Doing the Denali – the Tallest Mountain in North America

Denali or Mount McKinley is one destination we have been dreaming about. So in 2013 we finally made it there. From Gwin’s Lodge in Cooper Landing we drove up to Anchorage to catch the Alaska Railroad. The day started off rainy as we pulled into the train station and we quickly scurried in with our luggage. The agenda is 8 hours of train ride North to Denali, then a bus tour into Denali the next day, a free day of touring on our own, and then finally a trip back down to Anchorage on the train.

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And we did it in style! We were in the Goldstar class where we rode in a double-decker clear domed car equipped with a private bar that was at the head of the train. We also had access to an outdoor viewing deck. Below the deck is a full service dining car.

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The scenery along the railroad was breathtaking. Mountains after mountains, rivers and creeks. Fireweed blooming by the roadside. We chose to take the train so that all of us can devote our full attention to the scenery instead of navigating and driving. And the scenery didn’t disappoint. We enjoyed hot cocoa and attentive service of the Goldstar attendant in comfy cushy seats with our feet up. It’s not quite the Orient Express, but in our mind it was close enough.

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The train left Anchorage at 8 AM and arrived in Denali at 4 PM. We stayed in one of the cute cabins at Tonglen Lake Lodge (http://tonglenlake.com), a new lodge near Denali. The owner has four talented border collies who trains for agility competition. We had a great time playing fetch with them.

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Early the next morning we were off on our Kantishna Experience bus tour. This is the longest trip offered, lasting 11 to 12 hours, and traveling the entire 92 mile road into the park and back. Yes, it is a long bus trip but we didn’t want to miss anything.

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Here are some of my favorite pictures.

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We were let out of the bus at a number of points along the road to stretch and take in the view. My favorite spots were probably the Polychrome Overlook and the Eielson Visitor Center.

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A little ground squirrel greeted us at the Polychrome Overlook.

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A ptarmigan by the side of the road. By winter time, these birds’ feathers are all white to help them camouflage in the snow.

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At one spot in the road, three female moose sauntered near the bus and gave us plenty of opportunities to take their pictures.

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The bus tour was a long but worthwhile trip. The next day we were on our own and we drove into the park to Savage River Loop Trail, the end of the 15 mile long paved road beyond which private cars are not allowed. We hiked on the 2 mile long Savage River Loop Trail, which was a nice and easy hike but very windy.

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We also saw the sled dogs’ kennel and saw a sled dog demonstration. All in all, it was a great trip and it was fun to seen Denali. Hope to come back soon.

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