I've done hiking at Denali on most of those established trails in
the "front country" near the main visitor center and I've also explored some
of the backcountry wilderness off-trail at Healy Ridge, Mt. Margaret, Savage River
Canyon, Teklanika River, and Eielson Visitor Center.
It's all good! I've
enjoyed every location where I've hiked at Denali.
The eastern end of Healy Ridge is near the park
entrance but it feels like remote wilderness.
If you have limited
time in the park and/or want to stick to easier, more established
trails, there is quite a variety of options near the visitor center. I
wrote about some of them earlier this month. After hiking some new
trails today, the only entrance trail I haven't done is Triple Lakes.
I hope you have a
large enough screen to view this map, which I photographed from an
interpretive panel. I can't find this exact diagram on the website:
I marked the route I took this afternoon in yellow.
You can read
descriptions of the entrance-area trails and see larger maps at the link
below the quote at the top of this entry and also on
this park webpage.
SHORT VIRTUAL TOUR OF MY LOOPING HIKE
In the previous entry I talked about our morning drive out toward Savage
River to see the beautiful colors in the taiga. Since the weather was
nice I also wanted to see the leaves in the forests and meadows at
lower elevations near the entrance from the perspective of traveling
helped to cure my cabin fever after a couple days of rain. Too bad I
couldn't take Cody with me. Dogs aren't allowed on the trails, only on
park roads and in the campgrounds.
Taiga Trail early in hike when it was more cloudy
Taiga Trail later in hike when it was more sunny
After the Murie Science Center lecture about grizzly bear research in the park
Jim dropped me off at the Taiga Trail trailhead at the Alaska RR tracks
near the visitor center (top of map above). I hiked for 6½ miles in 2½ hours.
I soaked in lots of views, inspected plants, and took a moderate number
View across Nenana Canyon from the Rock Creek Trail
Elevations ranged from about 1,600 – 2,300 feet on good crushed gravel
trails with minimal rocks and roots. The steepest trail grade was about 15%.
A description of
trails from an interpretive panel rates the Meadow View Trail as easy,
the Taiga Trail as easy to moderate, the McKinley Station Trail as
moderate, and the Roadside and Rock Creek Trails as moderate to strenuous.
If you're in decent
hiking condition all of these trails will feel relatively easy.
Lots of leaf colors along the Rock Creek Trail;
this is about as rough as any of these trails get.
Previously I’ve been on only two miles of the route I took today – south on Taiga Trail,
west on Rock Creek Trail, south on Meadow View Trail, west on Roadside
Trail, north and east on Rock Creek Trail, east on Taiga Trail to the
visitor center, then south, east, and north on the McKinley Station
Trail that goes by Riley Creek and up to our campground.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
I wasn't sure what scenery to expect based solely on the names of the trails.
Meadow View Trail doesn’t go through any meadows but there are nice
views from 200-300 feet above forested and open areas:
Although the Roadside Trail closely parallels the park road it is so
high above the road that you can’t see or hear it until you’re near the
park HQ and sled dog area -- that's a good thing:
I was a little disappointed that the Rock Creek Trail is far removed
from its namesake creek except at the intersection with the Roadside Trail:
All the trails are scenic and peaceful, though, with some great views to mountains
I was in beautiful spruce-aspen-birch forest the entire time. Much of
the foliage has turned brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds -- trees,
shrubs, and shorter vegetation along the trails and up and down the
mountainsides that were visible.
Many of the leaves are at or near their peak right now at this elevation, such
as the bright yellow and orange aspen leaves in the photo above.
SCENES FROM THE ROCK CREEK TRAIL
I was on the Rock Creek Trail for the longest distance (2.6 miles) of
any of the five or six different trails I hiked this afternoon and I
liked it the best.
About half of the photos in this entry are from this trail. Here are
Above and below: This is a large bird nest,
perhaps occupied by golden eagles?
Along the northeastern part of the Rock Creek Trail, before dropping
down to the Taiga Trail again, I had scenic views to mountains in
MCKINLEY STATION TRAIL
My last mile was on the McKinley Station Trail, which I've hiked several
times before. It was interesting to see the change in leaves since we
were here two weeks ago:
The fireweed in the foreground has finished
blooming, the stems and
leaves have turned redder, and the plant is
sporting its fluffy white seeds.
