Left to Right:  BirdShooter, Slawdog, The Iceman In July 1995, I came to Denali National Park somewhat hesitantly. The neighboring Denali State Park had glowing reviews in some of the trail magazines, and I expected it to have fewer people and more peace that the National Park. The NPS ranger disagreed however: “Hike in Denali National Park if you want to see wildlife. Besides, we limit the number of permits we issue in each zone of the park. Once you leave the main road, you won’t see a soul.”

The NPS ranger was correct as it turned out, and in 1995 we saw more wildlife (including grizzly, moose, caribou, and dall Checking The Map In Zone 31-32 Of Denali National Parksheep) than I have ever seen on the trail. On our last day in Denali, we expected an easy hike back to the park road. Unfortunately, we had to ford the Toklat River frequently and this kept our pace to about a mile an hour. After crossing the Toklat four times, we decided it was easier to hike the ridge next to the river. This turned out to be a bad move as the bush and mosquitoes were unforgiving and vicious. I had to wear a fleece to keep the skeeters from biting through my polypro shirt and it was extremely hot as a result. The thick bush required us to tunnel through the vegetation with both our hands, and as I reached through on one occasion I felt the coarse hair of a large beast. The cow moose was as startled as I was, and after I screamed like a five year old girl, I was relieved that I hadn’t walked into a grizzly bear. We decided to head back to the river to avoid this scenario and hiked only a short distance before we spotted our first grizz.

As we continued the hike to Denali Park Road, The Iceman, Slawdog and I noticed that a bear was tailing us from the rear. The grizz was 500 yards behind our group, but it gained on us every time we forded the Toklat. After two hours, Crossing The Toklat Riverthe bear closed within 50 yards and we started to get extremely concerned. Our eleventh ford took fifteen minutes, but it took the bear only two minutes. It was much more skilled in this territory than we were. Slawdog (with his excellent vision) could see the Toklat River Bridge and the Denali Park Road in the distance. After we picked up the pace, he spotted a yellow bus approaching from the east. We made our final ford in waist deep and fast running water, then I climbed a small embankment and frantically flagged down the bus. Slawdog, The Iceman, and the grizz were right behind me. As we hit the road, the bus stopped and the tourists plastered their cameras and video recorders against the windows. They loved the action. It wasn’t until the driver pounded the horn that the bear ran off into the bush. At that point, the backdoor opened and we jumped aboard with our backpacks. Yes, you will see wildlife in Denali. The ranger was right, and I still owe that bus driver a beer.

~ BirdShooter


Click the Denali National Park Zone 31 And 32 destination page for access to photos, maps, and a trip report on this hike. For a detailed day-by-day account of this Denali hiking and backpacking odyssey you can also follow this link to

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