Living in the wilderness of Alaska – Denali

Last Updated on December 2, 2023

Alaska is a huge unexplored area, most of it is covered with snow and ice. It seems that you could come here for a few days and experience everything. That is my way of traveling 🙂 In two days at a gallop, to get a complete picture of Alaska. But it is only possible with a huge budget on a private plane. Even in two months, you can’t get to know this incredible country. You will need to live in different parts of Alaska. And also every month is not like the other.

For example, in March, the northern lights are more clearly visible. The nights are still long and dark, and the weather is clear. The clearest auroras are visible in the Fairbanks area, for example, at Chena Hot Springs. It is also convenient here since one can observe them at night in the air when plunging into the source. Fairbanks is located almost in the center of Alaska, here ends a good trail. However, it is still possible to continue the journey by car along the harsh road up to the city of Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay). This is the northernmost accessible point of Alaska. But officially Barrow (where you can only arrive by plane) is the northernmost city of the peninsula.

Traveling in Denali

How to get to Alaska?

There are several ways:

1. Probably the easiest and uninteresting is to fly to Anchorage or Juneau from the USA (a ticket from Seattle in one direction costs $ 100 or $ 200, respectively). It is more profitable to fly to Anchorage because Juneau (the capital of Alaska, is a very beautiful and creative city right in the mountains) it is cut off from all of Alaska. In fact, it is impossible to leave anywhere only by ferry as other island cities are cut off from the world.

2. You can get overland from northern Canada, for example, Whitehorse -> Carcross (Canada) -> Skagway (Alaska). This journey takes about two hours. From Skagway to Carcross a vintage train goes both ways. To continue the journey through Alaska, you can take a ferry to Juneau, and from there by plane.

Train in Alaska

The train travels from Canada to Skagway along a scenic road among the mountains.


Port of Skagway

3. Another land route is Whitehorse -> Haines Junction (Canada) -> Haines (Alaska). This way is a little longer. Haynes and Skagway are not connected to each other by road as they are located in the mountains on the border of Alaska and Canada. This area is called the Panhandle. Between these cities, you can only travel by ferry, which, in turn, goes further to Juneau. This is a great trip!

Ferry to Alaska

4. Alternatively, from Haines Junction (Canada), you can go north along Alaska Highway and cross the border between Alaska and Yukon, and then follow to the small town of Tok. From there, roads go in different directions – either to the south to Denali and Anchorage, or to the north – to the city of Fairbanks.
5. There is another passage to Alaska by land, namely via Whitehorse -> Dawson City -> Fairbanks (via Tok) on Klondike Highway. In fact, any trip begins with Whitehorse – a small city, a convenient junction of many Canadian roads, a stop for travelers coming from British Columbia or from Alaska back.
6. An incredibly interesting option is to come to Alaska from Russia. I’m still not sure how to crank it. But according to the sources, you can fly from Vladivostok to Anchorage. This is a seasonal flight from early July to late August (Yakutia airlines). You can fly on a charter (Bering air) from Provideniya (Chukotka Autonomous Region) to Nome (Alaska). But the road from Vladivostok to Providence is very difficult, moreover, it is a closed area where you need a special permit to enter. You can take a chance and go across the Bering Strait in winter when it freezes.

How do they live in Alaska?

Almost everyone is busy hunting and fishing. Sometimes fishermen go fishing for a few weeks, for example, to the island of Kadiak. I have met such hermits – they are independent and peculiar people. Each person is allowed to kill only a certain yearly number of animals for food. For example, one person can kill one moose per year. But one moose is a lot of meat which is enough for the whole family to survive in winter. In addition, they hunt caribou and bears. August-September is the hunting season so shooting is often heard in the forests. Sometimes it is scary – suddenly to be taken for a bear.

There is a lot of fish in the rivers, enough for people and bears. Salmon travel the Yukon from Whitehorse to Skagway. Here, in Alaska, bears are happy to catch the arriving fish. They feed for several hours at the rivers, sometimes they do not even notice people walking around.

Fish in Alaska

Rivers in Alaska are full of fish

In the north of Alaska, polar bears live. They walk in some areas right on the streets where you can find leftovers. In general, garbage containers in Canada and Alaska are properly sealed because of bears.

In summer and autumn, Alaska is simply magical. But in winter it is very harsh, and it is hard to live here. For example, in Juneau, it rains constantly for 6 months a year, and there are no gaps in the sky. From there, begins depression. In smaller towns, people even commit suicide. And in one town, McCarthy lost in Wrangel-Saint-Elias National Park near the border with Canada, there were about 20 indigenous people before. In 1950-60 it was difficult to get there – the road is very bad and it is closed for winter. You can only fly in a mini-plane. In winter, one of the residents went crazy and shot all the neighbors, and then the rest of the people. A few managed to escape by plane.

Life in Alaska

McCarthy is a beautiful and lonely place like many corners of Alaska.

Autumn in Alaska

Autumn is the most colorful season here.

Trip to Denali

In the center of the peninsula, there are harsh mountains. The highest point of the United States – Mount Denali, 6194m. The territory of the national park where Denali is located is so large that you can wander around for a few months there. Of course, no one does but travelers are given the opportunity to live in the wild for at least a few days – it is called backcountry camping. You can come and put up a tent yourself far from organized camping and be alone among the aurora and bears. This is exactly what we did.

This is a huge area of ​​approximately 25 thousand square km. It is crossed by the road on which the tourist bus goes. In 3-4 hours you can reach the final stop – Wonder Lake. Of course, only a small part of the reserve is available. In fact, all the way from the park gates is about 100 km but the bus travels slowly and stops when a bear, a wolf, an elk or a caribou appear on the horizon. According to the rules, a bear cannot be approached closer than 300 m. Therefore, all animals were very small, and we observed them through binoculars. During the whole way, there are at least 10 stops, where you can go out and take pictures.

Living in Alaska

Denali National Park

Let's go to Alaska

This bus connects different parts of Denali.

The park is divided into 32 zones, each has its own name and characteristics. The southern zones are separated from the northern ones by road on where the bus travels. The southern peaks are huge, covered with snow, on some slopes there are glaciers. It is to the south that the road leads to the main mountain, Denali. The northern mountains are smaller but also interesting. If in the south you mostly go inside the valley, in the north you can climb the mountains and look at the reserve from above. There are zones with deep rivers that need to be crossed on foot. There are zones where the vegetation changes color – Polychrome mountains.

Map of Denali

Our zone began in Tolkat River area. We chose one southern and one northern region to compare. In fact, you can be in the park for 32 days exploring one area every day. Of course, it will not be possible to go deeper because the next day you need to come back to the road where you take a bus and drive to another area.

When going to backcountry camping, tourists take a good and detailed instruction several times. The main worry is not that a bear will attack but that someone will use a bear spray. This is a very rare case. In this case, the entire zone is isolated and the poor offended bear escapes. The rangers will search through the park because it is dangerous to have a sore bear around. Well, tourists should immediately leave the park. But who wants to leave just after the start?

Bears in Alaska

When do you need a bear spray?

Only if the bear is very close, and you took him suddenly by surprise. There is a very small chance that it will happen in the Denali National Park. First, the park’s wildlife is monitored here and the bears and elks hide (in August, they become sensitive as they make families). Bears have a keen sense of smell and hearing – that is why they run away sensing tourists half a kilometer, especially if they smell a lot. In addition, in the park, you need to make a lot of noise – talk loudly or wear special bells on the belt.

In general, it is forbidden to disturb the bear with smells so all food and odorous substances (creams, perfumes) should be put in special cans. Any bear at night may be interested in any unusual odors, and he will decide that it is food. A place to sleep should be organized in the form of a triangle: a tent, a place to eat, a place for canisters with smells – each one is 100m apart. It was difficult for me as I like perfume. And it was still very tiring to walk 100m every time I needed to brush my teeth. Toothpaste and brush are also considered as smelly items.

Animals of Alaska

Surprises on the way

The first day we went quickly across the northern valley in search of a convenient place to sleep. It was necessary to cross 7 small rivers on foot, and I lost my flip flops and harmed the environment. In Denali National Park, it is forbidden to cross the river barefoot but I did not have suitable shoes. And after the 5th river, the legs were tired of cold and pain, so I put on flip flops. They were torn off and carried away by the current.

You need to take all the garbage and food residues with you and take them out of the park; you can’t light a fire (we had a gas stove). Another rule is to move at least a few kilometers from the road deep into the reserve so that you cannot be seen by tourists from a bus. Thus, Americans want to preserve the feeling that the park is full of wildness. In each zone, there can be no more than 4-5 people with the same purpose – not to harm the wild nature with an excessive presence.

Wild Alaska

It was very cold at night – probably about zero degrees but it seemed like more. There were tiny Northern lights. The full moon prevented to see the bright shades of green. The moon that night was just huge. At night, I could not sleep not from the cold but from the thought that a bear might come into the tent. Every noise caused suspicion and worry.

The next day, we had to go to the southern zone and move to the glacier. Here the path lay through tundra area, soft as if the carpet flooded underfoot. In the afternoon, a storm began to gather – this was the main surprise of the trip. From the rain, the rivers were filled. Some of them were so deep that I had to leave the idea of ​​a glacier and spend the night on the bank of the river. In addition, the rain whipped and a strong wind rose.

Trip to Alaska

At about two in the morning, the storm got stronger. The tent was buzzing and fluttering in the wind, it was partially demolished several times. Almost all night we sat and held the tent from the inside because I was afraid to fly with it. The wind was very strong – it seemed that the end of the world had come. My friends lost most of the tent completely. They caught it and settled in bivvy packing. It is when they are wrapped with a tent on top of a sleeping bag. In such a storm it was the best solution.

In the morning the storm got even stronger. We hardly walked back, it was impossible to breathe from the incoming gusts of wind. When we moved away from the glacier at a respectful distance, the storm began to gradually calm down. After the experience, it didn’t matter how many rivers and how many hours of the tundra we had to cross to get back on the road. By evening we were already at the gates of the park. Later, the rangers told us that the day before there was a warning about a strong wind of about 80 miles per hour exactly where we were. On the way back, we met a lonely wanderer, who by himself survived the storm. It is difficult to imagine what kind of exposure a person should have when setting off on their own for a few days to live in the wild nature of Alaska.

Roads in Alaska

The replica of “Into the Wild” bus.


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