August 23, 2015

Hoping to See Denali

The drive to Denali National Park was rainy, with low-lying clouds, so the views just weren’t there.  We glanced over at the numerous Denali overlooks, but to no avail.  The Parks Highway Scenic Byway just wasn’t too scenic that day.

Because of the extended forecast for rain, we decided to stay at an RV park in order to charge our batteries before checking into Riley Creek Campground within Denali National Park.  Denali Rainbow Village RV Park isn’t much more than a crowded, gravel parking lot with interior dirt roads filled with potholes.  It’s certainly not our kind of park, but it’s the closest commercial park to the entrance to Denali.

We barely ventured out of the RV for two days since we were both battling colds.  Tim likely picked up his on the flights from Oklahoma, and he was kind enough to share with me.  It’s rather surprising that this is the first time either one of us has been sick since beginning our full-timing adventure (we won’t count Tim’s surgery last summer as being sick).  Colds are more annoying than debilitating, but we still didn’t feel up to doing anything.  The rainy weather only added to our lack of desire to extend ourselves or to expose others to our germs.

When it was time to move to Riley Creek Campground on Wednesday, I was feeling no better.  I stayed in the RV while Tim met with Denali’s museum curator to finalize the details of his two-week contract.  Tim returned to the RV full of enthusiasm about the project, which will begin on Monday, August 24.  We then checked into Riley Creek Campground and got set up.  Riley Creek is the largest campground in Denali National Park and is located near the park entrance.  Like all campgrounds in the park, there are no hookups, but the campsites are nicely situated in a wooded area with a lot of privacy between sites.

Since the weather forecast for Thursday was fairly good, Tim and I talked about taking a shuttle bus into the park, which is the only way to travel the park road since private vehicles are mostly prohibited past mile 15.  Shuttle buses are glorified school buses, filled with fellow tourists seeking to take in views of magnificent wildlife, breathtaking landscapes and, hopefully, Denali itself.  In the end, however, I accepted the fact that I was still sick.  The idea of spending eight hours on a bus was not at all appealing.  So, I sent Tim on without me.

At 1:00 pm on Thursday, Tim hopped aboard a green shuttle bus headed to the Eielson Visitor Center, approximately 66 miles inside the park.  The bus was scheduled to return to the park entrance by 9:00 pm.  Tim thought this would be an interesting schedule, and he was hoping to get on a less-crowded bus and take advantage of afternoon and evening light for photographs.  Well, the bus was crowded, but the visible light was great for photography, as you can see in his images.

Shuttle Buses Transport Visitors through Denali National Park

Private Vehicles Are Prohibited Past Savage River

The road through Denali National Park winds its way through a remarkable landscape, and wildlife sightings are almost guaranteed.  It is said that visitors are much more likely to spot wildlife than Denali itself.  Denali is an Athabascan name meaning “the high one.”  The mountain is often hidden behind clouds, but Tim was fortunate to see a partial view. 

Up high on the alpine, the tundra is already turning to a carpet of gold, with highlights of amber, red and yellow.  The remaining hues of green are holding on but becoming less and less each hour.

The Many Colors at Polychrome Pass

The Park Road Winds Around the Mountains

The Mountain Made Itself Partly Visible
The View from Eielson Visitor Center Is Lovely, Even if the Mountain Is Hiding

The Tundra Is Already Starting to Show Its Fall Colors

The Colors of Denali National Park Are Amazing

Braided Rivers Wind Their Way through the Park

Denali National Park Is Much More than the Mountain Itself
The Colors Were More Vivid on the Return Trip

Wildlife views included moose and a dozen or so grizzly bears, all large males.  They were all at a considerable distance from the road, requiring binoculars to view.  A much longer zoom lens than ours would have been required to capture images.  One of my wildlife goals in Alaska has been to see caribou, and Tim was able to see a couple of them for me.

Two Caribou Were Grazing Not too Far from the Road

Unfortunately, Tim’s most enduring memory of the bus ride was the screaming children and parents who could not, or would not, control them.  When wildlife is spotted from a bus, passengers are required to be very quiet.  Although the bus driver repeated this message time and time again, it seemed to do no good.  It’s a shame that parents inflict children like these on other passengers who have paid a lot of money to experience a wilderness environment.

I Still Think Tim Had a Good Time

Tim and the Locked Antlers

I was feeling a little bit better by Friday when we checked out of Riley Creek Campground, so we toured the exhibits at the visitor center and watched the film.  We then made our way ten miles north to the small town of Healy to spend the weekend with our friend Kathleen.  Kathleen was Tim’s colleague at Rocky Mountain National Park, but transferred to Denali National Park four years ago, so we had a lot of catching up to do.

Tim and I have really enjoyed driveway camping at friends’ houses.  We get to spend quality time with them, but still sleep in our own bed.  The rainy and cold weather provided us with a good excuse to just hang out with Kathleen at her home.  She prepared a wonderful dinner for us on Saturday and invited one of the women we will be working with at Denali.

We returned to Denali Rainbow Village RV Park on Sunday night, and this is where we will remain for the duration of our time at Denali.  Although it would have been great to stay in the park, we do need hookups.  The weather has turned cold, and rain remains in the forecast for at least the next week.  Kathleen remarked that she cannot remember such a long stretch of rainy weather this time of year.  I’m still hoping I will be able to get out into the park and enjoy wonderful vistas, wildlife sightings and views of the mountain.


  1. So sorry you weren't well enough to make the bus trip. Glad Tim was able to bring photos back for you. I hope you get a clear day to revisit and feel better real soon:)

    1. Thanks. Getting sick is never fun, but I really hate that it's put a damper on exploring Denali. It's still raining, but I'm hoping that the weather will improve so I can get into the park.

  2. Sorry that you missed the trip into the park. Hopefully, you'll be able to do so while Tim is working and get to see more of the park and the mountain. Denali is high on my list. We saw the mountain a-plenty as it cooperated on the day Princess's Midnight Explorer train took us from Anchorage to Denali for an overnight. And we did have a morning in the park before moving onto Fairbanks, but no time to do the shuttle all the way to Mirror Lake. So it's going to be a priority for us when we return to AK in the motorhome.

    1. You were so fortunate to see the mountain so many times. Our original plan had been to spend more than a week in the park so we could go in multiple times in hopes of seeing Denali. Then the contract was offered, then it started to rain. I'm still hopeful that I'll get into the park several times, possibly tomorrow. It is supposed to snow in the park, so that should be quite a sight to see!


We love hearing from you and reading your comments.

To leave a comment, type what you'd like to say and then click on the arrow next to "Comment as:". You can select "Anonymous" if you'd like. Finally, click "Publish." That's it.