Monday morning marked my departure from Anchorage. I headed north toward Denali hoping that somehow the weather would improve. It was unlikely since Denali is known for having pretty wet weather in August and, in fact, only 20% of annual park visitors actually see Mt McKinley. Maybe I should’ve checked that before planning this trip. In typical Alaskan fashion, the distance up there is much longer than it appears on a map – about 5 hours driving. If you take the scenic train ride that stretches to about 9 hours (and the cost stretches too). I got in around noon, with plenty of time to assess the weather and figure out a gameplan for the park.
There are a few options for Denali: 1) you can stay in a shitty cabin/motel just outside the park boundaries for an exorbitant price, 2) you can stay at a crowded campground near the entrance or at a campground inside the park, or 3) get a backcountry permit for camping in a certain section. There is a main access road, serviced by park vehicles only, and it traverses the 140km east-to-west distance of the core park area. There’s much more beyond this area but it can only be accessed via bush planes. Given the spotty weather, I opted for a campground inside the park, which I thought offered the best compromise. Had I chosen to backcountry camp, I would have been limited to a certain area, and if the weather there was bad I wouldn’t have had much recourse.
The campground I chose was a couple hours bus ride into the park and it has about 6 sites, so its still small and quiet. Its also somewhat central in the park so its easy to bus around the park, finding good weather or diverse places to hike. As a bonus, the pine trees at the campground grow such thick needles that the rain doesn’t penetrate around the base, so you can cook/eat/chill outside without getting wet. No sooner had I set up my tent when a big grizzly came sauntering through the campground. I scrambled to get my food into a bear-proof cache, so I didn’t get a pic.