Airstreaming to Alaska – Chapter 17: Denali

Posted May 16, 2023 – Narrated by Carmen
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Airstreaming to Alaska
“Listen to the mustn’ts child.
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me …
Anything can happen child. Anything can be.”

We are all born with a mountain in our heart.

George Parks Highway south of Cantrell

Call it passion, ambition or soul – this mountain compels us to rise.

riley creek
Hiking near Riley Creek, Denali National Park

Even before taking first steps, your tiny arms stretch toward something in the far distance.

Denali (old official name, Mt. McKinley) the highest mountain in North America

This mountain of longing is not in your imagination. It’s bigger than that.

North of Denali Airport

You can’t always see it but you know it’s there.

Near Middle Fork Chulitna River

You see the signs.

Denali National Park
Mountaintop view of the Denali National Park

The mountain is a comfort.

Pass Creek Scenic View
Pass Creek Scenic View near Cantwell Creek

It’s your pivot point, your base camp.

Grand Denali Lodge
View from the Grand Denali Lodge overlooking the village below

Leaving Talkeenta

We hoped to see Denali from several pullouts along the way but clouds and fog obscured the view.

George Park Highway
George Park Highway just south of Denali National Park

According to our research, chances were slim to nil of actually seeing Denali, which had been shrouded in cloudy seclusion for weeks.

Nenana Rive
Nenana River

Whenever we had a whisper of a cell signal, we’d check our sources for day-to-day projections – calculate chances of an appearance – and then try to forget about it.

Denali National Park and Preserve

Denali National Park

Fortunately, this captivating Park was more than a mountain. We had plenty of area to explore right from our serene and minimally developed campsite.

riley creek campground
Our no hookups, (dry camping) site at Riley Creek Campground

We were about a quarter of a mile from the railway bridge …

alaska railroad

beside Riley Creek …

riley creek
The view – only a few steps from our campsite

and only a mile from town on the scenic bike lane.

An easy Dolphin eBike ride to town

We chose Riley Creek because it’s the only campground within the National Park with cell service, and staying in the park gives us the freedom to enter and exit as we please.


Denali National Park and Preserve covers more than six million acres and is larger than the state of New Jersey.

To prevent destructive overcrowding traffic is managed by limiting access to Park Road, a 91-mile scenic route cutting through the vast wilderness. Most park visitors are day-trippers who ride the scenic route on one of the busses in the enormous fleet. The bus trip was not an option for us. Busses make us nauseated, and the trip was too long to leave Pico alone. And, due to the Pretty Rocks landslide, the last half of Park Road was closed anyway.

We would have to make do from our enchanting Denali backyard …

riley creek campground

where only a few steps down the gently sloping footpath toward the ridge, the forest opened to reveal astounding views.

riley creek
riley creek

From there we could continue on …

denali national park

under the railroad

denali national park

for more day hiking around Horseshoe Lake.

Horseshoe Lake
Horseshoe Lake
Horseshoe Lake

Early Autumn beauty adorned the path.

Horseshoe Lake

The Denali duff layer seems to thrum with energy.

Horseshoe Lake

At least a foot thick, the duff provides shelter for a multitude of species – invertebrates, reptiles and voles.

Horseshoe Lake

The deep spongy mantle is merely the roof of a thriving underground industry which supports this intricate boreal environment. Only in the last decade has duff become a serious fire hazard.

Horseshoe Lake

Denali is a popular honeymoon destination, so we splurged.

denali national park

Everyday we rode our bikes to town …

denali national park
denali national park

and crossed the highway to browse the shops …

denali national park
denali national park
denali national park
denali national park

and enjoy a coffee or ice cream.

denali national park
Raven drama. Pico and Raven kept a respectful distance, constantly grumbling and growling at each other

The Grand Denali Lodge is a great place to have a glass of wine and take in the fascinating collection of art and artifacts and enjoy the panoramic view.

grande denali lodge
grande denali lodge
grande denali lodge
grande denali lodge

49th State Brewing

49th State Brewing and Restaurant is about a forty-minute drive from Riley Creek.

49th State Brewing

The flatbreads, beer, and base camp atmosphere make this a true destination brewery.

49th State Brewing
49th State Brewing
49th State Brewing

The replica of Magic Bus is parked in the spacious beer garden.

49th State Brewing

This property item for the set of Into The Wild served to tell the true story about the travels of Super Tramp, Chris McCandless. Some scenes from the film were shot in this area, not far from where McCandless died.

49th State Brewing
Stock photo from the movie

Why a young educated college man, lacking wilderness training, would step out onto the Alaska tundra, alone only to die in a bus he found on the Stampede Trail, shouldn’t be a mystery to anyone, and no wonder he became a legend for our time.

49th State Brewing

The trail between civilization and the Magic Bus intersects the ancient pilgrimage of the soul which is often the route to a sacred well. The Treacherous Road has long served as a toggle between extremes, a circular connection between the terrors you know and an actual Valley of the Shadow of Death.

49th State Brewing
The real Chris McCandless and Magic Bus

The path tests you – goads you on while calling you a fool. Those who survive and follow the path home are usually embraced by their communities. They return wiser and stronger and less affected by their culture’s many failings because they have seen The Other Side of The Mountain. So, of course, after the 1996 publication of Into The Wild hundreds of McCandless Pilgrims set out for the Magic Bus annually.

49th State Brewing

The real Magic Bus – once located about thirty miles from the brewery on The Stampede Trail – was quietly removed by The National Guard (Operation Yuan) as an attractive nuisance and is being preserved in a secret place. But, thanks to 49th State Brewing, The McCandless legend lives on. Cheers.

Husky Homestead

Husky Homestead
Husky Homestead

We had a doggie date with the Art of Mushing at Husky Homestead. Our lil’ husky had to stay home for this one but we made up for it.

This was exciting – the stuff of legend with no tragic outcome.

Husky Homestead

Over the years I had read several feature articles about Jeff King, the Californian who moved to Alaska and became a world-famous Iditarod musher.

Husky Homestead

Sixty-six and still mushing, King walked us through a fascinating tour, telling his story with the vigor of a man half his age. The two hour tour concluded way too fast.

Husky Homestead

King makes it clear, the dogs are the real celebrities, athletes and winners.

Husky Homestead

Mushing, in King’s book, is a partnership between species.

Husky Homestead

The care and affection the dogs share with the entire staff is a joy to behold. If dog energy can heal (and some say it can) there was enough here to soothe every affliction of body and soul.

Husky Homestead
Husky Homestead
Husky Homestead

Jeff King’s story is a true epic Alaska adventure with all the hard work, danger and success.

Husky Homestead

A-boy-and-his-dog stories are my favorite and Husky Homestead is a living legacy to the genre. And best of all, we were invited to hug puppies.

Husky Homestead
Husky Homestead

The Mountain

With only one more day in the park, we still hadn’t seen The Mountain. Jim doubled down, comparing multiple weather reports which confirmed rain with a possible wind shift.

“I don’t know. Maybe?” He said, hopefully/doubtfully.

“Let’s pack a pot of coffee,” I said, “Drive Park Road, find a good pullout and wait. If it’s mean’t to be it will be.”

“It’s a date,” he said.

The next morning we drove the fifteen miles to the road block and turned around. The foothills were beautiful but so far, no Denali.

Denali national park

Even as the clouds lifted slightly, I continued my “Que Sera, Sera” speech, preparing us for disappointment.

Denali national park

“We’ve already had such a great time, better than expected. It’s only the lucky visitors who– wha!? Who0OO0oa!”

Denali national park

Did a mountain just swallow the sky?

Denali national park

We hit the breaks.

Good thing no one was behind us when Denali, The Great One, came out from behind the clouds, face shining.

Denali national park

Chapters in the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series

  • Chapter 1 – San Diego to Malibu
    • Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay – Chula Vista, California
    • Malibu Beach RV Resort – Malibu, California
  • Chapter 2 – Malibu to Morro Bay
    • Morro Bay State Park – Morro Bay, California
  • Chapter 3 – Morro Bay to Santa Cruz
    • Santa Cruz Harbor RV Park – Santa Cruz, California
  • Chapter 4 – Santa Cruz to San Francisco
    • San Francisco RV Park – Pacifica, California
  • Chapter 5 – San Francisco to Eureka
    • Vinnie’s Northbay Airstream Repair – Wilton, California
    • High Water Brewery (Harvest Host location) – Lodi, California
    • Harmony Wynelands (Harvest Host location) – Lodi, California
    • Van Ruiten Family Vineyards (Harvest Host location) – Lodi, California
    • Four Fools Winery (Harvest Host location) – Rodeo, California
    • Lawson’s Landing – Dillon Beach, California
    • Mia Bea Wines (Harvest Host location) – Redwood Valley, California
    • Johnny’s at the  Beach – Eureka, California
  • Chapter 6 – The Oregon Coast
    • Harris Beach State Park – Brookings, Oregon
    • Bay Point Landing Resort – Coos Bay, Oregon
    • Blue Herron French Cheese (Harvest Host location) – Tillimook, Oregon
    • Seaside RV Resort – Seaside, Oregon
  • Chapter 7 – The Strait of Juan de Fuca
    • Washington Land Yacht Harbor Airstream Park – Olympia, Washington
    • Salt Creek Recreation Area – Port Angeles, Washington
  • Chapter 8 – Victoria, British Columbia
    • Weir’s Beach RV Resort – Victoria, British Columbia
  • Chapter 9 – Victoria to Mackenzie
    • Riverside RV Resort – Whistler, British Columbia
    • Big Bar Rest Area – Clinton, British Columbia
    • Walmart Parking Lot – Prince George, British Columbia
    • Alexander MacKenzie Landing – Mackenzie, British Columbia
  • Chapter 10 – The Alaska Highway
    • Northern Lights RV Park – Dawson Creek, British Columbia
    • Former Prophet River State Park – Peace River, British Columbia
    • Hay Lake – Fort Liard, Northwest Territories
    • Northern Rockies Lodge and RV Park – Muncho Lake, British Columbia
    • Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park – Liard River, British Columbia
  • Chapter 11 – Yukon
    • Watson Lake Visitors Center Parking Lot – Watson Lake, Yukon
    • Teslin Rest Area – Teslin, Yukon
    • Norsemen RV Park – Atlin, British Columbia
    • Hot Springs Campground – Whitehorse, Yukon
    • Real Canadian Superstore Parking Lot, Whitehorse, Yukon
    • Gold Rush Campground – Dawson City, Yukon
  • Chapter 12 – Top of the World Highway to Chicken, Alaska
    • Downtown Chicken Cafe and Saloon
  • Chapter 13 – Tok to Valdez
    • Tundra RV Park – Tok, Alaska
    • Gulkana River Rest Stop – Gulkana, Alaska
    • Bear Paw RV Park – Valdez, Alaska
  • Chapter 14 – Glacier View to Anchorage
    • Grand View Cafe and RV Park – Glacier View, Alaska
    • Alaska Raceway Park (Harvest Host location) – Palmer, Alaska
    • Ship Creek RV Park – Anchorage, Alaska
  • Chapter 15 – Kenai Peninsula
    • Heritage RV Park – Homer Spit, Alaska
    • Marathon RV Campground – Seward, Alaska
  • Chapter 16 – Whittier to Talkeetna
    • Williwaw Campground – Whittier, Alaska
    • Talkeenta Camper Park – Talkeetna, Alaska
  • Chapter 17 – Denali
    • Riley Creek Campground – Denali National Park, Alaska
  • Chapter 18 – North Pole to Chena Hot Springs
    • Riverview RV Park – North Pole, Alaska
    • Chena Hot Springs Campground – Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Chapter 19 – Tok to Haines
    • Fast Eddy’s Restaurant Parking Lot – Tok, Alaska
    • Gravel Turnout – Beaver Creek, Yukon
    • Gravel Turnout – Destruction Bay, Yukon
    • Haines Hitch-UP RV Park – Haines, Alaska
  • Chapter 20 – South to the Lower 48
    • Gravel Turnout – Haines Junction, Yukon
    • Teslin Rest Area – Teslin, Yukon
    • Jade City Parking Lot – Jade City, British Columbia
    • Mehan Lake Rest Area – Bell II, British Columbia
    • Fort Telkwa Riverfront RV Park – Telkwa, British Columbia
    • Walmart Parking Lot – Prince George, British Columbia
    • 100 Mile House Municipal Campground – 100 Mile House, British Columbia
    • Mt. Paul Golf Course (Harvest Host location) – Kamloops, British Columbia
    • Crowsnest Vineyards (Harvest Host location) – Cawston, British Columbia
  • Final Chapter – Lessons Learned
    • Philosophy
    • Preparation
    • Planning
    • Mileposts (the book)
    • Roads
    • Weather
    • Camping
    • Cash and Currency
    • Clothing
    • Food
    • Wildlife
    • Bugs
    • Fuel
    • Dump Stations and Potable Water
    • Pets
    • Internet Connectivity
    • Hiking
    • Cycling
    • Kayaking
    • Damage
    • Dangers
    • Canada Border Crossing
    • US Border Crossing
    • General Observations
    • Serendipity
    • Final Thoughts
    • Our Camp Sites

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.