklanika Campground. 

The bus costs ~$30/ day per person, and can be used “hop-on, hop-off” style.

Our first day of hiking we road the bus as far as you could – Toklat. We spent the rest of the day hiking back toward Teklanika, hopping on and off the bus, totaling around 8 miles of hiking. Throughout the day we spotted a ton of Caribou, Dall Sheep, Moose, and a few beautiful blonde Grizzly Bears.  The sky was still perfectly blue bird, and we had amazing views of Denali throughout the day.

The numbing glacial stream served as nature's ice bath.

The numbing glacial stream served as nature's ice bath.

Day 3: Last day in the park

We started the second day at Teklanika and decided to continue down the road deeper into the park. Because the road was not yet open for guests, the only traffic was a few worker vehicles and other hikers. As the most “wild” National Park I’ve explored, hiking down the road without the bus traffic found everywhere else was awesome! 

Important tips for Denali:

           1.    Buy the bus pass
                 There are two bus systems:
                         Green Bus- regular park bus that you can ride from point to point. The drivers give great information and stop for all wild life                           spotting. Tan Bus – more than 3x the price for a “guided tour.

2.    How long can you stay & what type of camping are you doing.
      Depending on how far into the park you want to go, there are minimum stay requirements. Also, if you’re a backcountry tent               camper, be prepared to hike far enough off the road that any other guests cannot see you.

3.    Bring Layers
I finally broke down and purchased a nice pair of hiking pants instead of my workout regular workout clothes, and am already eyeing a few other pairs I want. They’re awesome. Because you’re so exposed the whole time you’re hiking, it is very windy and I would recommend some wind layer.

4.    Animal Safety
It took me a few hours of hiking before I really got comfortable with the idea that a bear could walk out into the road at any point in time. Make sure you are familiar with animal safety (follow this link!) Bring bear spray whenever you're hiking, make noise, and be aware of your surroundings!

I'm lucky enough to have family in such a beautiful place, and can't wait to visit again soon!