In summer 2020, we had the experience of a lifetime. As residents of Alaska it is extremely unique to stay-cation in your own State when tourism and travel are at an all time low due to a global pandemic!
Friends of ours invited us to do a week long trip camping in Denali National Park and Preserve. Tourism was a small fraction of the usual throngs of people visiting the national park in the summer. Bus access to the park was rumored to be 1/10th of the scheduled bus trips through the park, and buses were filled less than half capacity for social distancing measures.
The concept for this trip was to combine fun packrafting adventures for the adults, fun car camping and biking Denali Park Road with the kids. We got the necessary permits, pre-arrival park training on bear safety, and intro to being in the park from the ranger at the visitor center, and began our adventure!
We camped at Teklanika campground, one of the few campgrounds in the park that allows vehicle access. So we were able to drive in with our van and roof-top tent, we brought our gigantic Big Agnes tent for extra hang out, read, play boardgames and cards space, our friends Robin and Jess brought their 2-person Nemo tent and a camp kitchen tent with bug net (it is Alaska in the summer after all).
Hale, Robin and Jess planned and successfully packrafted the Sanctuary River, while I hung back in camp with the kids, playing by the river and making s'mores on the fire. We also took the partial capacity bus from Teklanika campground deep into the park stopping at every viewpoint to for bear viewing, photographing polychrome pass, and a hike at Eilson visitor center.
Hale and crew returned from their packrafting trip with breathtaking photos of Denali National Park, a hilarious story of a terrible sleep with the 3 of them sharing a 2-person tent to save weight and the inspiration for us to get out on another 2 packrafting trips during our stay in different combinations of adults.
We did family and kid friendly activities, like listen to the naturalist talks put on by the park staff in the campgrounds most evenings, sticking our feet into the silty cold waters of the Teklanika river that runs by the campground. Biking on the flats of the riverbed, and a long bike adventure South on the Park Road with the whole crew in tow.
Next up Hale and I took the Denali park bus north to approach the upper Teklanika river and did a day packrafting trip back, right to the campground!
A couple days later I did it again with Robin and Jess! Packrafting the Teklanika River was fun and a really satisfying way to spend a day in Denali National Park!
The trip was a blast, and we will definitely return. We treasure the unique chance we had to see it with tourism at an all time low, and before recent rockslides made some of the park inaccessible.
Information on planning your trip visit Denali National Park website.