Our Trip to Alaska, Denali National Park, and Kenai Fjords National Park

In June, 2017 Jan and I took a trip to Alaska. Denali National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park were our primary destinations. Viewing wildlife and enjoying the Alaskan wilderness was what we went for. Therefore, no art museums and or historical sites were part of this trip.

 

Denali

Getting to Denali

Getting to Denali takes some work. We drove from Madison to Milwaukee and stayed overnight at a hotel near the airport. Caught an early morning plane to Seattle and then a connecting flight to Fairbanks.

The next day we boarded a train in Fairbanks which took us about 4 hours to get to the entrance of Denali. At the entrance we were greeted by people from Camp Denali, the lodge where we stayed for three days. It was a six hour bus ride over dirt roads to get to Camp Denali. Lots of wildlife on the way and a picnic lunch.

Alaska weather is frequently cloudy and rainy. Our first full day in Alaska was typical — intermittent rain and overcast.

A special guest at Camp Denali

 

 

 

At Camp Denali we had a wonderful surprise. We heard a rumor from our travel agent, my Aunt Peg, that David Sibley might be one of the lodge guests.  He was not only a guest, but led birding trips the three days we were there. He brought his father and his son. We dined with them several times. It was quite remarkable. He was a nice man, soft spoken, and very approachable. We went birding with him a couple times and saw several birds that were firsts for me.

David Sibley

Activities at camp denali

Camp Denali organized several activities every day at different levels of exertion. There were hikes, birding, and excursions to find other wildlife. I went on one strenuous hike and experienced the full range of Alaskan weather in four hours: hiking in a t-shirt in bright sun to hiking in full rain gear in a cold downpour with thunder. 

Wildlife was a big part of the experience. We saw a grizzly bear sleeping on a caribou carcass. There was a mother grizzly with two cubs grazing on grass. We found a nesting pair of long-tailed jaegers and watched them chase off a golden eagle. Jaegers live most of their life far out at sea but we were able to see them only because they come inland to breed. There were several herds of caribou and several golden eagles.  We heard but did not see a gyrfalcon nesting on a cliff that was out of sight.

Robin
Grizzly bear on caribou carcas
Long-tailed Jaeger
Hiking above Camp Denali
Grizzly mother and cubs

An airplane ride out of Denali

We left Denali on a small single engine plane using a gravel airstrip a few miles from Camp Denali. Our luggage went separately by bus.

Jan dislikes flying in small planes but she got her courage up and sat in front next to the pilot. The flight was breathtaking. We had a rare beautiful day with blue skies and light clouds. The scale and depth of the maintains and valleys was humbling. We were so small in comparison.

The flight was a bit scary. Our female pilot tested our nerves as she flew directly at Denali and veered off at the last minute when the grey rock cliff face was all we could see.

The flight was a highlight; worth every penny.

Our transportation out of Denali National Park
Denali from the air

Kenai Fjords National Park and Glacier Lodge

Alaska is a big state and it took us nearly three days to get from Denali National Park to the Kenai Fjords National Park. There were some sights during our two day drive to Seward Alaska but not much that was memorable. We did some some bird watching at one state park.

After staying in a lodge in Seward we boarded a small boat that took us to a remote beach in a fjord in the national park. On the several hour boat ride we saw breaching humpback whales, rafts of sea otters, and orcas.  We also got very close to the glacier at the head of the fjord.

A short walk from our beach landing got us to the lodge and our cabin. The Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge is an eco-lodge providing a comfortable place to stay and great food in a remote and beautiful location. One could spend the whole time there just looking at all the beauty.

Each day there were several activities to choose from. We canoed, hiked, and kayaked. Weather was normal – cloudy and rainy — but we lucked out on our last day and had clear skies and a warm sun.

The boat took us back to Seward on the last day. The captain made some detours in hopes of seeing some birds.  We did. At long last I saw puffins! These were horned puffins and we saw quite a few along with some other interesting birds like murres. It was a perfect end to our trip. 

Beach landing
Path to Glacier Bay Lodge

A compilation of videos taken during the trip

I took some videos during the trip and have compiled them here. They cover much of the same territory.

 

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