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Moose, Caribou, and Bears...Oh my!

Wildlife encounters in Denali National Park

sunny 70 °F

We finally made it to Denali – our ultimate destination to top off the packaged tourism sold on the cruise. We couldn’t wait to head off into the mountains, check into our rugged cabin, and start exploring, but first we had to make the nearly five hour journey from Anchorage. The drive was incredible through the most beautiful scenery imaginable. We could have easily doubled our travel time by stopping at every picturesque stop to take photos and walk around, but the allure of Denali was calling and eventually we made it to our final destination.


With only one full day to enjoy the wonders of Denali National Park, we utilized the 20 hours of daylight experienced in Alaska by setting our alarms for a modest four am. The sun however decided to wake us up at three am, and although we were exhausted after just several hours of sleep (going to bed at eleven when the sun is shining is very surreal!) we got up and headed for Denali. Being one of only several on the road we took advantage of the quiet and solitude and searched for wildlife along the first 15 mile stretch of road open to the public. Everything after that can only be visited in one of the parks’ green school bus style shuttles. Although there was not a cloud in the sky, the temperature was near freezing as we made our way into the park. After driving for just about ten minutes we got our first glimpse of Mt. McKinley, North America’s tallest peak. We were completely shocked to see this majestic mountain rising almost four miles in the sky as it is almost always covered in clouds. In fact, McKinley is only visible about 20 percent of the time due to the extreme weather patterns surrounding the mountain.


Touring around on our own we spotted lots of snowshoe hares, arctic ground squirrels, and even a fox, but the most impressive sight was coming across a lake with two moose basking in the morning sun enjoying their breakfast. We were utterly intrigued by the wildlife spotting opportunities and we had to see more.


We then reserved a spot on the next shuttle bus heading into the park. A word of advice, we were very fortunate to land spots on this shuttle, apparently, seats sell out far in advance and if planning on visiting Denali, I would recommend booking your seats as soon as possible. The shuttle we reserved only went about 60 miles into the park and back, but would take us eight hours roundtrip to complete. Denali only has one road leading into the park and it is unpaved and slow going. Passengers are encouraged to yell “stop” at any time wildlife is spotted. This makes for some very slow progress as the bus stops for all things resembling animals, including trees, rocks, and other inanimate objects. It didn’t take long before we spotted our first grizzly bear, right alongside the road. I was awe struck. I have always feared bears, but in the safety of the bus I was mesmerized by the beauty of this magnificent animal. Shortly up the road we spotted three more grizzly bears, two adults and one cub. They were perched high up on the hillside, and unfortunately I was unable to capture them on camera as they were too far away.


Continuing on we spotted several caribou and dall sheep in the distance, but having sighted all that we hoped to see, we got off the bus at Polychrome Overlook just shy of our original destination. Here we wandered about and found an amazing spot for our picnic lunch overlooking an enormous valley and snowcapped mountain range. This moment had to be one of the most inspiring as we sat and contemplated the enormity and beauty of not just Denali but also of the limitless splendor the world has to offer. Somehow during this moment, all the issues and stress of life just melted away as we realized how small and insignificant life’s “problems” really are.


Leaving Denali National Park was bittersweet as every trip or journey seems to be. I am eager to get home and get back to my routine, but at the same time I can’t help but want to constantly live on the open road with no plan or destination in mind. This trip leaves me inspired to embark on our next journey. For our wedding we received many wonderful gifts, but we are most looking forward to using our gift card to a bed and breakfast of our choice anywhere in the United States. We look forward to planning this journey and any suggestions are welcome! I hope you enjoyed my latest entries from the beautiful state of Alaska.


Posted by Jennylynn 19:58 Archived in USA Tagged tourist_sites

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