Denali National Park consists of six million acres of wild land and the highest mountain peak in North America, Denali (Mt. McKinley) stands at 20,320′ above sea level. That alone is a good enough reason to travel to DNP. An even better reason to visit in early May is that it’s not filled with visitors yet because the buses that haul loads of tourists into the park start running in late May. Between this window of no snow on the ground and no tourists on buses there is an opportunity to bike into the park and mostly have it all to yourself. Some folks bike and camp in and others bike in and bike out in one day. This year we opted for the out and back.
We left Anchorage at around 6pm on Friday night and arrived at the park close to 11pm. The midnight sun welcomed us into the Riley Creek Campground and we soon found our group and set up camp. After warming up by the fire we had a few beers and then hit the hay.
The next morning we woke up at 8am and headed into the park. On our way into the park we nearly hit a moose on the road, but it fled before I could get the camera out. Besides that, it was just us and the massive wilderness outside the car windows.
At this time in the season cars are able to drive as far as Teklanika River, about 30 miles into the park. Beyond this point the gates are locked and only rangers are allowed to drive further. The parking lot at Teklanika was filled with cyclists coming and going. About 11am our group headed west, past the gate and into the park on our bikes. The road is fun to ride and has a gradual incline from the start. Our first rest stop was at Igloo bridge. Just as we expected we saw a few dall sheep on the hills near the bridge. Nearly every year you can spot dall sheep at this spot.
After we caught our breaths we were off again. The weather was overcast and the temperature was just right. After a little while our group spread out and a few of us decided to slow down, splash in some puddles, and eat some grub.
It’s a good thing that I’m not a speed demon on my bike, otherwise I probably would have past a lot of interesting sites and creatures without noticing them.
After a pretty steady climb the group reached Sable Pass at an elevation 3,900 feet. Unlike last year, there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground, so instead of setting up a picnic and sprawling out in the sun in the grass most of us hovered over our bikes and ate a few snacks. We noticed that the weather was changing and we put on our rain gear just before the first drops hit the ground.
The rain didn’t let up on the way down and and we embraced the facial mud mask!
After getting cleaned up we hopped in the car and headed out. This time we were lucky and spotted a few caribou and a mama grizzly with her cubs.
The next morning we had planned to bike but realized our bikes needed a few adjustments so decided to go on a hike in the park instead. We decided to try Rock Creek Trail, a five mile round trip hike with 400 feet of elevation change. Despite being mostly in the birch and spruce trees, the trail did provide a few good ridge views.
At the end of the trail you can cross the road and visit the sled dogs of Denali. According to DNP, these are the only sled dogs in the United States that help protect a national park and the wildlife, scenery, and wilderness therein, and man are they cute! We had a fun time giving them our love. Polly and Dave really bonded!
We hiked back on the roadside trail and hit the road back to Anchorage. On our drive back Denali finally graced us with her presence. However, by the time we pulled over at the Denali South View rest area the clouds had rolled over the “Great One” once again.