On this trip there was me, the wife, the sister-in-law, the brother-in-law, the 8 year old niece, the 2 year old niece, the mother-in-law and the father-in-law. First lesson learned... Be careful about who you tell when you win a spot in the lottery. Otherwise you'll be one of eight people squeezed into a Suburban for 16 hours.
Us & the parents-in-laws drove up from Wasilla, the other four took the train up from Wasilla.
Those of us driving up stopped off in Talkeetna to get some baked goodies from the Flying Squirrel Bakery and then had lunch at Twister Creek. Both places have great food and are recommended stops.
The father-in-law drives LNG tanker for Carlile between Pt. Mackenzie and Fairbanks 4 days a week. But there's some side roads and scenic pull offs he can't stop at, so we hit some of those. And we made the usual stop at the Veteran's Memorial. It was raining pretty good at times.
With the stops, we got to Denali at the same time as those on the train. We then went to the Wilderness Access Center to get some coffee at the Starbucks and get our passes all squared away. We then drove the first 15 miles into the park. We got a great look at a huge bull moose and a couple of cows.
We then headed to 49th State Brewery for dinner. I had read the reviews and was really looking forward to eating here. We left very disappointed. It took over an hour to get our food, the server was indifferent and they messed up our order. I'm sure it was an isolated bad experience, but I won't stop there again.
We then headed to Motel Nord Haven. We had two rooms, one in each building. The rooms were great for the price and I'd stay here again.
We got a really late start the next morning due to a sick toddler. We also needed to stop by the Visitor's Center to get the eight year old a Jr. Ranger badge. So it was almost 9:30 before we got into the park.
We saw the same bull moose going in. The brother in law spotted a pack of 12 wolves on a ridge line and we saw about a half of dozen bears all together.
The weather was pretty miserable. We had rain and wind gust up to 60 miles an hour. In Polychrome Pass the wind was picking up rocks the size of golf balls and blowing them around.
We made it as far as Eielson Visitor Center before turning around.
We got out of the park by 7pm. We went to Glitter Gulch for food. We tried Prospector Pizza, but it was very busy. So a few of the group grabbed a burger from the fish and chip place and we moved on, leaving the area by 8pm. The wind and rain continued. We made a few bathroom stops and stopped at Sunshine to get a hot dog. We got to Wasilla about 11:30pm.
Some tips for others doing a Denali trip:
-As we say on these forums, be ready for any weather and have fun despite the weather. Dress in layers.
-Take binoculars. I threw mine in as an after thought and was so glad I did. The wolves were far enough away that without the binoculars it wouldn't be worth stopping.
-If you are driving as part of the road lottery, pick up a bottle of Windex and a squeegee. The mud would build up thick on the windows with the rain.
-Plan extra time to visit the stuff at the entrance of the park. We only spent a few minutes here and I wished I had more time. I also wanted to do some hiking, but the weather and lack of time prevented that.
-Again, plan extra time. Often when people are posting itineraries for Alaska, you'll see them thinking they can do the park all day and then drive to Anchorage. We were only going as far as Wasilla and we didn't get there until midnight. I was EXHAUSTED. If I do the road lottery again, I'll plan on staying the night before and the night after.
The fall colors were amazing. Seeing the animals was great.
Thanks to the regular posters on here who helped me plan the trip.
Oh, pictures... When I get them up on my blog, I'll post a link for pictures.