During the month of August, our family rode 900 miles in the state of Alaska. We traveled from Anchorage to Fairbanks, exploring miles of forest and tundra, along the way. During our tour of Alaska, our 22-month old daughter, April Jean, tagged along in her Burley Solo with the plus tire set. The full summary of our trip can be found on fat-bike.com. Below is a detailed account of the Denali Park Road portion of our trip.
Four days of our family trip bikepacking around Alaska, were spent exploring the Denali Park Road. We completed an out-and-back of 85 miles each direction on the road, to Wonder Lake. The road goes 7 miles past Wonder Lake to Kantishna, but for this trip we had decided our turn around point would be Wonder Lake.
We began taking on the Denali Park Road at Riley Creek Campground. This national park campground, was where we had spent a day resting before we began riding the park road. We had already biked close to 600 miles by the time we reached Denali National Park.
We took a bike path to the visitor center and transportation hub in the park. This area was busy with people, and we were glad to continue on past it.
The first 14 miles of the road were paved. We climbed for 9 miles and then stopped for lunch, on a pull out along the road. We cooked noodles and enjoyed crackers with cream cheese before continuing on.
We hit gravel, after checking in with a ranger, at Savage River. The road is closed past Savage River to cars, with the exception of tour buses and vehicles with business down the road. Bikes are allowed on the entire road.
We climbed past caribou in the alpine tundra moss, as we headed toward Sanctuary campground.
By mid afternoon, we descended down to Sanctuary River Campground, a backcountry campground, with 7 campsites, a cook area, toilets, and bear boxes. We set up camp and enjoyed some much needed sunshine. April colored and played, while Bryon and I read.
The campground did not have a well, but we were able to collect water for cooking and drinking from the river.
Our second day on the Park Road, we awoke early and fueled our bodies for the long day ahead. We
had 64 miles with 5000 feet of climbing ahead of us before we would reach Wonder Lake Campground, later that day.
The head winds pushed against us, as we pedalled away from the campground. April was protected in her Burley Solo from the elements.
15 miles into our ride, we came across our first grizzly bear on the side of the road. A tour bus driver had pulled up next to us before we met the bear, and warned us that he may be ahead. A second bus came along shortly after, and drove between us and the bear until we were a safe distance past it.
We were in awe by the massive size of the bear. He dug in the tundra for roots and berries, as we observed his awesomeness.
We continued on our way, still fighting the wind, until it was time for lunch. We stopped for lunch overlooking a river. We were able to sheltered ourselves from the wind behind boulders on the side of the road, to cook our warm lunch.
After lunch we climbed and descended another 24 miles before we reached Eielson Visitor Center. With the wind and climbing required in this segment of the road, both Bryon and I felt challenged as we pedalled onward.
We met another bikepacker along the way, he was headed back toward the park entrance. We saw a 4 more grizzly bears, a handful of caribou, and snowshoe hares, as we pedalled along.
We reached Eielson just before 6pm. We filled our waters and tried to replenish ourselves on cookies and snacks. We had 20 miles left before we would reach our camp. We had been told it would be mostly downhill to Wonder Lake from the visitor center.
It was not mostly downhill, but even with the rolling hills, we were amazed by the views of the Alaska Range that presented themselves as we completed the journey to Wonder Lake.
We reached Wonder Lake before sunset, and the camp host helped us find a spot to set up our tent among the alpine tundra. We were exhausted and hungry. Bryon set up the tent, while April and I made dinner, in the cooking area. Wonder Lake had a walk in closet attached to the cook area that we stored our food in. Wonder Lake also had restrooms and running water. This allowed us to have clean drinking water the next morning when we began heading back to the park entrance.
Our third day on the park road, we ventured back 64 miles to Sanctuary River. I towed April and the Burley, the first few miles out of Wonder Lake, so that Bryon could spin his legs. We could see Denali and the great Alaska Range as we departed camp.
We made it to Eielson by lunch, where we cooked pasta. We watched buses come and go from the visitor center, as we rested and prepared ourselves for the 44 miles that remained to Sanctuary River, where we would camp our last night on the Park Road.
We enjoyed the breathtaking views, as we rode along the winding road. We stopped for coffee in the shelter of a riverside bus rest stop in the afternoon. We dried our tent on our bikes while the coffee brewed, as our tent had accumulated morning dew at Wonder Lake.
About 20 miles from our camp a sow and cub grizzly ran out into the road, not far from us. On the left side of the road, a male grizzly also was scavenging in the tundra. This concerned us. Fortunately a couple in a car agreed to drive with us, and three buses passed us and attempted to maneuver the bears off the road. We followed the buses and sow and cub for at least two miles. We tried to keep eyes on the bears, as we feared they may turn and head back toward us. They eventually peeled off the road and down the hillside before making their way up another hill off the road. We felt very lucky to be able to witness these giant, magestic bears in their natural habitat.
We were exhausted and famished when we reached camp, around 9 pm. We cooked almost all of our remaining food, leaving just enough for breakfast and a morning snack, after we set up camp. Bryon tied our tarp above our camp, as rain was predicted the next morning. We slept soundly through the night, exhausted from the miles we had completed in the three days of riding on the road.
We woke up a little later than usual before we packed up to ride the last 23 miles along the Park Road to the park entrance. We cooked oatmeal and brewed coffee for breakfast and we departed Sanctuary River.
The road turned to pavement 8 miles from our camp and after one last climb on the road we descended back to the park entrance. We secured a campsite at Riley Creek when we arrived at the Park Entrance and devoured half a box of donuts. We felt worn out, but accomplished.
The Denali Park Road, was a great challenge, but we hope to explore it again. Maybe next time we will go all the way to Kantishna.