Meet the Berzowskis Alaska Adventure: Denali National Park

Jim and Robin are heading to Alaska! The Honda CR-V is packed and their trusty GO, L.E.O. (Low-Earth Orbiter), is ready for adventure. Follow along and get a taste of #myGOlife…Berzowski-style!

Denali National Park – one of our capstone destinations!

This park consists of approximately 6 million acres. Unless you are in the air, you have access to what you can see (or hike to) from the 92-mile-long Park Highway. While that might seem insignificant, it is still jaw-droppingly incredible! All visitors can drive the first 15 miles, which is paved. At that point, Savage River, only the park and tour busses can proceed, with the exception of the few owners of private holdings and those camping at Teklanika campground. If camping at Tek, you can drive your vehicle over the gravel roads to mile 29, to the campground (or if tenting, you can take your camping equipment on the camp bus). Once there, you can take busses further into the park (you cannot move your vehicle until it is time for you to leave the park).

We decided to camp at Tek. This requires some advance planning, as campsite are reserved and fill up quickly – we reserved our space as soon as the reservation line opened last December.

So, we entered the park on July 2nd and stopped at Riley Creek Mercantile to pick up our camp pass. At this point, the concept of time loses most of its meaning for two reasons:

  • travel is very slow, so whether you are driving or on a bus, the speed limit is tops of 35mph, plus stops are inevitable because of scenery or animals
  • the days are light for so long, it seems like you can do twice as much in a day – until you drop from exhaustion!

When we reached Tek, there were campsites of varying sizes. We found a campsite that could fit our car, GO, GOzeebo and CLAM. Friends planned to take the camp bus in to join us on July 4th, so we set up the GOzeebo to be their home away from home!

Right after we were set up, we hopped on our bikes (we love that with our GO, we can bring our toys!) The roads are packed gravel, but fine with mountain bike type tires. We rode a couple miles, just past the Teklanika Rest Area and overlook (one of the stops that all the busses make). It was a great coast back down to the campground!!

While preparing dinner, a woman stopped by to ask about our GO. She’d seen one at a show, but never in the wild and really wanted to find out more about it. We gave her a rack card and invited her to stop by later. (Which she did, and I have a suspicion they may be GOing in the future!) We ate a delicious dinner, then enjoyed a Ranger talk about porcupines. Did you know that a baby porcupine is called a porcupette?

As it was only 8:30pm, and bright as noon, we went for a hike along the braided Teklanika River. There were so many moose tracks and very clear evidence of bear presence, but we did not run across any.

The next morning, we went out early to catch a bus. With the Tek pass, one can take any ‘green’ bus – they are the non-narrated park busses.

Each bus leaves the visitor center with 4 empty seats and picks up/drops off passengers all along the way. The busses stop at various scenic overlooks and rest stops for you to take pictures, stretch your legs, or use the facilities. You can rejoin your bus after each stop, or get off at any point you want and when you are ready to travel again, you catch a different bus going in either direction. The buses also stop anytime there is an animal sighting, but you cannot leave the bus! For this reason, a bus to Wonder Lake and back takes all day, so you pack food and water, layers of clothing for weather changes, and bear spray if you’ll be hiking.

Luckily, we were able to get on the first bus that came by, and it was headed for Wonder Lake – which is mile 85. Our first view of Denali Mountain was WAY in the distance. This is very exciting, because sometimes the mountain cannot be seen at all!

We saw our first grizzly!

At the Toklat River rest area, we saw caribou resting in the river bed.

From Stony Hill Overlook, we got a much closer look at Denali and the Alaska range. The clouds were mostly covering Denali’s peaks at this time.

By the time we reached Eielson Visitor Center, Denali was mostly covered, but from above Wonder Lake, it was clearly visible!!

At Wonder Lake we got off the bus and walked around a bit.

Our bus was returning at this point, but we wanted to continue on to the end of the road. We started to walk, passing Reflection Lake. There was too much wind to get a good reflection, but Denali was visible in the distance.

We were picked up by a Kantishna bus for the last few miles and remained on that bus for the return to Eielson Visitors Center. We got off at Eielson, admired Denali again, which was free of clouds, and did a short hike to overlook the gorge to the McKinley River. We could see a moose having a nice lunch down there.

Back on another bus to return to Teklanika campground, we saw more wildlife: a couple more moose, many caribou, a Gyr falcon, and some Dall sheep way up on the mountainsides (not pictured).

From the bridge over the Toklat River, you can see where it drains into the Tanana River, which is a tributary of the Yukon River.

