I flew into Anchorage after work on Thursday night, landing at a reasonable time thanks to Alaska being four hours behind Eastern Time. We stayed in Anchorage on Thursday, did some work from there in the morning and drove up towards Denali National Park on Friday afternoon.

Before leaving Alaska, we stopped at an outdoor store to buy some bear deterrent spray. This National Park Service video convinced us, though it was unlikely we’d run into a grizzly on the hikes we had planned. Neither of us fancied running into a male bear given they can tip the scales at 680 kg and stand 3 m tall.

The drive was nice, we were lucky with the weather for the whole weekend. We did a couple of short hikes on the way, at Thunderbird Falls and Little Coal Creek before arriving at our accomodation for Friday and Saturday nights. On Friday I saw a little of the northern lights; our host woke us up as they were out. When he woke me up I raced outside in my pajamas with a jacket on top which was inadequate given the weather! In hindsight I wish I’d gotten dressed and stayed out there longer. It was a bit bright where I was standing so didn’t get any good photos.

We were staying about 35 minutes south of the park entrance, so we still had a short way to go on Saturday morning. We ended up driving further north in search of coffee, and ended up at the nearest ‘large town’ of Healy (population around 1,000) where we found somewhere that was still open. We drove through a few small communities that were all boarded up for the winter which was bizarre to see. A lot of the businesses shut down completely and the people working there move south to somewhere warmer for the winter!

The drive along the eastern edge of Denali National Park featured some breathtaking views of the mountains. Denali Mountain was almost always visible in the distance. It’s the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit of 6,190 m (for reference, the highest mountain in Australian peaks at 2,228 m). The upper half is permanently snowy.

The first hike was the Savage Alpine Trail, the first photo I took on the hike was of a ‘bears frequent this area’ warning sign so we were happy to have the spray. It was super windy in some parts, here’s a video which tries to capture it (turn your volume down before opening it). After the hike we drove into the park until reaching the point where the road is closed for the winter at the Teklanika River.

On the way out we got our wish of seeing a bear from a safe distance, I’m glad we got to see one in the wild. It’s a fair distance in this video, but it gives you some idea of the size. A group of people assembled to watch and as you can see about half way through the video it must have got a bit spooked! We didn’t do loads more on Saturday, but did head out again late at night to try and see the northern lights.

Sunday was a late start, but we did a full on hike at Bison Gulch (a ‘gulch’ is the name for a valley formed by erosion). I recorded the hike on Strava and plotted it on Google Maps:

Photos from the hike start here in the album. It was pretty brutal, we climbed 1,259 m and a lot of that towards the end was over very loose shale. Here’s one of us up near the top:

It’s lucky we went when we did; a couple of weeks later and it would have been rather chilly! I think the snow there is from some early falls a week before we arrived. We were ridiculously fortunate with the weather. It was relatively warm, with clear skies. The whole place seemed so remote, the air was super fresh and the stars were all out. Other than the bear, we also saw a couple of moose and a pair of mountain goats.

All the photos from the trip are in an album on Google Photos (some of the links above should jump to certain spots in the album).