Denali AKA Mt. McKinley


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"Discovery hikes are a great way for the adventurous and well-prepared to explore the    
heart of Denali. These ranger-led hikes travel everywhere, so expect uneven terrain, small stream
crossings, close encounters with dense vegetation, and unpredictable weather. Along the way 
you can engage the park with all your senses and build memories of this kind of special
'walk in the park'."
~ Denali National Park web page re: Discovery Hikes

I got a bright idea yesterday afternoon while reading the park's summer newsletter, Alpenglow.

There was an article about Discovery Hikes AKA "Discos," which are off-trail, ranger-led hikes in the wilderness at different places that can be accessed from the park road.

Two hikes are offered each day with a total of eleven hikers each. Both groups go out on the same Disco bus but their destinations are different. So, usually, are their levels of difficulty. One is rated moderate, the other strenuous. There are different sites every day because park officials want as little impact as possible on the tundra or sub-alpine terrain.

Hikers in my group ascend the last steep ridge on today's Disco Hike.

That was fun and the views were worth the effort!
Stony Creek is below me and the park road is in the distance.

The cost is $35, which is the same cost as a shuttle bus ride out to Eielson at 66 miles. None of the Disco Hikes go out quite that far but after each hike, folks can either return to the entrance or catch a shuttle bus to Eielson and hitch a ride back on another bus later that day.

So the cost for a Discovery Hike isn't any more than a regular bus ticket to Eielson, PLUS visitors get the benefit of an interesting guided wilderness hike with a relatively small group of people


Dicso hikers can sign up only one to two days in advance and must talk with a ranger at the visitor center to be sure they aren't biting off more than they can chew.

After some discussion with a young female ranger at the visitor center about the different Disco Hike options on Wednesday and Thursday, I chose one of today's more mountainous hikes because they sounded more interesting than Thursday's two riverbed hikes.

Looking upstream in Stony Creek's canyon at the turnaround point in my Disco Hike

I wanted to register for the hike at Mile 60 rated "strenuous" but it was already full. With some optimism that maybe someone wouldn't show up for that hike, I signed up for the "moderate" hike at Polychrome Pass (about Mile 45) instead.

I registered for the hike at the visitor center, then went back to the Wilderness Access Center to pay for my ticket. I discovered that since I've purchased two bus tickets now (a Tek Pass and the Disco Hike ticket), I can get another one free as far as Eielson -- but I need to use it while we're here this month and not when we return to the park in August.

Are we having fun yet? All of us older hikers did just fine on the more strenuous Disco Hike.

I haven't read or heard of this perk before. Getting a free ticket is great! If I'm not "bussed out" after several trips on my Tek Pass next week I could use it when we come back to Riley Creek Campground from July 23-28. (I'll explain the benefits of Tek Passes in another entry.)

I might also decide to do another Discovery Hike because this one turned out to be quite fun.


My optimism paid off. I got to do the Discovery Hike listed as strenuous at 60 miles today even though I was signed up for the moderate one at Mile 45 -- simply by asking the ranger to switch if someone didn't show up.

Turns out, one person was listed twice and another was a no-show. That worked well, and I had a great time on the hike I preferred to do.

Here's the park map to show how far out the road I went for this hike:


The weather ended up much better today than the prediction. Although it was overcast at Riley Creek CG and out for a few miles on the park road, I could see blue sky to the west -- the direction my bus was heading -- just past the park HQ at Mile 3.

I let out a yelp then and at Mile 10 when I could see Denali clearly!! Here are three views of the mountain from various points along the first 29 miles of the road:



The downside was not being able to call Jim to tell him to go on out to Savage River (Mile 13) to ride or sightsee. Fortunately, he drove the dogs out there and discovered for himself how beautiful it was most of the day.

On the bus we could see Denali out to the Toklat River (~ Mile 55) but it was starting to be obscured a bit by clouds then. When I got to Eielson (Mile 66) in the mid-afternoon, it was totally under clouds. I was very happy to have seen it earlier in the day.


I walked from the campground to the Wilderness Access Center to catch my bus at 7:30 AM, half an hour before departure. I was first in line and scored the best seat for talking to the bus driver and for taking photos in transit -- right side, front.

Since there were only 18 hikers and one ranger on the bus initially, everyone could have a window seat. That's quite different from the shuttle buses, which can carry three times that many passengers. 

We stopped for a short bathroom break at the Teklanika River overlook at Mile 29:


Eight hikers got off just past the Polychrome view point for today's other Discovery Hike.

Approach to Polychrome Pass

The rest of us continued to the Toklat River rest area at Mile 53, where we had our second break and picked up Ranger Julie, our Disco Hike guide:

Approach to the Toklat River rest area

Toklat River

Although she's never hiked the slopes or ridges we did today Julie did know in general where we'd be going.

I enjoyed the bus ride because there were so few people and I had a great view out the large front window. I took lots of photos of the scenery and a few critters out that window and my side window. Here are a few of them:






Thank goodness for a camera with excellent image stabilization in moving vehicles!

The fireweeds were gorgeous along the sides of the road and in meadows. I asked the driver, Paul, to stop in front of one large patch of flowers with Denali in the distance:


Even Paul took some pictures there! He's out on that road five or six days a week but Denali is seldom this visible. He's been driving buses in the park for six years and was able to give us lots of "insider" information. He's a good tour guide, and that's not even required of him.

The Disco buses continue to the Eielson visitor center each morning after dropping off their hikers, then return to the park entrance with other passengers. Disco hikers can go out to Eielson after their hikes or catch one of the numerous shuttle buses back to the entrance.

Continued on the next two pages (because I have a lot of pictures to share):  photos from the hike, including two herds of caribou, Eielson visitor center, and the return trip to the entrance

Happy trails,

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

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2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil