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"The Park Road is rugged, like the wilderness that bears it. It reveals to the traveler  
the heart of the land slowly and unexpectedly, even intimately, in its winding approach.  
A trip along the road offers an immersive opportunity to get a sense of this special wild place."
~ introduction from the summer 2012 Alpenglow magazine,
produced by Alaska Geographic for Denali National Park & Preserve

That description of the 92-mile long park road is more descriptive of the miles past the first 15 that we explored this evening.

We were on the more civilized paved portion of the road shown in the pictures in this entry. Past Savage River the road is dirt and more narrow, winding, and hilly than what we've seen so far.

Colors are softer along the park road as the sun gets lower in the sky behind us.

I'm still reporting on what we did on our first partial day at Denali National Park. It's been a busy day!

We have a long list of things we want to do while we're here. Since we're here for only eight full days and two partial days we feel some pressure to pack as much into each day as possible. I know there will still be a lot of things we'll wish we'd had time for, but didn't.

Note to self either come back again this summer or make longer reservations at Denali next time we come back to Alaska.


After supper we drove 15 miles from Riley Creek Campground west on the park road to Savage River, the farthest visitors can drive except those who have permits to drive 29 miles to the Teklanika River Campground. The non-restricted 15 miles are shown in red below.

Here's the map of the park road again:

I'll be repeating some maps and information from day to day because I know not everyone who clicks on a particular entry will have read any or all of the entries leading up to it. I apologize for the repetition to any readers who might be reading the entries in order.

We gradually climbed through beautiful treed terrain called taiga (TY-guh) past the park headquarters, then more open tundra with low shrubs at slightly higher elevations. Most of the photos here are on our return trip to the campground, going east. It was hard when the sun was setting to take photos going westbound to Savage River.

Rainbow ahead of us in the valley where most of the park services are located

Low evergreen trees and shrubs in the taiga

Our destination was the parking area on the near side of the Savage River. There isn't a lot of room for vehicles to park here and signs remind folks they can't drive any further into the park.

We parked and got out to see the river and check out the trail information:

 There are some picnic tables and benches down by the river.
Mt. Margaret is the peak to the west of the river.

One trail goes steeply up to rock formations called The Pinnacles and beyond them to some ridges; you can reportedly see Denali from those ridges and Mt. Margaret on a clear day.

There’s also a two-mile loop trail right along each side of the river, which is "braided" and very wide through all the rocks and gravel bars near the bridge but narrows as it flows down through the canyon to the north.

This path leads to the river loop:

I'll report back about these trails when I've had time to hike them.

There is a considerably larger parking area on the other side of the river but we didn't realize until later that we could go over there in our truck tonight:

Long bridge over the Savage River bed

A ranger is located at the far end of the bridge (little building I highlighted) to ensure that personal vehicles don't continue out the road unless they're going to Teklanika River CG for the first time. If you want to park over there just tell the guard you're aiming for the parking lot on that side. The entrance is right past the guard house.

That lot also has restrooms and a trailhead for the river loop. In fact, if you do the loop trail on both sides of the river you'll need to either begin or end at this parking area and walk across the long vehicle bridge -- or ford the river, which is very wide and low at this point right now.

This picture and diagram of the loop trail are from an interpretive panel at the trailhead parking area:

There's a foot bridge at the far end of the loop and a rugged trail that continues north beyond the loop, if you're feeling adventurous and want to go farther.

A free shuttle bus is available to take people to Savage River from the park entrance. That's an environmentally sound practice so we might do that one day instead of driving our own truck.

I took this photo of the wide riverbed on the other side of the road (south) as we left the Savage River area to go back to Riley Creek Campground:


There wasn’t much traffic on the park road tonight but it’s a mess and probably will be for the rest of the short summer season.

We had to drive over a couple hundred (really!) gravel breaks where the pavement has been torn up to install new culverts. This is one of the smoother ones:

Someone warned us about the project when we were in Anchorage but we thought maybe they’d be done with it – not. It wasn’t such a problem with the truck but it’ll slow us down on Wednesday when we take the camper back to Teklanika River Campground.

