Tag Archives: National Park

Denali National Park, Alaska

Here’s the three-minute overview in video form:

Why it’s Amazing

Two words: Park Rangers. They have set up a system that is very successful at protecting the wildlife and the ecology of Denali.

Although there is a road that goes 90 miles into the park, you’re generally not allowed to drive on it. Within the first 15 miles, private vehicles are allowed, but after Savage River, only authorized buses, and special cases.

There is one campground beyond Savage River to which they will let you drive if you are lucky enough to get a reservation. It’s usually booked a full six months in advance. The other exception is if you win a lottery for a one-day pass. The downside is the road has hair-pin turns, without guardrails and is mostly unpaved. You can’t see much if you’re focused on the driving.

Backpackers and campers are allowed to wander in the wilderness, and camp anywhere so long as their camp cannot be seen from the road.

Hiking Trails

Past the 15-mile no-drive barrier, hiking trails are discouraged.  Backpacking hikers are encouraged not to create trails nor use a trail. Groups of hikers are asked not to walk in the same path (footsteps) so there will be less human impact on the ecosystem.

We wore our bear spray, as did most other hikers. Bear bells that jangled were commonly used by everyone also.  Nearly all bears will avoid human contact though, when they hear voices, so the best way to protect yourself from an inadvertent bear encounter is to bring along a non-stop chatting companion.

Before Savage River (15 mile mark), there are a multitude of shorter trails around the main ranger station. There are also two trails at Savage River – the river walk which is mercifully flat, and the Savage River Arctic Trail. We tried the Arctic Trail starting at the Mountain Vista Trail hiking toward the Savage River.

We may have made a mistake going in that direction. It’s a gentle rise in that direction but a hell of a descent. A nice mature ranger told us after the hike that she really preferred the hike in the other direction because it was easier on her knees. Where was she when we started, huh?

Park Buses

The Park Service has many fine old school buses painted Ranger-olive, that run a shuttle service over the length of the park road. The cool part is that they will let you off anywhere along the road if you want to do a wild-life hike where there are no trails.

Buses on the return trip will pick up hikers and backpackers on the road that flag them down for a ride. If you want to take a ride into the park from the main Ranger Station, you’ll have to reserve a seat on the bus because they fill up.

There are two ways to get a wildlife “tour”. One is to book a tour company that has permits from the Park Service. The other is to get a seat on a Park Service bus going deep into the park (for about one-third the price).

The bus drivers stop for animals within sight of the road. All passengers are encouraged to shout out if they see wildlife or even think they see something. Then everyone can pile onto one side of the bus to get the photo. As a result of these rules that protect the ecosystem, the animals are really not afraid of vehicles nor people. This makes for incredible wildlife viewing.

We were lucky to book seats for the ride to Eielson Station for the next morning. They often fill up days ahead. It’s about a four hour ride to the Ranger Station 60 miles in. If you are not going to  camp overnight, you have to turn around and ride the bus back.  It’s another four hours back so an early start is a must.

RV Camping

The Denali Campgrounds fill up way in advance of the summer. Since we travel without an agenda, we, of course, could not reserve ahead. No problem. We drove up the road to the 49th State Brewing Company, enjoyed a craft brew and some delicious bar food, and then slept in their parking lot.

Mountain Climbing

It’s a shame we didn’t arrive in Alaska in time to scale Denali’s peaks, which must be done in spring. All climbers begin at the Talkeetna Ranger Station. So having missed the registration for the climb, we opted to visit the Talkeetna Ranger Station instead. Talkeetna, an hour south of Denali Park entrance, is a cute little town with a brewpub. We bought a bottle of birch syrup at the farm there, a common delicacy in the area, which incidentally goes really well with bourbon or whiskey. (Try using a little birch syrup in your Manhattan instead of the grenadine!) Perhaps you can see where our priorities lie … we felt amply compensated for not planting our flag on Denali’s peak, the most difficult in the world because of the mountain’s weather system and lack of porters.

We really enjoyed visiting the Ranger Station where they have flags from teams worldwide that have successfully scaled Denali. Since we were there well after climbing season, the rangers weren’t too busy and we had a fantastic conversation with one of them. We learned about the history of scaling Denali and the kind of equipment the climbers needed.

During climbing season the National Park Service Rangers keep a fully manned Ranger Station at the base camp of Denali. They work both to protect the mountain from becoming trashed like Everest, and to rescue climbers who get into trouble. Until we visited Denali, we’d never heard of Leave-No-Trace mountain climbing. It was just one more thing that makes Denali amazing.