Above and below: the aspens near the Alaska
RR bridge over Riley Creek are more yellow.
I saw very few people on the trails except near the visitor center – one
guy running, five people hiking. I enjoyed the solitude and beauty and
had as much fun noticing little details as the broad scenic views.
It was cloudy when I began my hike, got more sunny, then clouded up
again soon after I returned to the camper about 4 PM. Jim heard that on clear
nights we can now see the aurora borealis from the park about 1-2 AM.
We've both seen the Northern Lights in Minnesota but not Alaska yet.
Now we just need a clear night! Not sure we'll get one today.
FUN PLANS FOR TOMORROW
Jim was busy reading, listening to the radio, and on his computer while
I was gone. When I got back I fixed chicken chili for supper, took a
shower, got my pack and other gear ready for tomorrow, walked Cody around the
campground, and relaxed at the computer. Jim went over to the Mercantile building to get
Since the weather is supposed to be good tomorrow we both have some big
outdoor plans. That's why we went to the
Wilderness Access Center after the bear lecture this afternoon.
Striking contrast -- a branch with a few bright
yellow aspen leaves
has blown onto a dark green spruce tree on the
McKinley Station Trail.
I decided to spring for a 7:30 AM shuttle bus ticket to the Eielson
Visitor Center tomorrow, when
it’s supposed to be partly sunny. I wasn't sure I'd go out there any
more because it's not real cost-effective from the park entrance for a
But I just can't resist the urge to climb the ridge above Eielson again
and see wildlife during the bus ride along the park road.
These small groundcovers make another Christmas-y
This lichen is similar to ones I've seen on
Rendezvous Ridge near Anchorage.
I bet it's a favorite food for caribou.
There is no National Park Service senior or annual pass
discount on shuttle, discovery, camper, or tour buses. If there was,
folks without passes would probably have to "pay an arm and a leg" for bus
tickets so the company that runs them could break even.
The cost for one trip on a shuttle bus from the
entrance to Eielson and back is $34 for an adult, the same as a multi-day
Tek Pass from the Teklanika River Campground (Mile 29) all the way to Kantishna
(Mile 92). Tickets from
the entrance are good only one day and each destination is pro-rated
according to distance. The most expensive, Kantishna, is
$50. Eielson is at Mile 66, so it costs less.
My plan is to get off at Eielson and hike up the alpine trail like I did
a couple weeks ago, then catch another bus back home.
Eielson Alpine Trail (8-11-12)
Jim plans to ride the free Savage River shuttle bus with his bike from
the campground bus depot.
He wants to repeat the 46-mile ride he did previously from Savage River
to Teklanika River CG (where he can get water) and then ride all the way back
to Riley Creek CG.
He can also get water at the Savage River CG, assuming
water is flowing at both campgrounds. Both are higher elevation than Riley
Creek and may freeze overnight. Temps at Riley Creek are predicted to be about 33 F.
He can't stash fluids
along the route except outbound at Savage River so he'll try to take at
least a bare minimum with him in case the campground water pumps are
turned off when he gets there.
Grizzly bears have
been high on our mental radar screen this week after the park's first
fatality several days ago. You must be thinking that bears are our main
focus during this trip to Denali because I keep mentioning them . . .
The leaves on this low-growing vine are about 3"
Thing is, you don't have to be
in a remote location in Denali -- or anywhere else in Alaska, as
we've seen -- to encounter a bear.
Even cycling on the
park road and hiking on an alpine trail with no visual obstructions,
both of us risk running into a black or brown bear unexpectedly so we'll
have to be cautious on tomorrow's adventures.
To further reinforce the
element of danger,
Jim heard on the radio that a woman who was working with a
co-worker several miles off the Denali Highway (this road isn't in the
park) on Sunday was
attacked by a grizzly but she wasn’t
That's just one of several reported
grizzly bear attacks in Alaska this summer that we've heard about.
The victim in Sunday's incident had bear spray. Unfortunately, it was
inside her pack and she couldn’t get to it in time to prevent the
encounter. I’ve always carried mine on my fanny pack's or Camelbak's
waist belt so I can get to it quickly, even on today’s hike in the
Jim and I will both
have our bear spray handy tomorrow!
Next entry: photos from Jim's long bike ride on the
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil