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Denali Backpacking/Alaska Suggestions

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Denali Backpacking/Alaska Suggestions

Postby dehrlich101 » Tue Oct 29, 2013 12:52 am

We are heading to Alaska in June and staying for a few weeks (June 12-28) I saw there were a few other threads about Alaska but I thought I'd start a new one for some more information and suggestions.

We haven't planned much yet but we would like to Backpack in Denali National Park. Can anyone suggest a specific unit within the park that provides some great backpacking, views of Denali, and a few good summit hikes?

http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/unitsys.htm

Unit 43, seemed like a good one. Anyone ever been there before?

http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/unit43.htm

Other then Denali National Park... What are your must see Alaska towns, excursions, restaurants, places to stay, anything else?

We were planning on renting a vehicle in Anchorage to get around Alaska.. Is this the best way to travel around Alaska? or should we look into other forms of transportation.

Thanks in advance!

Daniel
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Re: Denali Backpacking/Alaska Suggestions

Postby yedi » Tue Oct 29, 2013 9:11 am

I'm not nearly as knowledgeable about Alaska as some others on here, but I just got back from a trip up there in September, and I'll share my experiences.

Re: renting a car: We did, and were happy we did. We were mostly car camping and liked the freedom it gave us to go where we wanted and stop when we wanted (we saw a pod of Belugas breaching next to the Seward Highway, for instance, and were able to stop, hop out, and watch them for as long as we wanted). The car also made for a good place to dry gear, since it rained every day of our trip. If you confine yourself to the Fairbanks->Denali->Anchorage->Seward line (i.e., the Parks and Seward highways), there seem to be some other good transportation options (trains and buses), but we were still happy to have our own little homebase. One tip about renting cars: get something larger than a subcompact, and American made if you can. We got a subcompact car and ended up with a flat tire, which couldn't be repaired (had to drive on the flat for a ways in Denali because we couldn't get out to change it because there was a huge grizzly on the road in front of us). We ended up in Fairbanks and couldn't find the correct size replacement tire because no one carried metric tires that small. Lots of trucks tires and standard sizes, but nothing in our size.

Re: other places to go/things to do: We also went to McCarthy/Wrangell St. Elias NP and Seward/Kenai Fjords NP. I would recommend going to Kenai Fjords and doing the Harding Icefield hike and taking one of the longer wildlife cruises. Seward is a neat little town, and both of those were awesome experiences. I wouldn't make the drive to McCarthy again, I don't think. It's pretty far out of the way, and doesn't really give you a sense of Wrangell St. Elias. If you want to do something in Wrangell St. Elias, I would fly in to one of the backcountry airstrips. And speaking of flying, I'd recommend doing one of the flightseeing tours over Denali from Talkeetna. It sounds hokey, but it's pretty incredible to fly between the mountains. The scale is just so different from anything in the lower 48. Talkeetna is also an interesting little place. Try the cinnamon rolls at the Talkeetna Roadhouse if you go. If I were doing our trip over, I think I'd fly in to Katmai instead of going to Wrangell St. Elias. Watching the bears feed in Katmai has to be an unbelievable experience.

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Re: Denali Backpacking/Alaska Suggestions

Postby peter303 » Tue Oct 29, 2013 11:14 am

Furthest in the road (Wonder Lake) or south side (e.g. 75).

The road/park bus may not be running all the way to Wonder Lake by June 12 depending on how fast the snow melts and amount of regrding needed.
They try to start the buses by Memorial Day Weekend. But one year I was there they couldnt even do it by then.

Re: Denali Backpacking/Alaska Suggestions

Postby bergsteigen » Tue Oct 29, 2013 11:37 am

Yes, rent a vehicle. Do not get a compact. Many roads are dirt and in varying shape of difficulty. Make sure it has emergency road-side equipment if you are going anywhere outside of cell range (which is 90% of the roads outside of towns - but maybe it's changed recently). Alaskans are required by law to help you, if you get stuck, so that's one good thing. I always carried full road-side emergency gear, tow straps, camping gear, etc at all times, since you never know what will happen on the roads. I've been pulled out of snowbanks, and done the same for others I've encountered. Other forms of transportation? Only other form that works is the train to Denali NP, otherwise Alaskans are too independent to have "useful" public transportation (that are not tourist buses that shuttle you to their chosen destinations).

Views of Denali... good luck! I can count on my fingers on one hand the number of times I've seen Denali when driving by. Though when it is out, it's stunning. My office in Fairbanks had a view of the mountain, and I rarely saw it peek out of the clouds. I've done 3 day backpacks in Denali State Park (Kesugi Ridge) and never saw it.

I never backpacked in Denali NP due to the difficulty, red tape, etc. Many other areas of AK were far more accessible and friendly to the locals. Note: There was a landslide at Sable Pass (~30-40 miles in the NP road) and they don't know if service will be fixed for next summer

Towns to see: Seward, Homer, Valdez, McCarthy, Juneau.

If you like pizza, Moose's Tooth in Anchorage was a go to when I was in town. At present I don't remember others in the area. If you do go to Fairbanks, any Thai restaurant is amazing. My favorite is Lemongrass. Before I left, I did a tour of all 6 places for lunch. The Pumphouse (Fbks) is a classic where you can get any type game meat, and is excellent.

Here are the various pages I've set up trying to chronicle my time in Alaska (note: I'm not done with the pages, and have tons of photos not yet posted):
Mountaineering & Hiking Trips
Road Trips etc
Photography type trips
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Re: Denali Backpacking/Alaska Suggestions

Postby dehrlich101 » Tue Oct 29, 2013 4:32 pm

Thanks Peter, Yeti and Otina!

Otina, I know you're a beer drinker.. Any other good brews around Alaska that aren't in this article?


http://matadornetwork.com/nights/the-beer-lover’s-guide-to-alaska/

It wouldn't do the link for some reason...
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Re: Denali Backpacking/Alaska Suggestions

Postby cougar » Tue Oct 29, 2013 5:32 pm

car works good for a lot of areas - the train is convenient from Seward to Denali and they have shuttles up the road into Denali. If you're visiting coastal towns, the ferry is an option. Depends on where you want to go. If you're going to spend a week or just a few days backpacking in Denali, don't bother with the car for that. Private cars aren't allowed inside the park anyway. As mentioned, the road isn't open to Wonder Lake until later in the summer. Early June it was open to Eileson visitor center which is still a good ways up the road. A car is a good option in the south central part of the state where there are the most roads and towns, and there's camping in most areas and towns (including RV parks). Keep in mind accidents can happen and from the train, I witnessed a jam around Girdwood that rivaled I-70 on a winter blizzard weekend (no alternate detour route). People got out of their cars and went fishing until it cleared out.

Skip Fairbanks, it's like Laramie - there are a lot of nicer places to go. To get a sampling of towns, try a couple in the interior around Denali and some on the coast (Seward and the Kenai are really nice, base for Kenai Fjords, Valdez is ok). With a car you can get to Richardson Hwy around Wrangell/St Elias and that can make for a good loop - Anchorage -> Fairbanks -> Valdez -> Anchorage, with side trips along the way.

Anchorage has some nice bars and restaurants - Gwinnee's for breakfast, Humpys is a popular local bar. There is a nice bike path all around Anchorage and you can rent bikes downtown. The seafood is fantastic all along the coast because it's so fresh. And the beer is great too - Alaskan Amber most common. Nice thing about the train to Denali is it has a bar car so you can drink the whole ride up (several hours) watching the scenery go by.

my transportation itinerary on a 10 day trip:

- train from Anchorage -> Denali -> Fairbanks (~ 2 days each place)
- charter bus Fairbanks -> Valdez
- ferry Valdez -> Seward
- train Seward -> Anchorage

the car gives you the flexibility to drive the Denali Hwy and skip the more boring area and travel time up to
and back from Fairbanks (relatively flat, forested), or do the Dalton Hwy or drive around/near the Kenai.

Re: Denali Backpacking/Alaska Suggestions

Postby bergsteigen » Wed Oct 30, 2013 12:19 pm

dehrlich101 wrote:Thanks Peter, Yeti and Otina!

Otina, I know you're a beer drinker.. Any other good brews around Alaska that aren't in this article?

http://matadornetwork.com/nights/the-beer-lover’s-guide-to-alaska/

It wouldn't do the link for some reason...


It looks like they covered all the breweries worth visiting in the state. I've been to the 3 top ones listed for Anchorage. I designed a bottle label for Silver Gulch for their Aftershock Ale (7.9 abv), after the 7.9 Denali Fault earthquake in 2002. But as stated before, Fairbanks is not exactly worth the drive. I may do a drive through next spring to see friends and go to the Brewery again to see the expansion. That is, if I get to go to the SSA conference in Anchorage next year!
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Re: Denali Backpacking/Alaska Suggestions

Postby hansolo35 » Fri Nov 01, 2013 7:17 pm

Climbing in Denali national park- try for Scott peak, leaving from eilson visitor center. It is the highest satelite peak outside of the main hardcore peaks starting from the muldrow glacier. Scott peak itself is very glaciated, but it's a good alaska range starter.

If you only want to backpack, go up the Toklat river into the range near mt. Pendelton. Chances are good of seeing a wolf or two, and definitely grizzlies. You can also explore around the ice of the pendelton glacier.

Outside of the park, definitely do a boat tour of kenai fjords national park out of seward. and as has been suggested, hike up to the Harding ice field along exit glacier. Camp up there overlooking the ice field and it will be one of the coolest campsites you will ever have. Finish the day at the pit bar. I would choose Seward over homer....but that's my own personal opinion.

Alaska is too big and there are too many options...gonna take several trips up there to experience even a little of it. And June is prime mosquito season...bring a head net!

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Re: Denali Backpacking/Alaska Suggestions

Postby dehrlich101 » Sun Nov 03, 2013 10:04 am

Has anyone ever been to the Circle Hot Springs (On the map but haven't found any websites for it.. It maybe closed) Chena Hot Springs, or Manley Hot Springs? Which one do you like better? Good places to stay the night?

Any other Hot Springs I didn't see that are worth going too?

Thanks for all the helpful advise!
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Re: Denali Backpacking/Alaska Suggestions

Postby cougar » Sun Nov 03, 2013 9:19 pm

I've been to Chena Hot Springs in June (2004) - it's ok, various levels of lodging - cheap cabins or nicer hotel rooms in the main lodge. I spent a night there in the cabins and it was fine - they aren't really 'standard' so there's a variety of styles. Food and bar are decent. They were remodeling at the time and had just redone the outdoor pool which was nice, the indoor one not so nice. Not too far from Fairbanks, but far from everywhere else. Lots of mosquitos, and the cabins are spread out around a swampy area. I think it's actually busier in winter with sled dogs and people who like outdoor hot springs in -40 temps, with frozen hair, to see the northern lights. The moose are pretty bold and pass right through the middle of the place. Ice Hotel was condemned at the time because it was melting.

Re: Denali Backpacking/Alaska Suggestions

Postby bergsteigen » Mon Nov 04, 2013 2:43 pm

Cirlce Hot Springs is closed. The town of Circle (and many many others) is not very welcoming to outsiders. I made it to Pinnell Mountain area around the pass before Circle, and called that good enough. I learned my lesson that some towns are not worth driving into as a "tourist", even with local Alaskan license plates.

Chena Hot Springs is a nice place for locals and Aurora tourists to go to. I've been there during all seasons, though winter is the best. Wearing a bikini at -20F, sitting in the hot springs and watching the aurora was pretty awesome. The rooms do vary, and the ones I've stayed in were... not that nice. But that's interior Alaska. I wouldn't exactly consider this a destination for a first time Alaska visitor, as it's a distance out of Fairbanks, and the drive to Fairbanks is out of your way as well. There are too many amazing places to go south of the Alaska Range, that going north isn't worth it for most.

Haven't been to Manley Hot Springs. The drive up there would be your problem, as the haul road is dangerous to windshields and to vehicles in general. (Also not allowed in most rental contracts)
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Re: Denali Backpacking/Alaska Suggestions

Postby USAKeller » Mon Nov 04, 2013 6:43 pm

dehrlich101 wrote:We are heading to Alaska in June and staying for a few weeks (June 12-28) I saw there were a few other threads about Alaska but I thought I'd start a new one for some more information and suggestions.

We haven't planned much yet but we would like to Backpack in Denali National Park. Can anyone suggest a specific unit within the park that provides some great backpacking, views of Denali, and a few good summit hikes?

http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/unitsys.htm

Unit 43, seemed like a good one. Anyone ever been there before?

http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/unit43.htm

Other then Denali National Park... What are your must see Alaska towns, excursions, restaurants, places to stay, anything else?

We were planning on renting a vehicle in Anchorage to get around Alaska.. Is this the best way to travel around Alaska? or should we look into other forms of transportation.

Thanks in advance!

Daniel

Daniel,
I am no expert on Alaska, but FWIW... I was actually going to suggest you try and get back into Kantishna while you're in the park if you can. It's near your Unit 43 choice, but Unit 42 is right at Kantishna (I'm sure 42 is amazing, too). It's the most remote place I've ever been (I did stay at the backcountry lodge there) and is really really really and 7 more really's neat back in there; both times I've been, I've been completely enraptured. The only problem is you can't get all the way back in there by public transportation - you wither have to fly in, take a 7-hour bus ride, or backpack. Quigley Ridge, Camp Dome, and Wickersham Ridge are three great little hikes out of Kantishna that provide gorgeous vantage points of Denali. If you can save up the money, definitely take a 360-degree flight-seeing tour with my buddies at Kantishna Air Taxi - they run the operation and you literally have the most intimate IMAX flight sequence around Denali itself - so worth it! Staying there, you can also access Wonder Lake to get stunning views of Denali and the Alaska Range from the north, which is where this was taken from:

Image

Outside of DNP, I really like the Kenai. I had a rental car for part of the trip, but found the guts to hitch-hike since I was traveling solo. Surprisingly, it's pretty safe there and the locals are quite used to it. Hope some of that may help - you've got a lot of great suggestions from everyone.

Dang, typing this up makes me want to go back there right this second!
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