Wow! How many parks give you permission to walk off-trail, let alone
nearly insist that you do??
What an opportunity for active, adventurous visitors at Denali National
Unfortunately, bicycles and dogs aren't allowed either on established
trails at the park or out in the wilderness. They must stick to paved
and dirt roads.
Still, I'm excited about being encouraged to explore the wilderness on
foot. I love going cross-country, especially above timberline where the
views are panoramic. In Southcentral and Interior Alaska I don't have to
climb very high to get into alpine terrain -- usually only about
2,600-3,000 feet elevation.
"FRONT COUNTRY" VS "BACK COUNTRY" TRAILS
I wasn't aware of the term "front country" until I started doing
research on Denali NP.
It's more clear to me what "back country" means -- remote
wilderness areas off the road grid. At Denali, there are very few
established trails once you get past the Savage River at Mile 15, which
is also the end of the paved park road and the farthest most personal
vehicles can travel.
Beyond that, visitors must ride their bike or take one of the types of
buses I talked about in the last entry. Folks can get on and off the
shuttle buses just about anywhere they want along the 92-mile park road
and start walking in the wilderness.
There are many more established trails, some quite civilized, in what
the park designates the "front country," which I believe refers to the
portion of the park near the entrance and perhaps back three or four
miles. This is where most of the guest services are located --
the main Denali visitor center, Wilderness Access Center, Riley Creek campground and
mercantile, Alaska Geographic bookstore, Morino Grill, Alaska Railroad
depot, Murie Science Center, sled dog kennels and demonstrations, etc.
I don't know if the portion of the park that is accessible by paved road
to Savage River is considered "front country" or not. I consider it to
be more remote and there aren't very many established trails there.
VARIED TRAIL SYSTEM IN THE FRONT COUNTRY
Some folks never venture any farther into the park than the first few
miles, especially if they've allowed only a couple days to visit Denali
NP. There are plenty of things to keep them busy in this area, however,
including a wide variety of trails to day-hike for a few minutes or a
I found this type of interpretive panel with a map of the entrance-area
trails in several different locations on my walk today:
I took a picture of the sign and divided it up into two sections below so it's more
legible here. The two sections overlap a little. You can also find the
map -- and lots more information -- at one of the links on
hiking page on the park website.
The first map section shows longer trails that go farther into the
valleys and ridges beyond the visitor center and other buildings near
Left side of trail map
This map section shows shorter trails in the more concentrated area near
Right side of trail map
I highlighted the route I walked today and marked the campground,
visitor center, wilderness access center, and bike path.
MCKINLEY STATION TRAIL & BIKE PATH LOOP
This afternoon I
decided to hike the McKinley Station Trail because I can access it about
200 feet from our camper. I did a clockwise loop of about two miles,
combining it with part of the bike path along the park road. At the end
I did another half mile or more through the three Riley Creek CG loops.
McKinley Station Trail near Riley Creek Campground
McKinley Station is a near-perfect trail made of crushed rock – smooth,
three to four feet wide, not too steep, through beautiful forest and creek scenery.
I was wishing I had Cody with me because he'd love the creek. And both Jim and I
would love riding our bikes on this trail.
Alas, as I've mentioned previously neither dogs nor bicycles are allowed on any of the trails in the
park, just on roadways. That does make the trails quieter and safer for
wildlife. The protection of wildlife is a major focus in this park.
This is a picture and description of the trail from one of the
Here are some photos I took along this trail today:
Amphitheater near Riley Creek CG for ranger talks
almost every evening
Alaska RR trestle over Riley Creek
Bridge over Riley Creek on trail that goes to
The trail narrows as it ascends from the river to the
visitor center area but it is still quite smooth.
After the trail flattens out again it passes through the former Maurice
There are several interpretive panels that describe the log roadhouse,
personal residence, and other buildings that this industrious
entrepreneur, an immigrant from Italy, built in the early 1920s:
This was one of two nearby roadhouses Morino constructed while the
Alaska Railroad was being built to the park. The acreage he owned wasn't
part of the park property then but he provided lodging, meals, and
supplies to park guests, other travelers, railroad workers, prospectors,
and some of the workers who built the park road back to the Kantishna
Through the 1920s and 1930s the Morino Roadhouse became the place for
members of the frontier community and McKinley Park (as Denali was
called then) to gather and celebrate.
