August 22, 2022
We left the fun, funky, muddy little town of Talkeetna and headed north to Denali National Park, a few hours to the north along the Parks Highway. Even though it was August, the temperature still hadn’t cracked 50 degrees and there was still no sun but at least the rain had finally stopped. We cranked up the truck’s heat and were once again happy for the luxury of our heated seats.
There were very few people on the road, the majority of them coming south from Denali or Fairbanks, again giving us the odd feeling that we were going the wrong way. The scenery was spectacular the entire drive and we caught glimpses of majestic Mt. Denali in the distance.
We stopped at an overlook for a better view. The mountain was stunning even though we could see only the lower part of it because clouds covered several thousand feet of the top. While the mountains captured our attention looking up, the view at our feet was beautiful too—giant colorful mushrooms had sprouted once again in all the rain.
We stopped briefly to check out an iconic massive, four-story concrete igloo next to the road said to be large enough to be visible from airplanes at 30,000 feet. It was built in the 1970s to be a hotel but never was completed. The igloo has been through several owners since and though each planned to complete the hotel it remains incomplete and in significant disrepair.
Graffiti covered the walls and the windows were boarded up. We inched around a narrow concrete barrier far enough to peek inside, then left quickly as it was cold, dark and altogether creepy.
We arrived at Riley Creek Campground in the national park early enough that we got to pick a nice spacious site surrounded by tall trees and backing to a creek rushing through the woods.
After lunch, we took a short ride on a park bus to the trailhead for Horseshoe Lake Trail, a five-mile mostly level loop.
With bear spray at the ready, we walked through fir forests sprinkled with aspens, and thankfully almost no mosquitoes. It seems like in Alaska you get rain or mosquitoes, but rarely both. The trail wove its way past a number of pretty little lakes.
The trail also brought us past multiple beaver dams. They had been busy little beavers, having gnawed away at full-size trees.
It was still quite chilly out so after completing the loop, we decided to keep moving and stay warm. We took a (very) long route back along another trail that wound over a bridge and under a railroad trestle then brought us to the surprisingly crowded visitor’s center, where we briefly lingered to warm up.
From there, another trail meandered along Riley Creek and eventually brought us back to our campground. For the first time, we noticed some of the trees and ground plants changing slowly into fall colors. It was only mid-August but the short summer was already drawing to a close here.
By late-afternoon, it was finally warmer with temps in the low sixties but still mostly cloudy. It felt like we were at high elevation with all the fir trees and alpine-looking lakes but our elevation was barely 2,000 feet. Latitude can sure make up for elevation.
Back at our campsite, we relaxed in our chairs, and a dinner of hot soup warmed us as our camp neighbor came over to chat. We were glad to meet other Californians, Jim and Carmen, who had been living and traveling fulltime in their 30-foot Airstream trailer for six years and had been all over. They also have a blog with their travels here: https://livinginbeauty.net/
Before nightfall (which didn’t happen until around 11 pm), we took a final short hike (again, with bear spray) from our campsite back down the embankment to Riley Creek. There was something incredibly serene and even spiritual about this park. It was one of the least crowded national parks we’d been to and the scenery was simply breathtaking.
Eventually, we crawled into the truck to sleep before a strenuous hike planned for the next day.