Anchorage to Denali Scenic Drive - Nikhil Limaye

Anchorage to Denali Scenic Drive

Anchorage-Denali Scenic drive - First glimpse of Denali National Park

Visiting Denali National park was next on the to do, after an awesome 26 glacier cruise.

Denali National Park and preserve in interior Alaska, encompasses more than 6 million acres of land and centered around Mount McKinley, is also know as "Denali - The tall One". Mount McKinley is the tallest peak in the United States and is a favorite among mountaineers who are willing summit its peak. Its not just the mountain, that makes Denali so special. Denali wilderness offers excellent and majestic landscapes in addition to the vegetation and wildlife. It is home to many bird species and mammals, with moose, wolf, caribou and grizzly bears being the most common and favorite among the tourists. It is said that, Denali National park would be the next best location to view wildlife in the wild, after Yellowstone and Smoky Mountains.

Denali Park has mix of Taiga and deciduous forests at lower elevation and also home to tundra, glacial rock and snow at higher elevations. Denali National Park opened to public somewhere in 1970's and anyone could go into the park, however later, there were problems with people and their garbage and then the bears, so eventually park was closed to general public with only park vehicles being permitted access. This gave way to the shuttle system, thus persevering the natural wilderness habitat.

There are 2 ways, one can reach Denali, one is 5 hour drive (250+miles) on the Alaskan Highway and second is to take the Alaskan railroad to Denali. Having read about the scenic drive, we chose to spend a day driving on the scenic Anchorage - Denali Highway.

Denali National park is located at mile marker 237 or so, on the Parks highway. The highway was built parallel to the Alaskan railroad and offers an insight into the Alaskan topography.

Having read so much about the scenic drive, we chose to leisure drive from Anchorage to Denali. We started from Anchorage at about 9 am in the morning, and given that its does not get dark until after 11 pm, is an added advantage. It also has its cons, that we lose track of time, until we get physically tired and then start to notice time. By this day, we had already been acquainted on how time flies when you are in Alaska.

Anchorage-Denali Scenic Drive

While on the road, we chose to observe and take in the beauty of nature. The route is well-known by its name rather than the highway number. Mileposts mark and indicate the nearby attractions. Highway is well marked with signs. After driving along for sometime, we hit the Wasilla-Palmer highway, which hosts the town of Wasilla which is the next largest town after Anchorage.

Mile Marker 36 marks the beginning of the George Parks Highway, commonly called as Park's highway. By the time it was noon, we started to feel hungry, but we could not find anything specific on the highway itself. From previous travel experiences, we knew that all highways have service areas, but this one seemed to be an exception. All along the highway, after we left Wasilla, there were no food joints or restaurants or even local diners. Soon after an hour or so, we spotted a subway and had a good meal, it was really fortunate for us.

Soon we passed a little area where everything around, was charred and burnt and the blackened tree trunks were remnants of a dark event. This was the little town of Willow, that witnessed the out of control fire sometime in June of 2016. The sight was very depressing and contrasting to the landscape. Forest fires are a part of nature's cycle to recreate, and few years from now, sure this place would come alive.

Around mile marker 132, there was a branch off to the town of Talkeetna, and this town offers flights for glacier landing on Mt McKinley. At the subway, I had a picked a local visitor info magazine which gave good information about the area around.

After about 10 miles from here, was the Denali South view point, located in the Denali state park. This was the first glimpse of Denali that we had. From the vista point, we saw Denali's south peak, which was clearly visible that day with lush green tundra in the forefront with hint of pink wild flowers. Truly a mesmerizing sight. To get a feel, just close your eyes and imagine a garden with a backdrop of only one fully snow-clad white mountain, surrounded by blue skies and puffy clouds- this is Denali. From the vista point there a 0.5 mile trail that took us little uphill that gave a beautiful view of the Alaskan Range and the Chulitna river. The Alaskan range formed due the collision of the tectonic plates, which pop-ed up the molten magma, continues to rise even today. Soon after, there is well marked roadside vista for the North view of Denali. The north was not as great as the south view, but does give a very good feeling of the magnanimity of the mountain.

Denali South & North View point

After about 10 miles from here, was the Denali South view point, located in the Denali state park. This was the first glimpse of Denali that we had. From the vista point, we saw Denali's south peak, which was clearly visible that day with lush green tundra in the forefront with hint of pink wild flowers. Truly a mesmerizing sight.

To get a feel, just close your eyes and imagine a garden with a backdrop of only one fully snow-clad white mountain, surrounded by blue skies and puffy clouds- this is Denali. From the vista point there a 0.5 mile trail that took us little uphill that gave a beautiful view of the Alaskan Range and the Chulitna river. The Alaskan range formed due the collision of the tectonic plates, which pop-ed up the molten magma, continues to rise even today. Soon after, there is well marked roadside vista for the North view of Denali. The north view was not as great as the south view, but does give a very good feeling of the magnanimity of the mountain.

The highway all the way runs really flat with no hair-pin bends or steep drop-offs, but is so open that there is very good visibility. We had read earlier somewhere that there are often delays caused by the construction work along the highway. We got a good chance to step off and spend some brief moments to get a good feel of the area, due to one such halt off. As we continued our journey on the highway, we passed beneath a rain cloud which was pouring and travelling with us,and due to this we got to see a very impressive view of a rainbow that arched over the highway, a perfect entrance to Denali. During this part of the drive, we saw rainbows twice or thrice, till we reached the Denali visitor center at about 7-8 pm in the evening. Being late evening, the center was closed so we picked up few maps and went into the park.

Drive into Denali National Park

The Denali park allows visitors to drive up to 14 miles to a parking area along the Savage River. The rest of the park can only be reached by Denali's wonder shuttle bus. Few miles into the park, around a turn we saw a shuttle bus on the right, with lots of cameras. Initially, we did not understand whats happening as we could not see any wildlife, but in a few steps, saw a cow moose and her calf grazing, right next to us. I was so excited to look at them, that I adjusted my car seat to grab the camera from behind... This was an enticing moment after a very long drive. After reaching the mile 14, we spent few mins around the parking area exploring the surroundings.  

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