None of these old log buildings remain today but rangers lead
interpretive walks to the area each day during the summer. Morino is
honored with a nearby trail named for him as well as Morino's Grill,
which is next to the Denali bookstore.
All the trail intersections I saw today were
OTHER TRAILS IN THE ENTRANCE AREA
I'm looking forward to hiking on all or most of the trails in the "front
country" while we're here.
Trails vary in length from less than a mile to more than four miles one
way. They can be combined many ways to increase the distance.
From what I've read/heard, the trails get less "civilized" the farther
you get from the campground or visitor center. Some are easy, some quite
strenuous. Sounds like there's something for everyone who likes to hike.
OTHER TRAILS FARTHER BACK IN THE PARK
There are several established, ranger-maintained
trails beyond the developed ones in the
"front country" but they are few and far between.
Visitors can access some of them by personal vehicle or free courtesy
buses in the first 15 miles of the park road -- near the Savage
River Campground at Mile 13 and the Savage River itself at Mile 15.
There are also trails at the Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66 and
Wonder Lake at Mile 85. You have to take shuttle buses to reach those.
Picture of Savage River in the fall and a diagram of
the river loop trail
(from an interpretive panel at the main Savage
River parking area)
Since I haven't been on any of these trails yet, I'll wait until I hike
some of them to report on their length, difficulty, etc. You can also read about them
on the park
There are lots of ranger-led walks and hikes in the entrance area and
from the Eielson Visitor Center. Those are free but you have to sign up
for some of them. Off-trail Discovery Hikes require you to sign up in
advance and purchase the appropriate bus ticket to the hike location.
And don't forget that you can hike almost anywhere you want in the vast
expanse that is Denali National Park & Preserve, all six million acres
of it! That's about the size of Massachusetts, according to one of the
Two hints to avoid getting lost are to hike above treeline as much as
possible and to keep the park
road or a natural landscape feature like a river or particular mountain
in sight so you can find your way back to civilization more easily.
CYCLING IN THE PARK
As noted, bicycles
and pets aren’t allowed on any of the trails in the park, even gnarly
single-track ones. They are allowed only on the paved bike path near the
entrance, the entire park road (all 92 miles), and in the campgrounds.
Today Jim rode about
through the campground loops, west on the paved park road to the visitor
center, and east out
the park entrance to the paved bike path that parallels the Parks Highway
north for about a mile to Nenana Canyon.
He took these photos
over the Nenana River, which is popular with kayakers, to Nenana Canyon
AKA "Glitter Gulch" because it is full of sometimes gaudy and mostly
over-priced tourist shops and services. Never, ever have we seen
such costly milk, bread, or fuel anywhere we've traveled!
For safety, there's a separate bike/pedestrian
bridge across the broad, fast-flowing Nenana River.
Someone built a rock cairn on the bike path near Nenana Canyon.
After I've had a chance to browse some of the stores I'll report back
on whether my impression of Nenana Canyon has changed.
We're pretty much a captive audience here for the next eight days when
we run out of the dairy products, produce, and other perishables we
stocked up on before coming up here. We'll either have to pay the
going price or do without until we get to Fairbanks or Anchorage.
Above and below: visitors head toward the
Jim's looking forward to riding his bike farther from civilization the
rest of the time we're here.
I mentioned in the last entry that he can
take his bike on the camper shuttle buses to any point along the park
road while we're at Teklanika River Campground. His Tek Pass allows him
to ride the buses the four days we're there, if he wants.
Meanwhile, he can ride from Riley Creek CG as far out as he wants and
back. He can also drive the truck out fifteen miles to Savage River and
and ride his bike farther out and back from there.
Next entry: this evening's drive out to Savage River (we
did a lot today!) and links to some interesting articles about a German
RV in our campground, Alaska's "lost summer," the continued search for
Michael LeMaitre, and grizzly bear cub triplets that were put down not
far outside the park because of the "general mayhem" they were creating
. . .
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil