We just got back from a week in the RV for the kid’s fall break, hence the delay in this week 4 update. I’ll post a little about that trip later this month, but for now- back to the recap of our summer in Alaska!
Day 22: We kicked off Week 4 of our travels with a holiday. It was Father’s Day and we had left the whole day open so Adam could decide how he wanted to spend it.
He chose an exploration of the Dalton Highway, (frequently featured on the TV show “Ice Road Truckers”) a 414-mile road in Alaska north of Fairbanks that serves mostly as a trucker transportation route to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields near the Arctic Ocean.
It’s a very rough road with services only at the half-way point and the very end, which makes it a rugged, off-roading Dad’s dream!
It parallels the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and offers beautiful viewpoints.
This area is known for very unpredictable weather and they advise only traveling if you have several days worth of provisions with you. We experienced this ourselves after traveling only a short distance.
We were only 100 miles from the Arctic Circle, but we were not prepared with all of the safety gear, food, and water that they recommend. The storm moved in and the hail was coming down so hard that the rocks along the side of the road started to turn white.
After a bit of exploring, we turned back and made the hour and a half return to Fairbanks on rough roads. Too exhausted from our adventure to think about cooking, we drove downtown as people started to gather in the streets for the Midnight Sun Festival. Normally, this is exactly the type of thing we love to experience when we are in new places, but tonight we were tired and ended up grabbing a pizza for dinner before heading back to the RV. This is when the second RV drama of the trip occurred. We returned to a large puddle of radiator fluid collecting around the back of our motorhome. Adam found the source – a tear in our radiator fluid hose, and ended up spending his Father’s Day evening trying to repair it. Unfortunately, this was one instance when my very handy husband was not able to fix the problem on his own. We would have to call a local Freightliner repair center in the morning and hope they could quickly fit us in or we would miss our reservations in Denali that I booked six months prior!
Day 23: We were very fortunate that Trailercraft, the Freightliner authorized repair dealer of Fairbanks, was able to squeeze us in this morning. The radiator hose had been continuously rubbing on the chassis, until it eventually tore. The tech was successfully able to cut the hose down and refit it in just a few hours! This was a very lucky circumstance because ordering a new hose would have taken days and we would not have been able to move the RV until it was fixed. We would have missed our reservations in Denali National Park that were booked six months in advance and were unchangeable.
Thankfully, this was not the case and we even had some fun while we waited for the RV to be repaired! We went out for breakfast at a little restaurant that was reviewed on one of Nicholas’ favorite shows, “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” with Guy Fieri on the Food Network.
We all enjoyed a delicious breakfast and then headed over to the Pioneer Park to walk off our food.
The Pioneer Park is a 44 acre city park that encompasses much of Fairbank’s history. A village is set up with relocated historical buildings and there are a few museums, little places to eat, a playground, and a gold panning area where they also do a Salmon bake and show several times a week!
There was a vintage presidential railroad car on display to walk through that was used by President Warren Harding during a visit to Alaska in 1923 to formally complete the Alaska Railroad.
We almost got homesick when we saw this sign showing that we were 2,626 miles from home. Almost.
And then we got the call that our RV was done and we were ready to hit the road! We jumped on the AK-3 south and cruised for the rest of the afternoon. We wanted to get close to Denali because our reservations for inside the park were for the following day. We picked the Denali RV Park and Motel and decided to get off the road because a wicked storm was about to blow through.
Even Charlotte was concerned.
Day 24: It was quite the storm and lasted all night long. We headed straight into Denali with our RV after breakfast. This was it!! We’ve been to a lot of national parks, but Denali always felt SO FAR away and unattainable. And here we were!
Straight upon entering, we were greeted with this large moose just slowly strolling out in front of us, before we even made it to the visitor center!
We picked up junior ranger booklets and spent some time browsing the displays inside the visitor center.
Denali National Park only allows vehicle traffic in the summer to mile 15 of the park road. Beyond that, you must buy shuttle passes and use them as transportation throughout the park. However, if you are camping at one of the campgrounds, you are permitted to drive to your campsite as long as you drive straight there without stopping, and park. Then you are stationary for 3 entire days. We stayed at the furthest campground with RV parking, Teklanika River at mile 29. There are no hookups at this campground, so you have to be able to be self-contained for the entire length of time. This is about the max we can make it as a family of six before we need to dump our tanks! But we were conservative because we didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to camp within Denali.
Charlotte even tasted her first s’more around the campfire on our first night! Don’t let the daylight in this photo fool you, it was actually quite late when this was taken, and we were off to bed afterward with dreams of seeing “The Mountain” tomorrow!
Day 25: Today we rode the big green bus! We purchased our shuttle tickets the day before at the Wilderness Access Center when we picked up our camping permit. This is the bus that is on and off, as apposed to the yellow bus, which is the all-day tour, so you have to ride it through all the way until the very end before you can return. We chose the green because we knew it would be interesting having Charlotte with us and if she decided she was DONE, we could hop off and board another green bus going in the direction back to the RV.
Turns out she thought the shuttle was entertaining, as long as she had plenty of snacks to keep her busy (note the berry applesauce stains all over her face)!
Our bus driver was amazing! She had been working at the park for more than 40 years and had so many wonderful stories to share! She also made sure we stopped and got out plenty to take advantage of the amazing views all around us.
In between stops, the kids worked diligently on their junior ranger booklets and watched for animals out the windows.
If you have kids, I highly recommend you ask about checking out an “Explorer Pack” at the visitor center for them. It’s a backpack filled with junior ranger goodies, like binoculars, science equipment (pH testers, magnifying glasses and a thermometer), as well as a kit to make a souvenir wildlife track out of plaster of paris. Aubrey had fun testing the water at each lake we stopped at.
Beauty in every direction!
Then a storm moved in suddenly. I always welcome a good thunderstorm, but in this case we were all wishing it away because we really wanted the opportunity to see “The Mountain,” also known as Mount McKinley and now Denali, in it’s full glory! At about this time we arrived at the Eielson Visitor Center and ran through the rain to get inside.
The kids had just completed their ranger books and we had the most enthusiastic park ranger swear them in! He even brought out a hat for each of them to wear as they said the pledge:
“As a Junior Ranger, I promise to teach others about what I learned today, explore other parks and historic sites, and help preserve and protect these places so future generations can enjoy them.”
And then he added, “And I will clean my room, do my homework, and always listen to my parents.” Love that part!
Outside the visitor center is this set of locked moose antlers. Every fall, the interior of Alaska sees what is known as the “moose rut.” During the rut, the males joust by bringing their antlers together and pushing. The winner gets mating rights with the female. However, in this case, neither moose was the winner since their antlers became so entangled that they could not free themselves from each other. They ended up dying in this unlucky position.
We emerged from the visitor center to the storm starting to part…there was hope! And then it happened…
Okay look closely for a few moments at the above photo. In the small part in the clouds… there is it’s snow covered peak…Denali! It almost tricks your eyes because it doesn’t look like it could be one mountain! It is massive at 20,310 feet and truly takes your breath away! Here’s another, closer up before the clouds moved back in and covered the peak.
I bet this is amazing view on a clear day, as Denali’s peak would mirror perfectly onto Wonder Lake!
Charlotte was doing so well, that we are pleased to say we made it all the way to Kantishna, a historic gold-mining district in the back-country of Denali National Park. That marks the very end of Denali National Park road, at mile 92.5! Now we just had to make the return trip back! (Gulp!)
We stopped for a bit at Wonder Lake on the return trip. It was beautiful, but Adam and the kids weren’t thrilled with the high mosquito count!
Upon leaving the lake, we were entertained with all the wildlife coming out for dinner, sometimes right in the road alongside us!
When we got back to the Eielson Visitor Center, we took our chalkboard photo and enjoyed how fresh and bright everything looked from the recent afternoon rain!
The award of the day goes out to our super baby, Charlee! She did amazing on the 10 hour day of shuttle commuting! She got a bit frustrated as we finished up the last half hour, but she never cried, and I know the bus full of people with us appreciated that quite a bit! We actually received a handful of compliments through the day on what great kids we have, and I must agree!
Another junior ranger badge to check off the list for these experienced rangers!
We made it back to the RV past dinner, 8pm to be exact…. and beyond tired from our day, but so happy we did it! We were on the fence about trying the extended trip with three kids and a baby on a cramped shuttle, but if we had missed it, we would have missed so much of the beauty Denali has to offer! If you are ever at the park, get the Tek Pass for the green shuttle! It’s worth it!
Day 26: Today was our last full day of camping within Denali National Park. We decided to relax and take an afternoon to hike and explore around our campground.
There was a dispute over who would hold the chalkboard when we reached the creek and decided that was the spot where we would take our Day 26 photo. Avery lost.
She recovered quickly though when she was distracted by discovering animal tracks in the mud. Emotions run high when you are 5.
Charlotte enjoyed the hike quite a bit herself, napping half of it away.
I think one of Avery’s favorite parts of hiking is the mid-way snack. She lives for snacks.
We sat, listened to the wind, and watched butterflies whirl around us. We were also cautious as some fellow campers reported that they saw a wolf chasing some caribou from this spot just the day before.
After our hike, we got Charlotte down for a REAL nap in her crib in the back and we all played a long game of Monopoly. It was a relaxing family game afternoon, complete with snacks, beautiful views of Denali out our windows, and no cell signal or wi-fi to distract us! That night we added three new stickers to our map. Our goal of all 50 states is getting closer!
Day 27: This morning we packed up and left the Teklanika River Campground, making the slow drive back from mile 29 on the unpaved park road. We wanted to check out a few more areas of the park before we left. We started toward the visitor center where they have the sled dog kennels. During the winter, the park rangers get around the park using sled dogs, and several times a day during the summer, they do demonstrations for the public.
The dogs appeared to be very happy, energetic, and well cared for. We got to walk around the kennels and pet them.
Charlotte was not interested in touching these large hairy beasts, ha! Not owning a dog, and only seeing our cats, she had no idea what to think of them!
Our last stop was the Murie Science and Learning Center. It’s a small building with an abundance of educational resources and hands-on activities for the kids.
We had another visitor say goodbye to us on our way out of the park. Good-bye Denali!
We left Denali with the remainder of the day up in the air, so I did some research on my phone while we drove to decide where we should go next. I had heard about how charming this little railroad town called Talkeetna was, and it was south of our location, towards Anchorage, so we decided we would drive in and see if we could find a place to camp for the night!
The first RV park was completely booked, but they recommended a little forested camping area a bit further down the road, and we were in luck! It turned out to be an amazingly beautiful stop for the night!
We headed into town for dinner, and ended up at the Denali Brewing Company. It was such a good experience, that it set us up for hitting a brewing company at every stop for the remainder of the trip! The food was amazing and the local beer samplers an added bonus!
My recommendation? The Sriracha IPA Chicken Sandwich was out of this world! It’s described as “A tender chicken breast tossed in our signature Sriracha IPA hot sauce. Served on a brioche bun with a creamy blue cheese, bacon sauce, lettuce, tomato and sliced red onion.” Um, yes please! And as an appetizer, they have the most delicious seafood chowder. It was amazing food, and we ate in the outdoor beer garden where we could take in the scenic little main street of adorable Talkeetna.
We took a walk around main street after dinner.
Talkeetna is completely worth a visit if you are ever in Alaska! It’s a very small town with a very big personality! We enjoyed it so much that we planned to return the following morning so we could try more of the delicious eating options!
Day 28: It was back to Talkeetna this morning for some souvenir shopping and eating!
Across the street from the Denali Brewing Company was this adorable little Wildflower Cafe and I knew right away it was what I wanted to try for lunch!
I ordered the salmon salad and was not disappointed with the flavor by any means. However, the price was steep and portion size extremely small for what you paid for, so that was mildly disappointing.
But the atmosphere was nice. It was sunny and warm, and the “summer snow” was gently falling all around us. This is what they call the tiny white pieces of cotton from the cottonwood trees that get kicked up in the wind and rain down through the summer months with a dream-like quality. It was very pretty, but probaby not the best for our allergies! The town was much more lively today as a cruise ship was docked nearby and there were tourists filling the town. All of the shops were open and people flocked the streets!
Since lunch was light, we decided to try one of the local ice cream shops before we hit the road. Shirley’s Northern Lights was the place! Adam and Nicholas tried their specialty flavor, Fireweed, which is a fruity blend made with the flowers of the local Fireweed plants – a weed that only grows after a fire. It tasted like a berry sorbet, but was very unique!
And then we said goodbye to Talkeetna and hit the road for Anchorage! We needed to hit up the big Walmart to stock up our supplies and food, and Anchorage is one of the few big cities of Alaska.
We did our shopping and drove past a few of the RV park options of Anchorage, but ultimately decided that there wasn’t enough to keep us in the city for more than an afternoon. We found a lot to park the RV for a few hours and walked over to the well reviewed 49th Street Brewing Company for dinner. There was over an hour wait, so we were crossing our fingers that it would be worth it. These typical preteens didn’t seem to mind the wait one bit.
Charlotte was more of a challenge to keep occupied, but I am so glad we held out! It was another “best meal” of the trip!
I also highly recommend the pretzel with homemade beer cheese appetizer…amazing! We left in much better moods than when we entered, and decided to walk around downtown for a little bit before heading on. We took a chalkboard photo by the railroad station.
And then we left Anchorage with no itinerary! We knew we were south bound and just wanted to get away from the traffic of the city. As we drove, the midnight sunset began!
We took it all in because you don’t get many sunsets during the summer this far north! We had just turned onto the some of the most stunning scenery Alaska has to offer, the Turnagain Arm roadway. We knew we didn’t want to miss a second of it. We found a parking lot off the side of the road for the Bird View hiking trail and decided it was as good a place as any to sleep for the night! Tomorrow we would make our way toward the Kenai Peninsula!
For reference, here is our map view of week 4: