Denali National Park has six different campgrounds plus dispersed
backpacking opportunities in the wilderness.
Three of the campgrounds allow both tent and vehicle/RV camping --
Riley Creek near the entrance, Savage River at Mile 13, and Teklanika at
Mile 29. Guests with reservations can drive to all of those. Savage
River is suitable for smaller rigs. Riley Creek and Tek have some sites
that are larger.
Sanctuary River, Igloo Creek, and Wonder Lake are tent-only
campgrounds that are accessed by shuttle buses.
One of our sites at Riley Creek
CG in August, 2012
We are using the same MO at Denali's campgrounds that we did three
years ago because it worked so well for us then -- several days
in the "front country" at Riley Creek CG, four days at Tek in the "back
country," then back to Riley Creek for a few days before leaving the
Campground fees are determined by the amenities offered. Riley Creek's
"A" sites are $28/night. More remote Tek costs just $16/night.
We paid half price with our NPS senior passes.
Although none of the park's campgrounds have any electrical, water,
or sewer hookups and the generator hours are all rather limited, the
three campgrounds that allow RVs do have restrooms and available fresh water.
Riley Creek also has a waste (dump) station. It is the most developed
of the park's campgrounds and the most convenient in many ways. It's
also the only one where we can get an internet signal. So that's where
we spent the most time camping in the park in 2012 and where we'll be
the most days this time.
Our recent site at Riley Creek CG
However, there are some good reasons for folks with RVs to stay at
Tek for at
least the three-night minimum required if you're driving a vehicle out
there (you can stay just one or two nights if you go out on a shuttle
bus and sleep in a tent).
The most important for me is the Tek Pass, which allows folks who
stay at Teklanika CG the opportunity to purchase one shuttle bus ticket for
any point beyond Tek and then use it at no additional charge every day
they're out there.
If you're staying at Riley Creek or outside the park you have to pay each
time you take a shuttle bus into the back country (beyond 15 miles, the
farthest most people can drive their own vehicles).
Not only does the Tek Pass allow visitors to get some "free" bus
rides, it also eliminates about 28 x 2 miles of the ride = 56
miles on each trip to Eielson at Mile 66, the most popular destination,
and beyond to Wonder Lake (Mile 85) or Kantishna Mile 92).
Let me be clear. The park road is 92 miles long, mostly dirt, and
narrow -- i.e., a slow trip to any destination with all the stops
for restroom breaks, wildlife sightings, and views at overlooks.
If you start at the entrance and go to the end of the road at
Kantishna, it's at least a 12-hour trip on the bus. By starting and
ending at Tek at Mile 29 you'll be on the Kantishna bus for 126 loooong
miles -- but not nearly as long as you'll be on it to and from
the park entrance! Add another 56 miles and probably three more hours
Hiking along the park road near
the far end of Wonder Lake, approx. Mile 88 (7-21-15)
The big advantage to staying a few days at Tek for Jim, who doesn't
particularly like riding the shuttle buses, is being able to explore
farther into the park on his bicycle.
He can ride his bike in either direction but has always chosen to go
beyond 29 miles so he can see things he can't see in our own vehicle. He
could also get a Tek Pass and take his bike on one of the camper buses
to a farther point like Eielson or Wonder Lake and ride back from there.
Jim took this photo near Polychrome Pass about Mile
45 while riding his bike 7-22-15.
There are some restrictions at Tek that reduce the number of private
vehicles on the park road:
- To get past the ranger station at Savage River (Mile 15), you must
have proof of campground registration.
- If you're driving, you have to stay out there a minimum of three
nights; we stayed four nights in 2012 and this year so we could
have three full days to explore.
- You cannot drive anywhere else while you're out there, either
forward or backward.
- If you have a motorhome, you cannot take your "toad" to Tek. It
has to be parked at the main visitor center.
- If you ride a shuttle bus back to the entrance, you have to pay
for a new ticket to get back to Tek! The Tek Pass doesn't cover that
-- just farther out from Tek and back.
Despite the isolation at Tek -- no internet, no TV, no stores,
etc. -- we love
the solitude and beauty of the place. It's a smaller campground than Riley
Creek and much less "busy." It's a great place to relax, walk around the
campground, explore the riverbed, and attend ranger talks in the evening.
THE TRIP TO TEK
On Sunday we left our site at Riley Creek at 8 AM and went to the
nearby dump station to dump waste water. Jim didn't put a lot of fresh
water in the tank because the road is so rough out to Tek, even rougher
than we remembered. Jim knew we could get more water out there, although
he'd have to carry it in our six-gallon containers.
We learned three years ago that to have the best selection of
campsites at either Riley Creek or Tek, you have to get there before
noon. Although you can reserve a space, you can't reserve a specific
site at either campground.
