Located 92 miles into Denali National Park at the end of the only
roadway in the park, Kantishna is a very long tour or shuttle bus ride.
For that reason, Jim and I didn't go any further than Wonder Lake
when we visited three years ago.
My route from Tek CG (Mile 29) to Kantishna (Mile
But I've been curious about the abandoned
mining community ever since then and decided to continue just seven miles
farther past Wonder Lake this time so I could see what I might have missed.
And in order to save some money, 56 miles, and several hours on a bus . . .
I rode out and back from Teklanika Campground on my Tek Pass instead of
riding out and back from the entrance.
View of the Alaska Range and Toklat River Valley
from the upper Polychrome Pass overlook this morning
The Tek Pass is a nice perk for folks staying at the Teklanika AKA "Tek"
Campground at Mile 29 on the park road.
Campers can purchase a ticket for a shuttle bus ride on their first
full day at Tek, then ride again on subsequent days that they are camped at
Tek at no additional cost on a space-available basis. I paid for one
ticket to Kantishna for today, then rode two more times out to
Polychrome and the north end of Wonder Lake -- all for the cost of one
View from north end of Wonder
Lake today; on a clear, still day you can see Denali reflected
in the lake but very few people
get that opportunity because conditions have to be perfect.
If I'd gotten a Kantishna ticket when we were staying at Riley Creek
Campground near the park entrance, I would've had to pay for three
separate tickets to do the same thing -- and I'd be on the buses
a lot longer each time than starting and ending at Tek. This benefit is as
good as any other reason for staying out at Tek for a few days.
In addition, Jim was able to ride his bike from Mile 29 out as many
miles farther as he wanted, getting to see scenery and wildlife he
wouldn't have seen otherwise since he didn't want to ride the buses this time.
Here are the notes I wrote right after my ride out to Kantishna:
WHAT A GREAT DAY!
I rode the first of two Kantishna buses to the end of the road for the
first time. I thought there would be some old mine ruins but they're all
gone. There is a cabin a woman lived in back when the brief gold rush
occurred, an airport, and a turnaround for the buses.
Just a couple small buildings have been maintained
at the site.
Photo op at Kantishna (I don't know this couple).
About 1,500 acres of land in that area are still in private hands. There
are several roadhouses, inns, and cabins for visitors.
I took a picture from the road of one of them located next to meandering Moose
There have been some recent problems with flooding in this area. Sometimes
the park road has been closed temporarily near Kantishna because of
washouts and mud or rock slides.
Here's another view of Moose Creek from the park road in the Kantishna
Even though Kantishna wasn't what I expected, I'm glad I went out there.
What I liked best was seeing the rest of Wonder Lake and Reflection
Pond, so much that I took a hike there the next day.
The whole trip to Kanthisna today was great -- excellent bus driver who gave us a
lot of information (the best I've experienced so far after five bus
rides with seven different drivers), decent weather, some different
scenery, lots of critter sightings, a good seat on the bus, and good
The only downside was not seeing Denali today -- at all. There
were just too many clouds stuck over the Alaska Range all day.
Denali's under those clouds in the middle of this view from the Eielson
but you'd never know it today. The High One is not visible about 70% of
I thought there were three Kantishna buses but there are only two. The
third shuttle bus that goes that far is a camper bus.
I got out to the bus stop at Tek a little after 8 AM, hoping to ride the
bus that was due to arrive there at 8:25. Turns out, it was a camper
bus. The shuttle bus for which I had a guaranteed reservation was at
Bus stop at Tek CG
The camper bus driver said I'd be better off waiting for the 8:55
Kantishna bus because its driver gives such a good narration.
She was right --
Tim Linebaugh, pictured below, has been driving shuttle buses at the park for
seventeen years and knows all the history, geology, and the most likely locations to
observe various animals. He was so informative and personable that I sought out his bus the next
two days when I could have ridden any shuttle bus to and fro.
There are a lot of advantages to a Tek Pass, which I've already
mentioned. The biggest disadvantage is getting on 29 miles after
most of the other passengers have already boarded and having to sit in
the back and/or in an aisle seat where it's difficult to take pictures
I lucked out this morning, however.
Fewer than 30 people were on the bus when I boarded. A seat on the door
side in the fifth row was empty, so not only did I get a window seat, it
was also near the front of the bus where it's a more comfortable ride
and faster to get on and off at all the stops. I get nauseous in the
back of a bus, where it's bumpier. I was a happy camper.
I missed getting some of the scenic pictures to the south on the outbound
ride but could get them on the return trip when my seat was on the correct
I had that seat to myself all the way out to Kantishna and back home. There were folks
from all over -- and no kids, thankfully. The couple in front of
me were of Indian descent but live in CA. The two women behind me were
from the Netherlands. There were folks from Germany, other European
countries, and southeastern Asia.
One of the American couples has a house in Missouri but travels in their
RV most of the time, like we did for ten years. We found lots to talk
CRITTER COUNT = NOT SURE I CAN COUNT THAT HIGH!
I think I saw more animals today than on any one previous bus ride at
The folks who boarded at the entrance saw two moose and a bear before I
got on. I missed those but during the day I saw lots of caribou (some very
close), eight different adult grizzly bears (not as close but I
could zoom in on them), a dozen Dahl sheep (far away), a shaggy coyote,
and lots of loons, golden eagles, falcons, and other birds.
Here are some of
the photos I shot from the window when the bus was stopped to view the
animals. Since grizzly bears are probably at the top of everyone's list,
I'll start with some of those.
We saw this one
outbound near Sable Pass, often a good place to see bears:
The next fella was sauntering down the road near Polychrome. Several
buses followed slowly behind him because wildlife in the road always
has the right of way at Denali.
He finally ambled off to the side when a bus approached from the
We observed the next two shaggy grizzlies before Eielson:
When I see bears, caribou, coyotes, and other wild animals shedding like
this, I have the urge to brush out the undercoat! As if . . .
We saw several more grizzlies on the way back. This furry fella between
Eielson and Toklat alternately posed and munched while we watched:
This one was near the East Fork of the Toklat River:
We saw two more bears near Sable Pass on the return trip (maybe one we
saw earlier?). This guy isn't very clear but I loved all the flowers
Three years ago Jim and I had the pleasure of seeing several mama bears
with one or more cubs at Denali but neither of us has seen any cubs yet.
Continued on the next page -- more critters and more scenes from
Kantishna back to Tek
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil