Lots of food, along with piano music, singing, corny jokes, a little history, and acting out a Robert Service poem. They picked a couple of audience members to perform in ‘The Shooting of Dan McGraw’. The food is good—salmon and ribs, various side dishes, and berry cobbler. It was fun.
The theater runs Monday through Friday, from mid-May to mid-September. Two performances per night—5:30 and 8:30. Cost: $63 (under 12, $31.50)
The few trails which do exist in the park are concentrated near the entrance area. Most of them are mild hikes, wandering through the taiga forest. Mt. Healy Overlook is an exception. This hike runs a seemingly short 2.3 miles one-way... until you realize that during those miles you also climb nearly 1,700 feet in elevation. It can be steep sometimes, as much as a 25% grade at some points. It can be quite a haul, moving up the trail. But the views are well worth it.
From the trail, and the outlook, you can see far into the valley, even to the Nenana river. It is breathtaking, looking over the taiga forest below. You can see the Visitor's Center and all the other buildings nearby. Plus, it is a great jaunt back down - it takes a little less than half the time to get down as it did to haul up.
Total length: 4.6 miles
Total time: 4-5 hours
The abandoned mining camp we visited. Photo courtesy of some friends whose luck with weather was far better than mine. We didn't see any mountains in the background that day. In fact, it was so cloudy on that particular morning that the landscape appeared entirely flat, making me think that perhaps I was back in Miami, Florida where there are no mountains at all.
There was little to do at the abandoned mine but explore for a short while and have lunch. Our guide again suggested a hike but our group again declined. Well, I didn't but I was outvoted.
The tour began at 9 am at the Igloo, quite a strange sight along the highway an about a 45 minute drive from the park's entrance. From this location, we took a jeep ride to a remote area where we boarded the 4X4 truck for a tour of Denali's backcountry.
The tour crosses several rivers and meanders around, skirting along the boundary to the park, sometimes along somewhat maintained dirt roads and sometimes just off road. We spent a good deal of time looking for wildlife. Our total wildlife count: three trumpeter swans, one moose, several beavers and a few bears.
The tour route depends on the weather and the interests of the group. Since it was raining and my group- a few cruise passengers who were stranded on mainland Alaska because of a mechanical fire on their ship- wanted a more sedate experience, we opted to tour an old mining camp. Actually, they opted for that instead of hiking and I went along for the ride because I was outvoted.
On our second full day in Denali, our guide, Kyra from Australia, a staffer at Denali Backcountry Lodge, took us on a hike through the tundra up to the top of a 3,000 peak or dome in the Kantishna area. The views were stunning, and we learned a lot from Kyra, who was very knowledgable about the vegetation, wildllife, geology and goldmining history. Not only was she a fountain of knowledge, she coaches a freestyle Olympic bound ski team for 8 - 13 year old girls in the winter. On top of that, she had the most delightful personality! We had a wonderful time, Kyra from Australia!!
The Denali National Park entrance has a "village" with a Visitor's Center, bookstore, gift shop and a few other facilities. We killed some time here on our last day in the park as we were waiting for the Denali Star train to take us back to Anchorage. The visitor's center is new, small, somewhat crowded, but has some good exhibits. While the center has some good information, don't let a visit here be in lieu of spending a few days exploring the interior of the park. Use the Visitor's Center to orient yourself and get some introductory information, but you will gain far more benefit through personal experience!
Denali Backcountry Lodge made mountain bikes and bike helmets available to guests at no extra cost. Several times throughout our stay we borrowed the bikes to bicycle to places like Wonder Lake and Reflection Lake. The road is relatively flat (with a gradual incline from Kantishna) and very beautiful. You see so much more this way than by riding around on the shuttle bus.
In summer the Savage Patrol Cabin is outfitted as it would have looked in the 1930s, complete with vintage issues of The Saturday Evening Post and Fish & Game magazines. Park Naturalists sometimes give talks and wildlife tours here.
There is no electricity or running water in the cabin and heating and cooking is by a wood- burning stove. Still, rangers refer to it as the "Hilton" when temperatures drop to -55F, the snow is piled deep and the wind is howling outside. It sounds romantic and cozy, until it's time to go to the pit toilet, 100 feet away through the numbing cold.
The Savage Patrol Cabin was built in the 1920s as a relay cabin for dogsled patrols into the newly formed park. In fact, it is still used in winter as a dogsled patrol relay cabin. In summer it is open for visitors to view. Near the cabin are dog houses, and about 100 feet away is a pit toilet, which is used by the patrols in winter.
Around the cabin are several interpretative displays, and also a few short hiking trails. The hiker sitting in front of the cabin in this picture had just taken off his shoes to rest his feet after coming in from a trek.
This theatre is not just a simple theatre. We were invited to see the performance. There were 10 big tables for appr. 12 persons inside the building . Each table had a waiter-actor. We were like a team and we had to help our waiter to sing or support with the applauses. We had a lot of different food there: barbecue, salmon and so on. It was an amazing show!
There are several hiking trails around the park entrance area. In my view, the most exciting landscapes you can see choosing the Horseshoe Lake trail. It is an easy to moderate 3 mile (appr. 5 km) walk rewarded by spectacular views and signs of wildlife. Look at the picture.
Duration: 2,5 hours
The day we went to Savage Rock was sunny and dry, unusual for Denali Park. The mountain was "out" and we took lots of pictures of that. We went over to Savage Rock to look at the trail my daughter helped build. They broke stones and crushed gravel by hand using big hammers, then carried them up hill and made stairs going up to the Rock. If you make it up to the top of the rock it is a fantastic view but be carefull, it would be a heck of a fall.
Denali is mainly a wide-open area where wildlife viewing is essentially unobstructed. Most of its rivers -- the most common thoroughfares for wildlife traffic -- are open spectacles albeit thousands of feet away in places. On the other hand there are several sections where the trees have full reign, and only the intrepid will venture more than a mile into these dense recesses. Moose and caribou calves -- or what is left of them -- will often be discovered by hikers into the brush, so make plenty of noise when venturing into the forests. Sections 1 and 16 on the eastern flank near the entrance are considerably dense, while the contiguous sections 26-28 are notorious stands of endless spruce. If dense forests are your target, Denali is certainly equipped to satisfy.
If you enter the park in the summer, you might wonder where and when you're even going to see a glacier. Farther along the road (well past the Savage River checkpoint), these moving rivers of ice begin to appear in nearly every shoulder and col of the Alaska Range. Although they are accessible for those with the time and endurance to reach them (as part of a hike or camping experience), they are generally enjoyed by the majority of visitors only from afar -- like the park's wildlife.
Get off the road and hike a little. In Denali National Park there are many marked trails. The one shown in photo is Savage River trail, a short loop that follows Savage River. The photo shows the bridge at the end of trail where you cross the River and return. It's an easy hike located at mile 15 with a large parking lot. This is as far as you can drive in the summer. There's a ranger station at Savage River. You must take the Park's shuttle bus after this point.
Better yet, there are trail-less tundra for unlimited hiking possibilities. If you plan to camp out in the backcountry, obtain a free permit first at the Visotor Center.
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