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Camping in Denali

May 11, 2011

Matthew and I have a “bucket list” of things to do in Alaska before we leave.  You know how it seems that you don’t do all those things that people who visit your city/state come to do?  Well, that’s been us.  We’ve been here for nearly five years and we only have a few weeks left, so it was time to start actively checking things off of our list!  First was camping in Denali.  Denali National Park is open year-round, but once Tourist Season begins the rules change, so we wanted to visit before that (read: while things are free).  One campground is open for the winter, so we drove down after church on Sunday and picked a spot.  The drive took about three hours (we were pulling a trailer, so it was a little slower than normal).  Levi didn’t sleep for one minute of it!  Funny, because he barely makes it home after church most weeks…  While the campground is open, none of the “amenities” are available – no mercantile, flushing toilets, or running water spigots.  Oh well, at least we came prepared!  The afternoon was sunny and fairly warm, though there were still spots of snow in the shade.  This was all the snow at our particular site…

Some had a bit more…

And others were not really camping-friendly quite yet…

We set up our huge tent and then set off to find some electricity with which to blow up our air mattress.
You can say I “wimped out” by bringing our queen-size, full height air mattress, but I will reply that a) I am 21 weeks pregnant and b) it got below freezing at night and being off that ground is far better than being on it.  So, there.  We found some electricity at the mercantile, which was preparing to open for next week (Tourist Season beings May 20), drove up to the loading dock, threw the mattress on the roof of the Jeep, plugged it in, waited, unplugged and drove [slowly] away.  Very stealth.  Very worth it.  Our federal dollars paid for the electricity, so we can justify “stealing” it, right?  🙂

Levi enjoying a special camping treat!

Once camp was set up, we set off to walk around the area.  Though, I must say that setting up camp is easy when you must take all bear precautions.  No food, toiletries, or anything scented can be left outside the vehicle unless actively being used…but Matthew made the back of the Jeep into an easy-to-use kitchen, so it worked out without being terribly inconvenient.

We found this lovely trail and the sunset provided some amazing views…

Train bridge - Alaska Railroad

When I say “sunset,” by the way, I should also say that it never actually got dark.  We have hit that part of the year where, from now until August, it won’t be fully dark…ever.  This is both awesome and annoying.  At least camping wears you out enough to not notice how light it is in your tent.  It also made us realize why other tents at the campground had ratty tarps on them, even though it wasn’t raining.  Or, why camping in a camper is superior (one of many reasons, I suppose).  🙂

After a dinner cooked over the fire, we got in the Jeep and drove into the Park.  During Open Season, errr, Tourist Season, you can only drive the first 15 miles, then you must take a bus (either a guided tour, or just a shuttle) to view the rest of the Park.  In the off season, you can drive 30 miles.  Levi slept while we watched for wild life.  I eventually also fell asleep, but Matthew didn’t see anything wild.  The views, however, were amazing and pictures cannot possibly do them justice…

The next day we woke to discover it was actually very cold.  We guessed somewhere in the mid-20’s (F), because we were able to discover it was about 36F in the morning.  Rather chilly.  But, we made it (with a little help from our Jeep…for Levi’s sake, of course).  We had breakfast then went off to see the park again and, perhaps, do a little more walking.

This is Denali (aka Mt. McKinley)

Cliche Alaskan truck

We had lunch at the 30 miles mark with this great look-out over a mostly-frozen river.


We found another trail and Levi found a friend along the way: our state bird, the Willow Ptarmigan.

His female companion was nearby, too.



Arctic ground squirrel

That's quite the drop off behind you, Levi!

Obligatory moose picture

It was cold and windy by the time we got back and made dinner, so it was early to bed for all of us.  Tuesday morning we got up and were extra cold and decided to see if we could find a hot breakfast.  Of course, nothing is open yet because it’s still the off season, but we tried and Levi got some more sleep in the car (and we were WARM).  So, we packed up camp and headed off for home.


We drove through the little town of Anderson.  Anderson made national headlines a few years ago when they announced a unique project to increase their population:  free land!  The project mostly failed because most people did not keep up their end of the bargain – to build and occupy a house – but the town was, uhhhh, an experience.  That would be the nice way of putting it.  Let’s just say we didn’t feel like we’d missed out on a great opportunity for free land.

We had brunch in Nenana (a teeny town about an hour south of home) and then made great time home.  We were happy to be warm and sleep in our own beds.  Now, we can officially cross camping in Denali off of our list, though we are sad we didn’t see any bears.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Melody and Cole permalink
    May 11, 2011 0829

    How fun! A bit cold for me, but glad you were able to enjoy a bit of Alaska before you have to go!

  2. Jennifer permalink
    May 12, 2011 0829

    Looks like a fun trip despite the cold weather. I have always enjoyed going down there! The Denali Area is beautiful!

  3. Jill and Dave Anthony permalink
    May 13, 2011 0829

    We loved hearing about your camping trip and seeing the pics of Denali and Levi! He is so cute and is growing up fast.

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