I got a bright idea yesterday afternoon while reading the park's summer
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
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
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
SO MANY CHOICES --
AND A BONUS, TOO
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
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.
LOVE THE DISCO BUS!
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
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
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!
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
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil