So we got ready for the second country of this trip, The United States of America. Via a free ferry, we crossed the Yukon River. The Top-of-the-World Highway is the dirt road connecting Yukon to Alaska, and the views along the way were stunning. It took an hour and a half until we reached the border with the largest U.S. State. The customs staff looked as they do all over the world…stern! But after filling out some standard forms, the ice was broken and laughter was allowed. Without any problems we could drive on.
With many turns we slowly descended and drove through villages with peculiar names such as Chicken and Tok. Near Chicken we got off briefly to see an old gold dredge that was apparently abandoned in the river after no more gold was found. In all, this trail was only a bit more than a mile long. Miles indeed, because the USA uses miles instead of kilometers. We’ll have to get used to that.
Just before the town of Tok, our highway merged again with the Alaska Highway, the highway we had left in Whitehorse. The Visitor Center in Tok was worth a visit. We mainly got information about Denali National Park. Most impressive was the stuffed grizzly…you want to see it, but you don’t want to see it in real life. In real life we then encountered two moose just before we found our sleeping place a few miles after Tok.
At the town of Delta Junction, the Alaska Highway ends after 2,400 kilometers. Alaska may be America’s largest State, but there are not many road choices. It mainly revolves around the circle in the middle with the main attractions concentrated in the south. Because of the weather forecast for the south of Alaska we decided to go first via Fairbanks to Denali in order to hopefully be able to count on more sunshine later in the south.
Fairbanks was marked on our road map as a shopping place. We hadn’t seen a normal supermarket since Whitehorse, and the refrigerator was pretty empty. That the price level in Alaska is higher than in the Lower 48 States seems logical. Nevertheless, we were shocked by the high prices! We hadn’t expected that, and it didn’t help that the euro and the dollar are almost equal at the moment. We slept one night in Fairbanks and other than the Pioneer Park, we didn’t see anything. The Pioneer Park is a kind of amusement park with historic wooden buildings. Some had been moved from the current downtown area and were still original ones.
Taking the George Parks Highway that connects the two largest cities of Fairbanks and Anchorage, we drove south. On the way we stopped briefly in the small town of Nenana, because we actually wanted to see the salmon wheels of the natives. The young lady at the visitor center said, however, that we were unfortunately already too late; the fish season was already over here. In Alaska Nenana is famous for its Ice Classic. In this competition, which has been held annually for over 100 years, one has to estimate the time of ice breakup on the Tanana River. Those who estimate the exact day, hour and minute when the ice breaks up at the end of April or beginning of May can possibly win up to 300,000 USD.
At the Denali Visitor Center we picked up our bus tickets for the next day. We had reserved these online in advance. Tomorrow the sun is supposed to be shining and it will be 68 degrees Fahrenheit! That is going to be our day to visit Mt. Denali with its 6191 meters! Afterwards, we walked towards Horseshoe Lake where we were able to greet an otter and a Belted Kingfisher.
There was a chill in the air and you soon notice it in the car. At night we quickly grabbed an extra blanket and after we got up the next morning it turned out to have been no unnecessary luxury. The ice flowers were on the windows! Ice scratching in the summer…we hadn’t experienced that before. It promised to be a beautiful day and after the sun rose over the mountains, the temperature quickly rose to the 18 degree mark. At the Denali Bus Depot we boarded the transfer bus and kind of assumed that the wildlife would now come naturally. From the Visitor Center we drove into the valley and a fantastic mountain panorama opened up. It was made quite difficult for us. Should we focus on wildlife or on the snow-capped peaks of the Alaska Range?
In 2021, a landslide took place in the park that resulted in the 100-kilometer Denali Park Drive, the only road in the National Park, being only half-accessible. It was impressive how much knowledge the bus drivers have of the park, but even for the very observant tourist who wanted to take it all in, it was too much. A deluge of annual figures and square footage was blasted at us through the speakers of the bus.
Soon we caught sight of the highest pinnacle, Denali or Mount McKinley. Often the peak is covered in clouds, but on this sunlit day it showed its most beautiful side several times along the route. What a huge mountain it is! About 2 kilometers before the landslide, the bus turns and one has the choice of returning immediately on the same bus, or enjoying the scenery while hiking and returning on a later bus. Of course, we chose the latter. At that point we couldn’t think of anything more beautiful than eating our provisions with a view of green hills with snow-capped peaks beyond.
Halfway back, we got off at the Savage River to walk from there via the Alpine Loop Trail six kilometers toward the Visitor Center. In the first three kilometers, we had to climb 400 altitude meters. Once this was done, we had more time to take in the scenery. By the end of the day, we were able to cross one grizzly, two caribou and the butt of an elk off our list.
The Alaska Range did not bore us yet. Certainly not when the sun starts shining and she did on our second day in the park. Unfortunately, many of the hiking trails have been closed as there had been too many “encounters” with bears. As a result, the choice in terms of hiking in the park is not huge. From the parking lot, a trail ascended to the top of Mount Healy. Gradually we gained altitude and the view became more and more beautiful. Denali also showed itself at one point. A nice place to say goodbye to the national park. Then it was time to continue south to Anchorage.