We took the railroad from Anchorage to Denali National Park. We upgraded to the gold package, and were glad that we did, because it provided two hot meals. The trip is 8 hours, but on the gold cards, there are glass tops so that you can experience the beauty of the sights along the way. The meals also provide activities to break up the trip. We were lucky heading to Denali because we were close to the front of the train. Brady and Piper had their own charging stations to enjoy nature as defined by teenagers.
Seriously, we all loved the ride, and having the ability to go to the back of the car to stand outside. The trip went by much faster than we anticipated, as it always seemed like there was something going on that took our attention. The staff was mostly college students who visit Anchorage for the summer to work and experience an adventure. And, the folks aboard were a good mix of ages, though mostly elderly.
We had drinks included, as well as warm meals such as oatmeal, and eggs and bacon for breakfast, lunch was veggie burgers, salmon chowder (which Brady swore tasted like hot dog soup, but Piper and I loved), salads, and burgers. And dinner, a little mixed version of lunch meals. They were pretty good!
Visiting Denali National Park
We arrived at Crow’s Nest Cabins by shuttle. Our cabins looked cute from outside, but a little less desirable inside! Brady was worried about the lack of building codes. We headed out to Prospectors Pizza for dinner, and it was really good! We ordered enough to have extra for our hike the next day and stored it in the cooler the lodge provided. We learned the staff hadn’t recovered since covid, with fewer people coming back to Denali to work, since most are seasonable workers. We felt bad, because it was clear that they were juggling lots of roles and responsibilities.
The girls and boys paired up for sleeping and put pillow barriers in the center of the beds since we were all rolling to the center. The lodge provided us with to go breakfast meals each morning, which was perfect for our two-night stay. We arrived in the park on the 8am shuttle, beating the crowds.
Our first day, we started with a good cup of coffee, knowing that we could face the day after we had that! Denali is different than other national parks in that it’s not possible to drive into the park, unless you are camping, and even then, only partially into the park. Because of climate change, there are significant landslides on Pretty Rock, where over time, the land and the road that it carried to allow visitors into the park started shifting, at first slowly, allowing park staff to add gravel annually to keep the road aligned, then weekly, then daily. In 2021, park staff were adding truckloads HOURLY to keep the road safe for visitors. But, in Oct. of that year, there were significant rains, leading to additional flooding, and making the road completely unsafe.
Park staff evacuated visitors and staff within a 5-day period and according to a park ranger, the road was like “soup.” Once they no longer added gravel, immediately the land continued to slide down the hill. Currently, there are two bids to create a bridge but neither company feels confident that the land securing the bridge is yet stable, leading visitors to only be able to drive into the park around 2 hours, and then turn around. The entire park of 6 million acres, the size of Vermont, so it’s huge. With Tourism being so important to the state there is funding allocated, just nobody, so far, confident in the construction of the bridge.
We rode into the park on a park bus, with our tour guide named “Bear.” He said he’d gone by “Bear” for 40 years, so that folks could say that they saw a “bear.”
We rounded the corner on our adventure and he said, “It’s your lucky day, you are seeing Denali!” We all screamed with excitement of the gift!
Only 30% of visitors are able to see Denali because the mountain is so enormous that it creates it’s own weather patterns. Denali means “the High One” for Athabascan Indians north of the Alaska range. For some time, it was renamed Mount McKinley to try to secure favor with the then President, but the traditional names was restored. We saw this amazing mountain, the highest in North America and were so excited to see its face! It was so large, it almost looked like a cloud. There is no rhyme or reason for viewing. Just luck of the day!
We also saw other animals such as a lynx, which was rare, moose, caribou, and doll sheep. And I loved the advice on this card I saw in the gift shop…
Healy Lookout Point
Denali is also different than other parks we’ve visited because of the hikes. Many are not marked and often hikers, who want to go deep within the park, can explore and create their own. With bears being a significant and very real danger, and the fact we didn’t have bear spray with us, we chose well marked paths and stayed close to the visitor center.
We hiked the Healthy Lookout Trail, which although labeled strenuous wasn’t as difficult as other hikes we’ve done. It was around 5 miles there and back, and a significant climb up, and beautiful view once we arrived. Brady got a run in as he ran up and back the whole way up fighting the steep elevation gain.
It was raining in the distance, so we didn’t have a long rest at the top. We ate some nuts, rewarded ourselves with M&M’s and headed back down! It was just the pick-up we needed after riding the bus for 4 hours.
Sled Dogs Park Ranger Educational Show
We’ve been dog sledding in Ely, MN and have a good understanding of the way in which sled dogs are born to run! What we didn’t realize was that Denali is the only national park where there is a sled dog team in the park. The sled dogs work all winter long when the park is closed to transport park rangers to check on different areas of the park and scientists who are collecting research. Sled dogs have the ability to sense animal danger, and to go places where snow mobiles cannot go. We listened to a Park Ranger program and highly recommend it!
It’s a Wrap – Another trip wrapped up and in the books. I love the creativity of blogging our adventures so that we have them to refer to later. And, to send to friends who are considering traveling to that destination in the future.
We loved our time together, but took home covid as a family souvenir. As I write, we are home, and recovering!
What We loved About Our Trip
- Being based out of Anchorage and staying in a comfy home base with lots around us to do within driving distance.
- Being able to walk downtown to restaurants.
- Being close to a bike trail to give us another activity.
- Taking a place, train, bus, boat and automobile all within one trip.
- Having a good mix of good local restaurants and national parks.
- The boat ride that provided extra adventure, which was Brady’s favorite activity, but maybe not Piper’s.
What We Would Have Changed
- If Frontier Airline hadn’t cancelled our flights, we wouldn’t have had to rebook for double the price on American/Alaskan Airlines, leaving with us with little return options. We are currently taking the 3am flight back to NC. We probably would have taken the red eye, avoiding the night hotel fee, since we will be sleeping very little anyway.
- Brady also wanted me to add, he definitely wouldn’t have stayed at Crow’s Nest, outside of Denali as it wasn’t his most favorite accommodation.