Opening Day: Denali National Park

Lucas and I have been vigilantly monitoring the snow plowing progress at Denali National Park for the last few weeks, and this weekend, we got our break. On Saturday, the park road was opened to the public up to mile 29 for the first time since the fall. Saying we were excited is perhaps an understatement.

Denali has quickly become one of my favorite places in Alaska. I could happily explore this massive park every weekend and never get tired of it. There is just so much to see.

For this excursion, we decided to drive the road out to mile 29, Teklanika, and then continue to hike deeper into the park via the road. Less than five minutes into our drive, we were chatting, and looking out at the snow covered peaks wishing to see a moose. And bam. A moose, snacking a few yards off the road in the woods. It was a good sign for the day ahead.

The drive itself is always beautiful. Denali is one of those places you can never quite capture in a picture because it surrounds you. Full mountain immersion. It is like being lifted into another world, quiet, still snowy-white at this time of year. The peaks look like they have been draped in yards and yards of white silk. And these kind of views stretch in every direction.

We also got super lucky on Saturday. The clear-sky day revealed the mountain. Denali  (McKinley). It peaked out early, within ten miles of the winter visitor center, and we craned our necks to watch it as it appeared and disappeared behind corners all the way out to Teklanika. I am always amazed at how huge it is. It stands in the sky like a giant, even when it is hundreds of miles away.

After a leisurely drive, taking pictures, getting out to walk a little on the hard-packed, wind-swept snow, we made it to the “road closed” sign and continued on foot. The next section of the road, out to Igloo Mountain, is sandwiched by mountains and crosses a few rivers, little and big. The first river, the biggest we crossed, had several open patches of water. The deep blue water appeared from under the snow and ice, swept across the riverbed rocks, and disappeared just as quickly under more ice. Signs of spring.

At Igloo Mountain we decided to hike, off the road, into the snow a little bit. A side trip. At first the snow was hard-packed and wind-swept like what we had walked on earlier. But at the top of the first rise we found ourselves on the tundra, covered in thick patches of icy, wet snow, and we started to sink. First to our ankles, then knees, and then up to our thighs. We struggled to move forward. It was like walking in silly putty. I even spent some time crawling across the snow to help distribute my weight. I wish we had a video. It was comically ridiculous. We gave up less than a half mile from the road. We were missing the snow shoes we left in our car. But we both like a little adventure, and it was one of my favorite parts of the day.

On the way back, the light was beautiful. Soft against the blue sky, and the Denali, the mountain, continued to dance along the horizon. And the icing on the cake, we saw another moose, laying down in the snow, on our way out. Back to back moose sightings. Oh, Denali. I am already dreaming about our trip back this summer.

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15 Comments on “Opening Day: Denali National Park”

  1. Homestead Ramblings says:

    You’re making me homesick for Alaska. Funny story, all the way from Anchorage to Denali to Fairbanks to Paxson and back to Anchorage, my most beloved would point to the tallest mountain and exclaim, “That one’s Denali” even though we were no where near Denali. Glad you got to see a moose, and love your stories of a place I can’t wait to call home. May I recommend visiting Lake Louise Lodge on one of your treks south. It is the best of the best.

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    • I love that you called every mountain Denali! When we were backpacking at Denali State Park, we took all these pictures of what we thought was the summit of Denali, then the next day, with less clouds, we realized it was not the top, rather the false summit. Beautiful anyways. We are headed down to Valdez later this month and will pass right near the Lake Louise Lodge, if we have time we might try and check it out. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  2. Noel Tendick says:

    Great post! I’ve been dreaming of heading up there, hard to resist with shots like these.

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  3. I’ve never been, but Alaska/Denali is on my bucket list of places to visit.

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  4. Great Post – Great Photos, especially the last one – thanks for sharing!

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  5. piercex4 says:

    Your photos are beautiful! Denali is also one of my favorite places – and to have such a perfect view – not always the case. Thanks for bringing back wonderful memories for me of my time living in Fairbanks!

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  6. The Pal Guy says:

    Wow those shots are awesome but i think the best one is of the moose. That must have been such a fun experience.

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  7. […] Opening Day: Denali National Park […]

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