Road work on the way out to Tek
View of the Teklanika riverbed
Note: These campgrounds fill up every night in the peak
summer months. It's rare you can show up and get a site the day you want
it. Both years we've made our reservations online the very first day
possible -- December 1 of the preceding year. If you plan to camp
at Denali in 2016 consider making your reservations as soon as allowed
because it's the National Park Service's 100th anniversary and they are
promoting themselves heavily.
As these photos show, after a couple days of rain the park road was
a filthy mess:
When we arrived at Tek about 9:30 AM the camper and truck were the dirtiest
they've been on this entire trip and with no water connection at Tek,
they stayed that way while we were out there. We weren't able to clean
them up till we got back to the dump station at Riley Creek four days
We didn't see much of anything, including animals, on the
way out to Tek because of the rain and low clouds that morning.
SELECTING OUR SITE
It took over an hour to reach the Tek CG and a few more minutes to
circle the two loops to see what sites were available.
We went through the back loop first, hoping to get the site we had last time
across from a water spigot and bathroom, with acres of boreal forest behind us
-- but a tent was in it for several more days. Here's a picture
of that site after it was empty:
Jim chose a
relatively large site in the first loop that was easy to back into.
It's long enough to park the truck perpendicularly in front of the
camper and there is enough room on the sides for our slides and awning.
We have good privacy and a convenient place to walk the dogs to potty.
I took this shot of our site at Tek on a sunny day,
not the sloppy-wet day we arrived.
If you look closely you can see all the dirt on the
This is our site at Tek but from the back it looks
almost like the site we had at Riley Creek. (7-22-15)
The campground looked full all four nights we were there, mostly with
small rigs and tents. If we'd gotten there later in the day, we wouldn't
have found a site large enough for the Cameo.
Here's another one of those odd-looking European
we've seen them only in Alaska. (7-19-15)
We had an
unpleasant surprise after arriving at Tek and getting set up -- two of
the upper kitchen cupboards spilled part of their contents on the floor
because of the rough ride. We learned that Corelle dinnerware does
break! A salad plate broke into a million shards that we had to clean up
before the dogs could come inside.
We have extra
latches on several cabinets to prevent spills, but we hadn't had trouble
with these two doors before. We're glad the refrigerator and all the
other doors remained closed.
ACTIVITIES WE ENJOYED AT TEK
Although we spent most of the three full days at
Tek out on the park road -- cycling, walking, riding shuttle
buses farther into the park -- we also spent some time relaxing
in the campground and surrounding area.
Dogs are allowed at Riley Creek and Teklanika campgrounds.
However, they have to stay on campground roads, the park
road, or the paved bike path in the front country. They aren't allowed
on trails or in the wilderness.
That's not too terrible because in and near each
of these campgrounds I was able to walk Cody a couple miles each day and
Jim had several miles where he could ride his bike with Casey.
Jim on a
solo ride between the Tek campground and river overlook (7-22-15)
Each day at Tek Jim rode with Casey on the Walky
Dog through the campground and out on the park road to the Teklanika
River overlook and rest area where the shuttle buses stop about a mile
and a half past the campground.
Casey loved the exercise and the attention she
got from passengers on the buses! Most of them had to leave their furry
companions at home while on vacation half a world (or country) away so
they were happy to have a wiggly pup to pet.
shuttle buses stop at the Teklanika River overlook outbound and inbound
on the park road.
30+ miles, it was
restrooms, information kiosks, and great views of the riverbed. (7-21-15)
One time when Jim was on the large deck
overlooking the river he saw a grizzly bear ambling along the wide gravel riverbed
-- in the same place I hiked three years ago.
I walked Cody in the Tek CG and out on the park
road several times a
day. When no one was looking, I also let him go a few feet off the
campground road so he could wade in a beautiful little creek in
the boreal forest:
One evening I took a solo hike along the Teklanika riverbed behind the
campground. I waded through several shallow streams in the wide,
braided gravel bed before reaching the main channel of water. There
wasn't much point in wading through that so I just walked along the
river for a mile before turning back.
Here are some pictures I took that evening:
Because of all the wildlife -- including grizzly
bears -- that use the river for hydration and a travel corridor,
I carried bear spray.
We attended an interesting ranger talk on our last evening at Tek. We
really enjoyed those talks at both Riley Creek and Tek three years ago.
This one was about
lynx, which are low in number this year because the snowshoe hare
population, their main source of food, is also low this year. The hares
have a 10-12 year cycle from low to high populations, and the lynx
There are lynx in and near our campground but we haven't seen one this
year. Jim did see one in the Savage River bed three years ago. I'd love
to see one.
Except for a surly couple serving as campground hosts this summer (no
hosts out there in 2012), we enjoyed our four nights at Teklanika
Campground and highly recommend it to other visitors.
And be sure to get Tek Passes for everyone in your party so you can
explore more of the backcountry beyond 29 miles at a very reasonable cost.
Next entry: lots of photos of scenery and
critters from Sue's bus ride to Kantishna, at the end of the 92-mile park road
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil