Mountains from the eyes of a Minnesota girl
Mountains from the eyes of a Minnesota girl
Unreal. That’s the only word I could use to explain our weekend trip to Denali last weekend.
The city of Fairbanks is interesting. It’s isolated enough where my heart yearns for a Target, a mall with more than one store I can shop, a music venue, and a downtown worthy of half of Minneapolis’ glory…but it isn’t isolated enough to make me feel that this is Alaska. I don’t see mountains when I walk out my door and I would never see a moose or a bear lumbering down my street. It’s when we drive out of the city and the valley Fairbanks rests in, just a couple miles in any direction, that it becomes apparent yes, this is Alaska.
Denali is about 2.5 hours from our home, and the drive to get there is unlike any other. Parks Highway has breathtaking views of the Alaska Range almost the entire drive. I’ve never gone further than the entrance to the park but apparently they’re even better when you continue past Denali National Park and head to Anchorage.
It was my second time visiting the park, but my first time staying in the area, driving to Savage River, and hiking one of the larger trails. My first trip it was so late in the season the road into the park was barricaded, everything was closed, and we just walked around a small trail by the visitor’s center and took some pictures.
This time, I was determined to do it right.
We stayed at the Denali Lakeview Inn, and if there was ever a Bed and Breakfast I would recommend, this would be it. I booked online and didn’t have to encounter anyone when we came for our stay. A slip of paper with our names and the information for our room was outside the door, and our room was left open with the key in the lock waiting for us. We never saw anyone who worked there and it honestly felt like we had the place to ourselves despite the numerous cars in the parking lot.
The views were phenomenal. We stepped out onto our private entrance deck and our jaws dropped at the stunning views of Lake Otto and Mount Healy.
The next morning, we took our sweet time before heading to the park. They put the continental breakfast in your room before we’d even arrived so we literally leaned over to open the fridge and then enjoyed breakfast in bed. I’d read that the one complaint for the B&B was lack of protein for breakfast so I’d brought some bacon that we cooked in the microwave while enjoying our various fruits, muffins, and oatmeal.
Around 11 we were off to the park and decided to do the drive first. Unfortunately we didn’t have passes to drive past the Savage River checkpoint at Mile 15, but even so, those first 15 miles were amazing. I would describe it as driving through Jurassic Park; without the dinosaurs. The views were incredible and we even caught a glimpse of Mt. McKinley, which literally made me shriek with excitement. That majestic mountain, completely snow capped and towering into the clouds was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I couldn’t get a picture because every shot I tried taking the white mountain blended into the sky, but it was surreal. I’ve heard the farther you drive along Parks Highway, the better views of McKinley you’ll have so even more a reason for us to eventually make the full drive to Anchorage.
After the drive, we went back to the Visitor’s Center and began the Mount Healy Overlook hike. It was mid-30’s and windy at the center so I was slightly panicked that I’d be freezing the entire hike, but I ended up stripping down to my t-shirt multiple times. The wind died down as we climbed into the trees and we hike at a reasonably quick pace so I was feeling the heat. The Mount Healy Overlook hike was without a doubt the best hike I’ve ever made. It’s 5 miles, 2.5 up and 2.5 down, and filled with gorgeous scenery, enchanting forests, and views of the Alaska Range that made my heart race. I can be a dramatic person, but I kid you not, this hike was one of the most amazing experiences.
On the hike down, my adrenaline was pulsing. How many times in your life do you see views like that? Taken by an iPhone no less, so the quality isn’t even one tenth as good as what it looked like to the eyes. After the visit to the park we went to dinner at an awesome place called the 49th State Brewery, which I’d read and was elated to find, had the bus from the movie Into The Wild parked outside. I just about screamed. It wasn’t the original bus Chris McCandless lived in; that bus is still a 20 or so mile hike into the Bush, but it was the one from the movie so I was a happy girl. I’m a big fan of the book and the movie, not quite occult-following fan, but I love the story. I think everyone can admit to brief moments in their life when they’ve related to McCandless’ view of the world.
After dinner, we spent one more night at our heavenly oasis and then went home the following morning. I was giddy to find when we were leaving, mother nature had given us a fresh blanket of snow. I could hardly see Mount Healy or Lake Otto out our window, but the view was still perfect.
If anyone of my family decide to visit, I absolutely know we’ll be visiting Denali and hiking that same trail. We may even stay at the Denali Lakeview Inn and hit up the 49th State Brewery. It was such a perfect weekend spent with the husband. My heart was full and my ache for an adventure was fulfilled.
The mountains just seem to have that effect.
“Happiness is only real when shared.”
– Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild)