Spectacular Denali National Park

After our exploration of the Kenai Peninsula we traveled north with our sights set on Denali National Park. Home to North America’s tallest peak, Mt. Denali, this park is on every Alaska tourist’s checklist. Views, mountains, animals…Within our first 10 miles in the park we had to stop for a moose to cross the road.

On our way to Denali we stopped in the cute towns of Trapper Creek and Talkeetna for an overnight. Talkeetna is a common launch location for Denali climbs and flight seeing trips. We tried to get on one of those flight see planes to see the mountain up close, but unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate. Instead we hit both sites of the local brewery and got some fun shots around town.

In Denali National Park we were lucky to score a three night stay at the Teklanika campground. This campground is as far into the park as we could get with our RV, at about 29 miles down the Park Road. Being here gave us an intimate look at the landscape and access to the “end of the road,” which is at mile 43.

Normally the Park Road goes on much further, but in 2021 a large portion of the road collapsed under a rock glacier. There is no time estimate on when the road will be repaired. So, we went as far as we could, first on a bus and then by foot, to see the rockslide and the magnificent valley below. Along our two mile walk we watched two grizzly bears traversing the riverbed below. It was quite a show. 

They say only about 30% of visitors ever see Mt. Denali. To increase our chances we stayed in the area for a longer time than most. We caught a glimpse of the majestic peak several times during our stay, between cloudy and rainy days. We considered ourselves very lucky!

After a three night stay in Teklanika Campground we ventured out of the park to empty our tanks and re-provision. A night in Healy, Alaska led us to the 49th State Brewery for dinner and a little tasting.

A big attraction here is a replica of the bus that is featured in the book/movie, “Into the Wild.” We both read the book, about a guy who enters the Denali wilderness with little preparation, only to perish. The story is outlined inside the bus with actual photos from the ordeal. If you know the story, this bus is very cool.

Properly refreshed we re-entered the park for another four night stay at the Savage River Campground. Situated along the Savage River, this area has been a tourist camp since the park’s founding. From here we could hike along the river, into the tundra, and up in the hills overlooking the valley.

Almost daily we had wildlife sightings…from caribou to moose to eagles, this area is rich with fauna. We had one rainy day but otherwise were able to get out and really enjoy.

Denali National Park is unique in that they have the only sled dog rangers in the national park system. Established 100 years ago, the Denali sled dogs help human rangers reach the backcountry during the winter. The large kennel is open to the public so we checked it out. Luckily we met the newest five members to the team…five week old puppies that are already in training! 

Denali is a special place and we only scratched the surface. One day, if the road is ever rebuilt, we’d love to venture deeper into the park to see even more of its wonders.

Enjoying our Time in and around Homer

We were so lucky, again this summer, to be visited by our neighbors and friends, Dave and Peggy Armstrong. They visited us in Montana last summer and in Homer this summer. While they had family and friends to visit, we still got to spend quite a bit of time together.  Between fish frys at the RV park and a contribution to the legendary Salty Dawg Saloon, we explored the town of Homer from top to bottom. 

One day we all took the ferry to the cute village of Seldovia. Located across Kachemak Bay, Seldovia is advertised as “Alaska’s Best Kept Secret.” There is no road system connecting the town to other communities, so all travel is by boat or plane.

The small seaside town boasts dozens of wood carvings and was brimming with flowers. This place oozed Alaska charm.

If you have Homer on your itinerary we highly recommend a day trip to Seldovia!

On another day, Peggy, Sam, and I set out on a small boat across the Bay to the trailhead for the Glacier Lake, Grewingk Tram, and Saddle Trails. We weren’t really sure what we were in for but…wow!

First we hiked to the tram, which is used to transport hikers across the roaring river. The tram is operated by hand and thank goodness we had Sam to help us pull ourselves across. Peggy and I each went out over the water, but Sam passed on that adventure. 

Next we continued our hike to the Grewingk Glacier Lake, which is fed by the Grewingk Glacier.   The lake is filled with large chunks of ice which have broken off the glacier. The floating ice along the shore were an extraordinary sight!

We finished our 8.5 mile hike at the beach in Halibut Cove where our boat picked us up and took us back to Homer. What a fun day!

While we focused on hiking, Steve and Dave got in some halibut and salmon fishing. On two separate days they got out on the water. One trip was highly successful with each guy catching their limit of sockeye salmon.

The fish has already made it back to AZ and is in our freezer awaiting our return!

Steve continues to capture the amazing array of wildflowers that bloom across Alaska in the summertime. We don’t know the names of them all, but they sure are pretty.

Summer is certainly a beautiful time to be exploring Alaska. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like here in the winter, but we’re certainly enjoying the season.

The Bears of Katmai

If you only have one thing on your bucket list, might we suggest it be a visit to Katmai National Park to see the bears at Brooks Falls? It’s been on our list since we found the live webcam of the bears. We’ve checked in on these bears occasionally for awhile and couldn’t wait to finally meet them in person. 

Our adventure through Bald Mountain Air took us via floatplane from Homer to the shores of Brooks Camp. We landed on the water and walked the beach to the nearby ranger station.

There we attended Bear Watching 101 class and earned our passage into the park. We needed to know how to stay safe in a wilderness where over 2,200 bears roam free.

We walked about a quarter mile before we saw our first bears—mama and her FOUR cubs! We watched as the mama bear caught a fish, brought it to her cubs, and the cubs fought over it. It was nothing short of incredible. 

From there we walked across the Brooks River and had to stop our progress to let another big one pass by.

After about a mile walk to the official viewing platforms we watched the action for several hours. 

We learned so much about bears while in Katmai. Here are a few facts that we found interesting:

  • All grizzly bears are brown bears but not all brown bears are grizzlies. Technically, the difference is in what they eat and their proximity to the coast. The bears in Katmai are coastal brown bears.
  • The bears come to Brooks Falls because of the large number of salmon that move through the river. July is the best time to see the bears because this is when the salmon numbers are highest.
  • The bears have different fishing styles. A few examples are “stand and wait,” “sit and wait,” “snorkeling,” and “diving.” Here’s a video of the “stand and wait” method.
  • Bear cubs stay with their mothers for 2.5 years. During the first year they are called “springs” (born in the spring) and in the second year they are called yearlings. We watched a mother nurse her two yearlings, right under the viewing platform. 
  • Katmai’s bears typically only eat the skin, brains, and eggs of the salmon, which are the fattiest parts. This allows them to maximize the calories while managing their energy output. 

Even though this excursion took all day, our time at Brooks Falls was way too short. We would love to return again someday to spend more time with these magnificent creatures. In the meantime, we’ll be watching the bearcam regularly!