We’ve just finished our seven night stay in Denali National Park and Preserve (NPP). After leaving the park I took my first shower in 8 days and I enjoyed it so much I barely grudged paying the extra $4 on top of our camping fees for it.
Denali is different! It’s different to any other National Park I’ve visited. The experience was different to what I was expecting. It’s, well, different. I wonder if the hordes of retirees who “explored” the park through the windows of a bus knew what to expect. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a beautiful place, with an intact ecosystem, wonderful animals, huge glaciers and the tallest mountain in North America. The park is well organized, a flagship for conservation and a model for wilderness preservation. Within the park, visitors can hike anywhere they want. There are virtually no trails. Instead, hikers are encouraged to pick a hill, valley, riverbed, wood, or wherever, and just hike off and explore. I think it’s the perfect place to experience peace and solitude if that’s what you’re seeking.
We camped at the Teklanika Campground which is 29 miles down the only road into the park – mostly unpaved. There are no hook-ups for water, sewage or electricity at the campsite so we were dry-camping for 7 straight nights, which is a record for us. It took a lot of planning (well done Nina) and discipline for us, as a family of five, to stay there for that length of time. We has to avoid using the toilet and shower on the RV, because our black and grey water tanks would have filled up within about 2 days. Instead, we had to use the campsite vault toilets, carry fresh water to the RV from the only tap in the whole campground, carry grey water back from the RV, when we had finished washing our dishes and not shower the whole time we were there. Also, we couldn’t take our car into the park, only our RV, and couldn’t drive the RV once we’d set up camp. Instead campers have to either catch a bus down the 1 road within the park, ride a bike down the same road or walk anywhere they want. Staying within Denali NPP, even in an RV makes Yosemite Valley look like a 5 star luxury resort, by comparison. That said, we had a great time and enjoyed the opportunity to return to basics and nature, with no phone, texting, email or internet for the whole week.
What did we do? Well, we walked – a lot. Right next to our campsite was access to the braided Teklanika river. We walked up and down the river, crossing streams, looking for wildlife and signs of wildlife. We saw tracks left by bears, wolves, caribou, moose and possibly a lynx. We only actually saw caribou when we were hiking, though. When we caught the bus further into the park we did see some of the wildlife – a mother grizzly bear with 3 cubs, dall sheep and a red fox. Also, at the furthest point of our bus journey at Eielson Visitor Centre, we did get a great view of Denali (Mt McKinley) – which is lucky considering that it’s hidden by cloud about 2 days out of every 3 and many visitors never even get to see it.
Possibly the highlight for me was walking on the tundra. We caught the hikers bus to a place called Primrose Rest Stop and just hiked out onto the squishy tundra. The children loved it – at least they did until we realized that we (I mean me) had misread the bus schedule and we had to wait 3 hours for the next bus back to the campsite. Actually, we didn’t exactly wait – we walked for 3 hours, because it was too cold to stand around and it was the one time we hadn’t packed snacks for the hike. Never mind, I’m sure the experience won’t have scarred them too severely and they’ll be able to and back and laugh about it someday – maybe.
At the campground, we went to a Ranger Program (lecture) every night and didn’t even have to force or bribe the children to go. Also, we enjoyed a virtually electronics-free week. We all read, played cards and board games and explored the areas nearby.
We thoroughly enjoyed our week in Denali NPP but I should warn that it may not be the ideal place for the casual camper. Don’t expect to see tons of wildlife if you only have a day or two to visit. You may get lucky, or you may not. The wildlife has 6 million acres to wonder within the park (and there are no fences so they may wonder beyond the park boundaries). So, the wildlife may be pretty sparse. Also, a view of Denali is not guaranteed – it’s only visible about 1 day in 3. That said, I’m sure that anyone who is lucky enough to see Denali will be in awe – it’s a simply a stunning mountain.
For Nina and I, the experience of camping within Denali NPP for 7 straight nights left us with a certain feeling of accomplishment. OK, so we didn’t actually summit Denali, or even climb any big hills, but we did manage to dry camp with 3 children for a whole week.