The park road is very narrow, so there is a specific etiquette for the busses. For some of the turns, they have to wait and pass one at a time. There are many hair-pin turns and extremely steep drop offs (almost no guardrails!). You can see where a road ‘dropped’ and they had to rebuild a higher one this year!

Our first full day in the park was long, but an incredible day to celebrate our anniversary!!

The next morning, we did not board a bus because we expected Tanner and Carly on the camp bus around 12:30pm. We hiked along the Teklanika River. We went in one direction as far as we could before the river got too deep to ford and climbed a little bluff for some nice views in the rain. Shared the trail with a hare (we saw many in the campground).

In the other direction, we saw lots of wild flowers, animal prints and some mountain goats high on the hilltops.

We were almost late greeting the camper bus with Carly and Tanner because 2 couples that we had met on a bus, and now on the river hike, wanted to talk about our GO. We told them all the details and said they could come by for a tour. They said we were never there, which was kind of true…I waved as they left the park the next day!

We helped Carly and Tanner settle in, had a nice lunch and we all waited for a bus into the park. There were not enough seats for all of us on the first bus, so we divided for the afternoon. Tanner and Carly went to Toklat and hiked the mountain behind the rest stop; Jim and I got a bus to Eielson. The mountain was ‘out’ again, which was incredible – happy July 4th!

We saw more animals. We continued to be awed by one of our favorite vistas from Polychrome Pass; it almost looks fake or photo-shopped, but it is not!

We all met back at the campground and caught up while Tanner prepared dinner. He loved the workspace of the Over Easy Kitchen!! We loved the the salmon dinner!!

Two couples came by to ask about our GO. They had stopped by multiple times while we were away, but kept coming because they REALLY wanted to see it up close and learn more. Of course, we gave them the rack card and a tour. (I think one of the guys now plans to get a GO for his father-in-law!)

The following morning, after cheese and reindeer sausage omelets, we all took a bus to Eielson.

We were all thrilled that Denali was fully visible again!!

We hiked the gorge trail down to the McKinley River bed. Denali loomed over us in all its glory the entire time.

On the final bus back to camp, we observed a caribou munching down right alongside the road.

Back at camp, Jim and Tanner made us another gourmet meal of steak, veggies and grilled peppers.

The next morning after breakfast, we broke camp; GOzeebo first because Tanner and Carly were catching the camp bus back to their car at the visitors’ center.

Then LEO, our GO.

Unfortunately, Tanner returned to our site to say that there was not enough room on the camper bus for him and Carly and the next bus would not be by for another few hours. So…we always say that the GO is so flexible…and it is! Instead of packing up in the low travel mode, we set it up in transit mode, moved our coolers and some of their gear to the GO, so we could set up seats in the car for them. Easy, peasy!!

On the ride back to the visitors’ center, we had a wonderful long grizzly bear sighting, while it foraged near the Savage River bank, then decided to run up through the meadow, over the road, and into the woods – what a great send off from a national treasure of a park ?

At the visitors’ center, we dropped Tanner and Carly off at their car, returned our coolers to the car and LEO to its sleek travel mode, and we were off. We wanted a bite to eat, and figuring we’d skip the crowds at the entrance to the park, we headed south to Cantwell. Much to our surprise, there weren’t any restaurants in Cantwell!   However, in the parking lot of one of the gas stations was a food truck “Cantwell Deli and BarBQ”. The food was delicious and owner/chef was originally from Kenosha, WI – we asked because he had Green Bay Packer flags in the truck!!! Small world!

Our next destination was only a bit down the road to the south, into Denali State Park. The views of Denali from the south continued to take our breath away.

Due to the pine beetle infestations, Byers Lake State Campground was closed for camping, but Tanner and Carly found a campsite at K’esugi Ken State Campground for the night. Before setting up, we went down the road a short way to Mary’s McKinley View Lodge for food and a truly in incredible view of Denali (and Carly and Tanner!).

Due to the pine beetle infestations, Byers Lake State Campground was closed for camping, but Tanner and Carly found a campsite at K’esugi Ken State Campground for the night. Before setting up, we went down the road a short way to Mary’s McKinley View Lodge for food and a truly in incredible view of Denali (and Carly and Tanner!).

We took a little side trip to check out Byers Lake. It was a serene environment, home to loons. That night, at around 1am, we experienced something like a sunset!

Next Stop: Anchorage!

4 thoughts on “Meet the Berzowskis Alaska Adventure: Denali National Park

  1. Welcome to Alaska. Glad you are having a nice trip and able to catch pictures of our local wildlife. Might see you if you get down on the Kenai Peninsula.


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