View the photo gallery – click on image below:





Alaska’s Kennecott Mine

The Kennecott Mine was once the richest copper mine in the world. It was depleted of profitable ore and finally abandoned in 1938. The Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, created in 1980, includes the remains of the mining operation, and a 14-storey mill building. The national park has hiking trails to one of the old mines on top of the mountain, and to Root Glacier. (Click any thumbnail for larger, lightbox view.)

The Sea of Galilee

Tiberias as seen from the Switzerland Forest Road.
Tiberias as seen from the Switzerland Forest Road.

Today, the waterfront of Tiberias is a little tacky in spite of the new construction of expensive high rises. We ignored all those little stands selling “authentic” Chinese merchandise and the overpriced tourist restaurants.

Back in the days of the Roman Empire, Jesus did most of his teaching near the Sea of Galilee. In 135 CE, the Jews moved their cultural center to Tiberias because they were banished from Jerusalem as punishment for rebelling. The Sea of Galilee was a thriving and vibrant hub of civilization, activity and trade until the Byzantines lost control to an Arab Caliphate in the seventh century.

Looking north from the Arbel Cliffs National Park
Looking north from the Arbel Cliffs National Park

We stayed in a very nice one bedroom apartment called Lakeside Kinneret View Apartment that we found on booking.com. Kinneret is another name for the Sea of Galilee. We spent our time climbing the mountains, hiking the trails and fording the streams in the wonderful national parks all around the lake.

The shaded trail of the Betiha Nature Reserve.
The shaded trail of the Betiha Nature Reserve.

One of the secrets of using booking.com is to search for a place with your login, but not book it. After an hour or two, they email you with better deals.

We bought jumbo Medjool dates, fresh figs, whole wheat pita, goat cheese, olives and Tishbi merlot wine and found great spots to picnic.

Enjoying the salads and pita at Tanureen Restaurant in Migdal
Enjoying the salads and pita at Tanureen Restaurant in Migdal

There is an excellent Arab restaurant, Tanureen, by the village Migdal a few kilometers north of Tiberias. We spent a long evening there, speaking Hebrew, Italian and English to many of the restaurant guests who we met. We needed many hours to even make a dent in the number of salad dishes served. In Israel, a lot of petrol stations on major roads have restaurants on their property and this was just another fine dining experience behind the gas pumps.

Arbel National Park

View from the Arbel Cliffs National Park with the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee on the right.
View from the Arbel Cliffs National Park with the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee on the right.

The cliffs of Arbel offer the most incredible views of the Sea of Galilee. For a little extreme adventure, you can descend the cliffs by a path that coincides with both the Jesus Trail and the Israel National Trail (the trail that traverses the entire length of the country). The descent passes by 17th century cliff dwellings of the Druze. We decided to forego the extreme hike in the 100°F/38°C Israeli summer and save our aging knees for other parks.

Justin reading scriptures on the Jesus Trail.
We met Justin reading scriptures on the Jesus Trail.

The Majrase
Betiha (Bet Tsayda Valley) Nature Reserve

DSC08950Rather than climbing down cliffs in the hot sun, how about a nice walk in a cool stream in the shade? That’s what we did in the Bet Tseida Forest. This National nature reserve has a trail through the Daliyot stream of cool, refreshing water up to your calves, or maybe thighs in some places depending on how tall you are. It’s a delightful way to spend an afternoon.

Switzerland Forest Scenic Road

Relaxing in the Daliyot Stream.
Relaxing in the Daliyot Stream.

We drove clockwise around the lake and returned to Tiberias via the Switzerland Forest Scenic Road which, about half way, merges with the Israel National Trail. It has fantastic views of the southern part of the Sea of Galilee. The driver, however, has to keep his eye on the winding road. Same in life, right?

Gan HaShlosha (Sahne) National Park

About an hour drive south from Tiberias as we were on our way to Jerusalem, is another incredible place to spend a hot afternoon in the water. The Amal Stream is a warm water spring that keeps the swimming holes in this national park at a constant temperature. The developed park is a great place to spend the day if you bring your shade structure (or get there before anyone else to claim the shady spots!).

There’s a foot cleaning station on each set of stairs leading into the water. It’s provided free by countless little fish. There is also an old water mill on site, a preferred location for those bathers who arrive early; and The Museum of Regional and Mediterranean Archaeology.

Travel Tip: The Israel National Parks Pass is well worth the money if you like trails. We figure that we broke even with just four parks.