A Trip to Denali National Park & Fairbanks, Alaska

I closed out my trip with a train ride to Denali, a tour of Denali National Park and then a quick stop in Fairbanks.

I chose to take the Alaskan Railroad from Anchorage to Denali, a decision I was really happy with. I booked the Goldstar car, which is the first passenger car on the train. The top of the car is all glass for maximum visibility and light. There was also an open deck area in the back of the car, which is where I spent most of my time because the weather was so nice and the views so amazing.



The Goldstar car also included meals and drinks. The food was surprisingly delicious! For breakfast, I had a fancy french toast and reindeer sausage. Even though I felt guilty for eating Prancer, I really enjoyed it.


The engine below is (was?) used to remove snow from the train tracks. I am not sure if it is still used by the railroad.


The front of the train as it went around a curve…dsc_1066

And here is the back.


The train below was headed to Anchorage from Fairbanks and Denali. We had to stop and several staff members had to switch trains, mainly the young workers who can only work a limited number of hours each day (the trip to Fairbanks from this point was shorter than the distance back to Anchorage so the young staff switched from the train below to the train I was on).


Denali is off in the distance here.


More amazing views. Are you noticing  a trend here?


Anyone looking for a remote place to live? I think the cabin below might fit the bill. It would be a little (lot!) too remote for me. dsc_0811dsc_0819dsc_0829

I loved these flowers even though no one could tell me what kind they were. They look like petunias but I have never seen black (deep purple?) ones. dsc_0882

I was walking around the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge resort outside of Denali National Park checking things out and I almost stepped on the little birds below. They were so adorable!! I couldn’t help but giggle when I saw them. There were signs all over warning people to stay away from baby birds because apparently, the mothers can get very aggressive and mean so I snapped these photos quickly and then hightailed it out of the area before the mother bird realized I almost squished one of her babies.


The next morning, I boarded the bus below at the hotel and we set off to explore Denali National Park. Denali Park Road is 92 miles long and is the only road in the park. During summer, private vehicles may drive the first fifteen miles of this road, to a place called Savage River. Beyond Mile 15, the road turns to gravel and traffic is primarily restricted to buses.



Easily one of the highlights of the entire trip for me – I FINALLY saw moose up close. I was so excited. The funny thing is that all tour buses and even the trains slow down to a crawl and stop if they can whenever moose are spotted. The moose below just chilled out and let us watch them and take photos. It was perfect!!! I could have watched them for hours.


Denali in the distance again


The photos below are of a cabin in a remote area of Denali National Park. Notice the bear nail marks below the window. I am glad I wasn’t inside when this happened. That’s a little too close for my comfort.



The clouds kept clearing as the day went on, giving us more and more impressive views of Denali. Denali was formerly known as Mt. McKinley. The federal government named the mountain Mt. McKinley in 1917 after William McKinley, who was president of the U.S. from 1897-1901. In 1975, Alaska requested that the mountain be officially recognized as Denali, which is what it was known as in Alaska. It was named in Alaska by the Koyukon, a group of Alaskan Athabaskans. The named it Deenaalee, which means “the high one.” The name change was blocked and delayed for many years but finally while on an Alaskan visit in September 2015, President Obama officially announced the renaming of the mountain to Denali.



Me with a blurry Denali in the background.


Here is a time I wish I had a telescopic lens on my camera. The photos below turned out okay but they would have been even better if I could have zoomed in further. We saw this moose while on the train from Denali to Fairbanks.


We also saw some swans with their babies.


I stayed the the River’s Edge Resort in Fairbanks. The resort consisted of the cottages pictured below. I liked the set up and enjoyed spending time relaxing by the river in the afternoon. The flowers were abundant and well maintained here just like they were in Anchorage. A lot of people have asked me about the weather in Alaska – I would say I was most surprised by the weather in Fairbanks. It was in the mid-80’s to 90 degrees the days I was there. Much warmer than I expected. And much warmer than normal for Fairbanks in June (per the folks that live there).



I spent my last morning in Alaska on the Riverboat Discovery Tour near Fairbanks. This tour had great ratings on Yelp and Trip Advisor so I thought it would be a good way to end my trip. Unfortunately, I did not like this tour. The whole thing was so scripted, even the guide’s speeches were scripted. There really wasn’t anything spontaneous or interesting about it. Other people seemed to enjoy it so maybe it was just me but I would not recommend spending time or money here. I was going to do this http://www.maryshields.com/ rather than the Riverboat Discovery Tour and now I wish I had.


After setting out on the river on the boat pictured above, as if on cue (sense the sarcasm), this plane swept by and landed on the water next to the boat. And then it did it again “just for fun.”


Below are the home and kennels of the late four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcherand. Susan is the only woman to win Iditarod multiple times. She won three consecutive races between 1986 and 1988 and then claimed a fourth victory in 1990. Susan and Iditarod founder, Joe Redington, Sr., also took their dog teams to the summit of Denali, an accomplishment that’s never been repeated.

During the tour, they hooked up a group of dog to a modified ATV (the motor was removed) to give us an idea of what it looks like when the dogs pull a sled in the Iditarod race. This was the most interesting part of this tour for me. Those dogs were born to pull a sled and love it.


After giving us a demonstration, the dogs cooled off in the river.


The statue below is of Granite, Susan’s main leader who was instrumental in her 1986 and 1987 Iditarod victories.


And with that, my vacation came to an end. It was a great trip and I was sad to see it end but I was ready to go back to life in Chicago after being away for over 2 weeks! I really liked Alaska, it is incredibly beautiful everywhere you go. I highly recommend adding it to your travel bucket list.




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