We are always excited to share our passion for exploring Denali National Park by bike. Here is a recent trip report from a few of our guests:
Spencer (Santa Cruz, CA)
Nathan (Santa Cruz, CA)
Ben (Denver, CO)
Friday, July 17th, 2020
We came to Denali National Park in hopes of seeing some of Alaska’s giants, but had to work through some obstacles due to the coronavirus limitations. After a series of fortunate encounters with the locals, we got the plan to experience Denali NP by bike. To get the best views of the North and South peak we set our sights on the Eielson Visitor Center as our halfway, turn-around point, which would be roughly 100 miles roundtrip. We called Brian to outfit us for the trek and instantly made a connection. He’s passionate about the park, provided key insights on what to expect during the journey, outfitted our bikes with everything we’d need from best-case to worst-case scenarios, and even set up a rack to take our bikes to the Savage River parking lot with our rental vehicle. And so, on a whim, we began our adventure into the heart of Denali. In the unfolding hours, we were blown away by the sheer beauty and grandeur before us, and every mile pushed that feeling to new heights.
The pace of biking Denali really allows time for each of these wonders to saturate, even letting the clouds and sun cast new perspectives on the mountain’s face. As we biked, we filled water from the river, talked with Park Rangers, and had some chance encounters with wildlife. Brain cautioned us that our Eielson goal (at mile marker 62) might be too heroic for a single day and that Igloo Camp (mile 34) or Polychrome Pass (mile 46) may be more tenable options for a turnaround. We made it past Polychrome (now that’s a sight!), but after 37 miles in we were getting wiped, so we headed back after hitting the Toklat River (mile 53). The seemingly never-ending daylight of Alaska in the summer kept our path light as we biked into the night. We concluded 75 miles in the park at just over 17 hours and this turned out to be our favorite experience in Alaska (which is really saying something). After this huge ride, our legs were sore, we feasted at a local cafe, and we looked over the awesome pictures we took along the way. We fell in love with Denali during the trip and already planned out our next trek: a multiple-day trip. Our next hope (and recommendation) would be to bike to Wonder Lake (mile 92), camping/hiking as much as desired along the way and then returning via the shuttle from Wonder Lake. Sometimes the best choices we make happen on a whim from a whisper in the wind.Bests,Spencer
All of the photos in this blog are from Denali Park on a biking trip with one of our bikes. Thanks to Ricky and his sons Thomas and Pharris from Franklin, Tennessee for these Denali National Park Wilderness bike camping photos!
Our photos to this point have revolved around a certain amount of wildlife, this time I’d like to monologue on that topic. Through various reports, sightings and personal experiences, I’ve come to know a few of the animals in the front country recently, and I’ve been offered some poignant lessons. None of this is meant to scare you, riding a bike in Denali National Park is no more dangerous than riding a bike in a city. Wildlife, however, is part of the traffic here and, as with any traffic, a lack of awareness can be hazardous.
On Tuesday June 9, I heard a report that a bear had killed a moose calf near the Park headquarters and Dog Sled Kennels on June 8 or slightly before. Late that night of the 9th, we got the chance to see what I’m pretty sure was the same bear cross the Parks Highway, 2.5 miles south of the Park entrance, travelling west to east. There are a number of moose that hang around the front country area of the Park and if you are there for a period of time you’ll get to know them. On the 9th and perhaps even the 8th, I noticed that one of the local cows that had two calves with her recently, now didn’t seem to have her calves anymore. Bummer, I was getting to like those calves, but I think I know what happened to them. What I hadn’t considered, however, are the ramifications behind this sort of local wildlife activity.
Let’s take a second and reflect on how we should behave in Denali National Park while riding a bicycle. Go slow. Check. When visibility is restricted by brush or landscape, talk loudly to alert animals of your presence so you don’t surprise them. Check. Here’s where I’d like to emphasize the last one on the list. Maintain situational awareness.
The morning of June 10th was a Bluebird Day in the Front Country of Denali National Park. On our morning ride, two of us riding on the bike trail past the railroad tracks, going toward the visitor center; I was engulfed in blah, blah, blah. Going slow, making plenty of noise, two out of three works, right? Until there’s that cow and she’s already charging. She brushed me on the turn around as I began a puckered cheek bellowing with a cat-like quickness. As she rear ended in preparation to kick me off of my bike, I could see she startled and balked, then sauntered off irritably. Or more likely, distressed.
This is an example of unusual moose behavior. Having added up the evidence surrounding the situation, it is obvious how this behavior resulted. Mama is distressed after losing her young ones. She’s lashing out at whatever is nearby and perhaps needs a therapist. But had we not been yaketty yaketty, I’m 100% sure we would have heard that moose, seen that moose, and been able to continue wearing the same pair of underwear.
This is an uncommon experience in the Park, but it does happen. The obvious moral is be aware. But we want you to know specifically, maintain that awareness even on a casual ride in the front country. It makes it more interesting and could save having to pull hoof splinters out of your behind.
I remembered some old lessons and learned a few more on this biking adventure, but I’m sure I’ll forget them again. Maybe these lessons will help you as you make your biking trip into Denali National Park this June. If they do, deny it, you’re better than this.
First of all, bring an extra SD card for your camera. While I was beginning to get tired of photographing these bears after 45 minutes, I finally rode away because I ran out of space on my SD card. The bears didn’t seem to mind.
If you read the last entry, I ended with a bit about decent raingear saving your life in Denali Park. So naturally, I got to have one of those days and learn just how low you can set the bar for decent. It rained all day. Turns out it was a $5 pouch emergency poncho that saved the day, making up for the inadequacies of the $100 designer rain/wind jacket. Don’t get me wrong, the jacket helped. But it’s not waterproof. And when it boils down to it, you need waterproof. I was wearing a pair of FrogTogg rain pants that I got in a suit packet that is compact. I did not bring the jacket, but I wished I had. I’m not endorsing a product, but this suit cost $20 and is compact and having this or something like it is essential for any trip in Denali Park unless you know the space age fabric you’re counting on is actually waterproof. It must be or you might get wet and not dry out.
With waterproof rain gear, however, comes the issue of sweating. When it is cold and rainy on a Denali Park bike ride, don’t sweat. This isn’t a race, most of my day yesterday I spent moving less than two miles per hour. I just never stopped. If I felt I might even start to sweat, I got off and walked. And no hill on the road is so steep that you can’t walk your bike up leisurely. I went 36 miles yesterday. I haven’t been biking much at all yet this season and I’m not sore today. Because I went slow. And I focused on staying dry.
June 2020 is the month for bikes in Denali Park. Keep checking our posts, we’ll try to keep you informed of situational developments, tips for trip planning, and personal biking experiences. Bike Denali is providing bear canisters to bike renters, 1 per party of 2. These will be free of charge to customers since the Park Service will not be providing them this month. You will need a handlebar cradle to carry it, $5 on-time charge, good for any length of rental term. We are working on providing tents and compact campstoves later in the month, stay tuned on those details. See our post from June 2, for details on registering with the Park Service to drive the Park Road to the Teklanika gate, as well as getting a backcountry permit. Good riding and stay safe.
Sometimes Denali inspires me to feel like I’m a professional photographer. Then I take pictures like these and I realize I’m just a dinghous that doesn’t even check his camera settings all day and finds out at home that they got bumped on the ride. Even Denali can’t make up for that. Hopefully we’ll have better pictures for you next time, but for now, just know that Bike Denali is working on getting info to make seeing the Park in June a Biker’s Dream. Don’t believe me? Check the website again on June 5th, you’ll see a sample experience with some info on how to make it happen.
For now, it’s all about Teklanika. There are limited permits to drive from mile 15 to the gate at mile 30 where the road is closed to public motor traffic. Detailed information is available at this Timed Road Entry link. You can purchase the Teklanika Road Permit for $53, which includes the $30 entry fee. If you have a “Denali Pass”, “Inter-agency Annual Pass”, or “Golden Age Lifetime Pass”, you can get the permit for $23. The Denali weekly entrance passes can be purchased at https://www.pay.gov/public/form/start/40121559 . The America the Beautiful Annual Interagency Passes and Golden Age Lifetime passes (62 and over) can be purchased through this link at the USGS Online Store.
For those biking on an over-night trip, you’ll need to get on the DNP website ( www.nps.gov/dena ) and get your backcountry permit. Procedures for getting a backcountry permit through June 30, 2020 are outlined on this page: https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm . Do all of the stuff it says. I can’t shortcut this stuff for you.The actual permit application is here: https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/upload/Denali-10-404-Backcountry-Wilderness-Use-Permit-Application-fillable.pdf
If you begin going through this process and you think it’s easy, you’re probably doing it wrong and will have to start over. It may be this way for a reason: it gives you a chance to really consider the trip you are making and if you are prepared. There are certainly details to consider, make sure you do. Anyway, be prepared for a few hours of sitting at the computer navigating through the prep for this trip, then you’ll be happy that it usually doesn’t take quite that long.
That’s what we have for now, check in again on Friday, June 5th, opening day for Bike Denali. We will have experience specific info on biking in the Park and we will be renting our first bikes of the season. We are focusing on a more comprehensive Denali package for our rentals this year, including bear spray with each bike. For the 2020 season, Bike Denali will be open for business via phone and email, bike rentals available by appointment. To limit exposure from traffic flow, we will limit to 10 appointments per day, so reserve ahead of time. Bikes and gear returned will be tagged and quarantined for 72 hours prior to being re-issued. Don’t forget, decent rain gear can save your life in Denali Park. Stay tuned for more info, www.bikedenali.com.