Denali

Alaska Range in late September, Denali National Park.

Didn’t get enough Denali National Park this summer?

Try it off-season, like right now, as winter descends over the park.

This is for the modestly-intrepid Alaskans, of course, and pack your woolies any time you’re on a winter driving trip.

You don’t have to camp out or trek across the snowscape to see Denali off-season. You just drive parts of the park in comfort and view this stunning landscape at a different time of year.

The National Park Service is making the 92-mile park road open to the public to Mile 30, Tetlanika River campground, and there’s plenty see including animals.

This is, of course, weather and road conditions permitting, the Park Service warns, and conditions can change. However, information on the road is posted on the Denali National Park website under “Current Conditions.”

Even if the road is open only as far as Savage River, which is 12 miles in from the park entrance, the scenery is worth it.

But if you get skunked at the last minute as we did last week, the road is always open and maintained to the park headquarters three miles in, where a gate would be lowered if conditions deteriorate further in.

Even in that short stretch there are things to do, like a hike on the Rock Creek trail, which winds in a loop through spruce and birch forests on a gentle slope.

Parking is available at the trailhead which is adjacent to the visitor’s center. For the more intrepid the Healy Overlook trail also starts, and branches off from the Rock Creek Trail.

This is a more ambitious hike that is steeper as it gains altitude and hikers should keep an eye on the weather in the more exposed upper sections.

However, much of this trail is through forest with gentle incline. Even doing part of it is a treat.

Last week the gate swung shut for the road itself past the three-mile point so we contented ourselves with a pleasant stroll long the Rock Creek Trail. Later in the afternoon we checked the Denali website again, and surprise! The road had been opened.

Just to view the scenery we drove the 12 miles in to Savage River and enjoyed the early evening light.

Accommodations and places to dine can be a challenge in the Denali area off-season but a place that is open year-around and where we have stayed several times is the Totem Inn in Healy. It is right on the Parks Highway just past the well-marked 49th State Brewery, which has closed the season.

The Totem Inn is clean, comfortable and moderately priced, and has a restaurant that is open in the afternoon and evening on weekends and several days of the week. If the restaurant is closed a Three Bears market is across the street.

The drive time from Anchorage and Wasilla to Denali is about four to four and a half hours in good weather and road conditions, but check the weather and conditions. It’s always good to allow extra time in case conditions change.

But do enjoy our wonderful Denali National Park! We did.

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