There is an overlook about Mile 9 or 10 where you can see part of Denali on a clear day.

This sign at a pullover shows its location in relation to other mountains that mostly obscure it from this perspective 75 miles away:

By this evening the mountains in that direction were covered with clouds so we couldn't see it.

I took the next two photos looking south to the Alaska Range in the vicinity of the sign pointing to Denali:


We didn’t see any wildlife along the road, either.

We enjoyed the ride, however, and it gave us good information re: driving the camper back there and hiking/cycling in that area.

We're looking forward to one or more shuttle bus rides back as far as Wonder Lake (85 mile) when we get out to the Tek campground. There's so much to see from this road!


While I was walking through our campground today I spotted this unusual German RV in one of the sites:

A sizeable number of visitors to Denali National Park are foreigners, mostly from Europe and the Far East. Few of them bring their RV across the oceans with them, however!

That doesn't surprise us, though. We've known ultra runner Hans-Dieter Weisshaar and his wife Susi, both from Germany, for at least a dozen years. They spend a lot of time in the U.S. and Mexico so they shipped their German camper van here.

I was curious about the website painted on the side of the camper shown above. Here is it so you can look it up and see what unusual two-year international project this couple is doing. Scroll down for the English version if you've forgotten as much college German as I have!

The next three articles are somewhat related to each other. (The photos are from this evening's drive on the park road.)

View south toward the Alaska Range

My brother wrote a group letter to family members today. One of the things he mentioned was that our cousins in Florida appear to have the chilliest summer weather of anyone in the group.

Ha! I had to dispute that. Here’s an article about early snow AKA "terminal dust" on a 4,200-foot mountain at Eagle River, just north of Anchorage. It's all part of Alaska's "lost summer" this year.

The next day we read a travel warning about snow at a pass on the Dalton Highway in Canada. That's one road some Alaska visitors use instead of the Alaska Highway. We aren't sure when we'll be heading back through Canada. We want to stay in Alaska as long as possible -- without waiting too long to get back to the Lower 48 before it begins snowing regularly up here.

Colorful fireweeds at the trailhead for the Mountain View Trail at Mile 12.6

Meanwhile, family members and friends are still searching for runner Michael LeMaitre, who mysteriously disappeared during the July 4 Mt. Marathon foot race in Seward. That area still had a lot of snow on the mountain in early July.

LeMaitre's sad story hit home not only because we got there the day after he disappeared and saw the early search efforts by land and air but also because of the envelopes I sometimes push (i.e., the risks I take) while running/hiking alone in the wilderness. I could just as easily fall into a crevasse, die of hypothermia, get attacked by a bear, or befall whatever fate he did. I've been reading periodic updates, hoping they find his body (it's not likely he's still alive unless he deliberately disappeared, which folks say wasn't at all in his character).

Benches at the Mountain View trailhead

And there's this article about three grizzly cubs that were put down for terrorizing folks in Healy, a town a few miles up the road from Denali NP. The cubs and their mother, who hasn't been caught yet, have been accused of "general mayhem."

When I read that, I visualized the three adorable little cubs and their mama that we saw recently on the Coastal Trail in Anchorage . . .

I've got very ambivalent feelings about bears. I want to see as many as possible here in the park but from the safety of our truck or a shuttle bus. These images are from one of the interpretive panels with bear safety information I saw during my walk through the visitor services area in the park today:

I'll have to be very careful when I'm hiking alone in the back country.

My positive encounters with amiable black bears on the Appalachian Trail have nothing in common with the potential danger I could face from being too close to a grizzly in Alaska. The park recommends getting no closer than 900 feet to a grizzly bear (or 75 feet from a moose).

Next entryafter all we did today, what's next??  I'll describe busy Day 2, which included an awesome hike on nearby Healy Ridge.

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