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"There are two ways to experience Denali on your own two feet -- on a marked trail,
or off-trail in the wilderness. Trails in Denali are largely centered around the Denali
Visitor Center. Some of these trails are utilitarian . . . Other trails offer a departure   
from the immediate surroundings of the park road, allowing you to seek a bit of
solace and quiet, while still having an obvious, established path to follow."
~ from the Denail National Park website

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.


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 on foot.

Hiking definitely 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 of pictures.

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.


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 and valleys.

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.


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 some more:


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 several directions:






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.


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 free WiFi.

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 one-day ride/hike.

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 picture.

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. tonight.

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" across.

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 hurt badly.

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 “front country.”

Jim and I will both have our bear spray handy tomorrow!

Next entryphotos from Jim's long bike ride on the park road

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil