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The morning after our train ride, we packed up and started our drive out of Skagway. From the road, we had views of the White Pass and Yukon railroad that we had ridden the day before. Our timing was bad and we didn’t get any shots of trains, but it was still interesting to see the route we had taken the day before from a different perspective.
The weather was still heavy overcast with fog at higher elevations, and parts of the landscape looked otherworldly in the fog. We had heard that the scenery entering and leaving Skagway was spectacular, and it was, even in the fog. The terrain is basically tundra (although different looking than the tundra in Denali) with small trees, lots of lakes, and moss-covered rocks. It’s gorgeous. That said, we’d love to see it when it is not so foggy as I am sure it is probably even more spectacular.
There are two ways to get to Skagway from Haines. You either drive back into Canada, along the Alaska Highway for a while, and then back into Alaska (350 miles of driving), or just take a 45 minute ferry ride. The choice was easy for us. We would save both time and money by taking the ferry. And so with heavy hearts, we left the Chilkoot River and the beautiful bears, and headed for the ferry that was to take us to Skagway.
We were instructed to be at the ferry terminal and register about 2 hours before departure time. So we got there and got into our line (there were several).
After the ferry arrived and emptied out all of its passengers and cars, it was time to start reloading the ferry.
We left our campground on the water and headed a few miles away to find a campsite at the Chilkoot Lake State Recreation Site. We found a couple that looked like they might be preparing to leave and asked them if they were. Turns out they were planning to switch to a beautiful site across the road that was on the water, just as soon as it became vacant, so we played musical campsites and occupied their old site as soon as they moved.
Despite not being on the water, our campsite was nice. It was close to the campground entrance, which made our walk down to the weir shorter. The price was also not bad for an Alaska state campground at $15/night. (Some of the SRAs were as high as $25/night for dry camping in campgrounds that were not as nice as this one.)
We had started making our plans for Haines while we were still in Tok and had internet. We knew there would be no internet for the next several days. We thought 3 nights in Haines would be enough and then take the ferry to Skagway instead of driving back into Canada and crossing back into Alaska again. So we started making reservations for a campground, ferry ride to Skagway, and while we were at it, the famous White Pass Summit excursion in Skagway.
There were two campgrounds in town and we chose the smaller one along the waterfront. Who doesn’t love a waterfront view? We needed electric and water and a place to do laundry. This place would work. They only had 2 nights available with hook ups for our stay, but we could dry camp in the front area for the last night if we wanted. We had booked the two nights with services and would figure out the last night later.
After failing our attempt to see a bore tide, it was time to leave Alaska and head to … Alaska. Southern Alaska is purely coastal, and many towns, including the state capitol of Juneau, are reachable only be sea or air. However, there are three towns that have road access from Canada: Haines, Skagway and Hyder.
After Fairbanks and the North Pole, we decided to retrace our steps down the Parks Highway. We learned that the bore tide south of Anchorage in the Turnagain Arm is supposed to be very unique and can be magnificent to see, so we thought we’d head back down and give it a shot.
The bore tide often happens during extreme minus low tides (but isn’t guaranteed). The one in Turnagain arm is one of the largest in the world and the only one bordered by mountains on both sides. The timing looked good as the next several days had promising tides.
We had not seen any significant wildlife on our drive in to Tek, so we were hoping for some on our way out. Despite driving out very slowly (we spent more than an hour driving the 14 miles to the checkpoint at mile 15), we had no luck on the way out either. We booked down for a quick stop at a park store, emptied our tanks, and left the park.
From Denali, we headed up to Fairbanks. After a wet enough week in Denali NP, well, it poured most of our way up to Fairbanks as well. We felt like spoiling ourselves a little and opted for a nice campground on the Chena River, River’s Edge RV Park and Campground for two nights. We got a site near the river with electricity. It was a very nice area. There was also a restaurant on the grounds, Chena’s Alaskan Grill, and the campground sold tickets and provided shuttle to a lot of tourist activities. We took advantage of the restaurant on the first night. It was a lovely meal! And we ordered tickets for The Riverboat Discovery Cruise for the next afternoon.
We took the bus into the park twice in Denali (a benefit of our Tek bus passes). Our first day was scheduled for the day after we arrived (our first full day in the campground). That guaranteed us seats on a specific bus, and we chose the Kantishna bus, which goes all the way to the end of the park road.
There are two kinds of park buses. All the buses are essentially school buses purchased for use in Denali. (Some, perhaps all, were purchased new, but they are still the same kinds of buses used as school buses.) Tan buses are tour buses. You stay with your bus the whole day, get a stock narration, get a box lunch, and pay about four times more than for a transit bus ($218 for Kantishna tour, $60 for Kantishna transit bus, and $40 for our Tek pass which included Kantishna transit reservations and unlimited space-available use after that).
We left Savage River Campground to dump and fill our tanks. While we loved our short stay at Savage River and wanted to spend more time there, our next campground would really take us into the park.
Teklanika (tek-la-NEE-ka) River Campground, called “Tek”, is a special campground with a set of unique privileges and restrictions unlike any other campground I’ve ever experienced. This is because it is the only campground in Denali past mile 15 that you can drive to. (There are tent-only campgrounds past mile 15, but you must ride a park bus to them.)
By morning, our beautiful views of Denali had disappeared into clouds and light rain as we left Talkeetna. The Parks Highway up to Denali National Park has several viewpoints for seeing the mountain when it is inclined to show itself, but there were absolutely no views today. Visibility was so bad we did not even consider stopping to look.
We arrived at Denali National Park after about 2½ hours, and after our obligatory picture at the entrance sign, we followed the signs to check in to our campgrounds at Riley Creek Mercantile. (A concessionaire runs all the campgrounds, stores and bus services, so you go through them for almost everything in the park.)