Alaska 2005 Anchorage to Denali
2005 after a cruise of the Inside Passage aboard Coral Princess (click to see our trip report here) we headed inland to Anchorage to take a fully guided wilderness lodge tour with Alaska Wildland Adventures
We stayed overnight in Anchorage as part of our tour, met our guide and got orientation for our raft trip the next morning. We embarked the raft from AWA's Kenai Riverside Lodge.
Kenai Riverside Lodge to Kenai Backcountry Lodge
The part of the Kenai River close to the city was lined with fishermen trying to catch salmon, but as we paddled further down the river, it became more and more remote.
We floated past dozens of eagles perched in trees and seagull rookeries and stopped mid float for a picnic.
After arriving at the Skilak Lake, a small outboard was fired up and we motored in the raft across the lake to AWA's Kenai Backcountry Lodge (see first photo above)
The communal dining room in the lodge, porch, a typical cabin, and the "bar" located in the frigid mountain stream
A pair of cabins at the Kenai Backcountry Lodge
We headed north, stopping in Wasilla to pick up anything we might need from civilization at Fred Myers before heading back into the bush!
When we arrived in Talkeetna, we had the chance to do a glacier landing in Denali National Park with K2 Aviation.
Denali National Park
We were lucky to have the mountain "out" during our visit, Denali can be hiding behind clouds, and you might not be able to see it at all during a short visit.
Lodging and Transportation at Denali
We spent the night at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. Talkeetna is a base of Denali adventures and has views of the mountain. Many of the cruisetours added onto mainstream cruises have hotel bases here, and this is where they base their exploration of Denali National Park. Talkeetna is a nice town with upscale hotels, but is some distance to the NP. There are more hotels and bed and breakfast homes spread out on Highway 3, right up to the entrance of the park. This area is a gateway for bus tours in Denali National Park, there self drive in the National Park only on the first 15 paved miles of the park. You can get a pass or permit to backpack and camp, but otherwise to enjoy more of the nearly 100 mile park road, you must take shuttle buses or tour buses into the park, and then back to the entrance. Bus information is linked here. Another option is to book a lodge in native- owned land right in middle of the park and take a longer bus ride out, deeper into the park, and stay inside the park with a return bus ride another day. I highly recommend taking the bus further into the park and even staying overnight in the park, it seemed to us, almost as soon as we left the paved area, the wildlife sightings never stopped! This is what was arranged by AWA for us, and we stayed 2 nights at the Native owned Kantishna Road House
Below is a typical bus run by the park...you have the option of going on a shuttle, which makes no photo stops and does not have a guide or narration on board, or you can choose a narrated guided ride. In either case, except for a few rest stops, and shuttle stops, passengers are not allowed to leave the bus. There are multiple turnouts along the road, and on narrated tours, if wildlife is spotted, the bus will stop and guests can take photos from the bus. When you see how spectacular the scenery is and how narrow and winding the roads are, you will be very glad someone else is doing the driving!
To say that this was one of my peak wildlife experiences does not do it justice! I was traveling with 8 and 10 yo children, and I had some concern that a 5 hour bus trip with no activity stops would be "boring" to our young girls. I bought each of them a small note book, thinking I could keep them busy sketching the animals they did see while we waited for the next wildlife sighting. In reality, they had little time to draw! At nearly every turn there was something amazing to see! I'll let Jeff's photos tell the story!
Dahl sheep, fox and ducks in the park. (click on any image to expand)
Prior to our journey into the park, AWA arranged for us to meet at with a researcher at the National Park tracking and studying wolves in the park. We had a private audience with the researcher and the opportunity to see the radio collars used, videos of how they track the wolves and ask questions. It was one of many specially arranged, unique and authentic experiences we enjoyed with AWA.
As we approached our lodge, we were able to see Wonder Lake, a beautiful glacial lake in the middle of Denali National Park.
Our tour with Alaska Wildland Adventures included a 2 night stay the Kantishna Roadhouse. These were duplex cabins with an en suite bathroom. Meals were served at the main lodge, and several activities were included in the visit, including mountain biking, a demonstration of dog sledding with the grandson of an Iditirod participant and panning for "gold" (which was planted for the children to find!)
The lodge, situated in the middle of the park, was remote but comfortable. In this area, our girls could roll in the spongy tundra and not worry about scaring off wild animals with their scent.
We also had an opportunity to meet a young man whose family has raises dogs and raced (and won!) the Iditirod. In the summer months the dogs train with a sled and we had the opportunity to see the animals and hear a talk about the care and training of the dogs.
The property includes several buildings left from the gold mining days at the turn of the 20th century. These are open to get a sense of what life may have been like for the gold miners.
Of course, adults can participate in a variety of activities including hiking, fly fishing, and mountain biking (which we tried at our own peril when we forgot that even the flat roads are at elevation!) The dog sled and gold panning demonstrations were a hit with the children!
After a full day of activities and wildlife talks in the evening, we prepared to take the bus ride back out of the park the next morning, a 5 hour journey filled with even more wild life to spot!
The beaver were active, we spotted another bear in the distance, and some fowl up close.
Our journey ended at the train station, where our AWA guide bid us good bye and presented the three children in our group with certificates for their participation in an amazing wildlife adventure!
AWA put us on the train back to Anchorage and we bid goodbye to our guide. Unfortunately, a gravel car derailment caused the train to be stopped not an hour into the journey. Sudedenly, a train full of folks were left in the middle of nowhere (many were cruise tour passengers with no expectation of a bus back to Anchorage for several hours. Luckily, AWA was aware we were on the train and had another guide on baord with another group, this AWA guide walked the length of the train identifying all of us and we were included in alternate plans they made despite our tour being "officially" over. When the train moved into the station, while most train passengers settled in for a long wait, a mini bus was already waiting for AWA guests and we were on our way to Anchorage immediately. While we were sad to miss the train experience, we were so impressed by the proactive approach of Alaska Wildland Adventures.
Returning to Anchorage, we spent another 2 nights on our own. We took time to visit the Alaska Native Heritage Museum, a family bike ride along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and a visit to the local farmers market, with it's larger than life produce! (sun nearly 20 hours a day all summer will do that!)\
We enjoyed a variety of hands on educational activities as well as native entertainment at the ANHC
The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail was a nice place to meet locals as well as get a lovely view back to the city of Anchorage from a point on the peninsula.
The following day, we had an afternoon flight, so we took some time to walk around Anchorage and pick up some souvenirs at the local market. The locals were all astounded by the unusually hot (80s!) weather.
As we made our way through the Seattle/Tacoma airport to return to our home, it was dark right around 9 PM before our flight, and we all remarked it was the first time we had seen the dark in nearly two weeks!