One day, two hikes

Published: September 10th 2021
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Today I had booked a 3 hour guided hike with Walk Denali, a local hiking company. And then I decided that wasn't enough and did another hike in the afternoon. I think I'm all hiked out now.

I grabbed breakfast from the lodge because that's basically the only option for food. Pickup for the hike was to be between 7:45 and 8 so I headed up to the parking lot to wait for the guide to arrive. There were two couples on the hike plus myself. Our guide, Jeremy, has lived in Alaska for 15 years and really likes hunting. But he was also very knowledgeable about the plants, landscape and wildlife. He took us to the Three Lakes Trail, which is part of Denali NP but we used a trail head at the south end of the hike off the Parks Highway. The hike was to be 3 hours at a moderate level. I would say it was 2.5 hours of moderate and .5 hours of strenuous. At least for me it was! We hiked the 1.2 miles to the first lake and then hiked back. The beginning of the trail was the most strenuous, heading up hill until reaching the train tracks. It was good we stopped up there as I had to catch my breath, but I wasn't the only one. The rest of the hike to the lake was some uphill, although not as steep, with flat sections that were narrow in some areas. At one point there was a great viewpoint to the east. Lots of vibrant trees and smaller (5,000') mountains. We came out at the lake where we saw no wildlife but there was a beaver lodge. That was pretty neat to look at. And then we hiked back.

Along the way Jeremy provided lots of information on the plants we were seeing. Lots of raspberries along the trail (they are all gone now), a few lingonberries, a pumpkin berry which looks just like a tiny pumpkin but apparently tastes like a fresh pea, some rosehips and some kind of tea that I can't remember. And there is Spanish Moss! I thought that was only in the south but it's also here in Alaska!

He also took us off the trail so we could walk on the taiga. It's very springy, kind of like walking on those rubbery playground surfaces. The taiga is a layer of vegetation, then bedrock and then permafrost. A tundra is similar but a different amount of each. At least I think that is correct. This part of Alaska is an arctic desert. There is very little precipitation here and it's very cold in the winter. The snow is very dry and fine and easily blows around. One interesting note, a fire swept through here 100 or 150 years ago. The charred remnants of trees are visible along this trail. The reason they are still here is there are no bugs to eat at the wood and the logs soak up the moisture, freeze in winter and remain pretty frozen most of the year. Very interesting.

For wildlife, we saw a red squirrel and a squirrel pantry. The one we saw was probably 20 years old, but some can be 80-100 years. The squirrels store all their nuts and mushrooms and berries there for the winter. A good way to find one is to look for a ton of pinecone shavings and then look up to see if there is a nest. The pantry and the nest are all in the same area. And we came
Lake 1Lake 1Lake 1

That's it's name. It's not fancy.
upon a spruce grouse sitting on a tree branch. It just sat there and let us take pictures and talk about it. Usually they are in a group so Jeremy wasn't sure why this one was alone but it was very accommodating of us. And one woodpecker who should have been long gone by now. He apparently did not get the memo!

One of the couples on the hike started talking with him about hunting so then that took up a lot of the hike. He hunts pretty much everything in this area and had some interesting stories. A lot of the hunting is for meat and also conservation to keep populations in check. So a hike with a variety of topics covered. I think it was a good way to get more information on the area and also hike somewhere I wouldn't have picked to hike.

Once back to the hotel, I ate lunch and then took the shuttle to the park as I didn't want to waste the afternoon. I decided to do the Horseshoe Lake trail as the timing was not right to get the shuttle out to Savage River. The Horseshoe Lake trail is a 2 mile moderate loop and it was worth the up and down hill sections. This trail goes through forest before it comes out at the Nenana River, which is glacier fed. That's easy to tell because the water is grey and cloudy due to all the silt. It then winds back into the forest to the lake. Here there are beaver dams in several places and a few lodges. Unfortunately none of the inhabitants were out here either. The water in the lake is very clear (it's not coming from a glacier) and it's a beautiful spot. I wish a beaver or two had been out swimming around or working on the trees. I guess today was not a day for wildlife. The trail then loops back around and uphill back to the trailhead.

I walked back to the visitor center area to wait for the next shuttle back. Last night's dinner wasn't that great at the lodge so I decided to take a shuttle to Healy to the 49th State Brewery. This was a wise choice. I had the halibut n chips and it was delicious. Probably the best food I had in Denali. If I had
Nenana RiverNenana RiverNenana River

Along Horseshoe Lake Trail
been here a week earlier I would have had more options near the lodge but such is life.

Tomorrow I have a 7:15 bus back to Anchorage where I will kill some time before my 10 PM flight home.

Some notes on the Denali Bluffs Hotel. It's in a good location to get to the park and has a shuttle that loops between it, the sister resort up the hill, the park visitor center and the gas station in town. So it's easy to get around without a car. The food at the restaurant is not the best, but the box lunch option is good if you need it. The wi-fi comes and goes, like every single place I have stayed on this trip. The negative is the walls are super thin. It's like the people next to and above you are in your room. You can hear everything, even in the bathroom. The people above were walking back and forth for about a half hour one night and every step sounded like they were stomping. Ear plugs came in handy at that point.

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