ALASKA BACKPACKING CAMPING Denali NATIONAL PARKS

THE LOST ALASKA FILES | Denali National Park – Wonder Lake Campground

June 10, 2014

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^^ These two photos (above and below) were taken at 10:11 pm! ^^

view from wonder lake campground denali national park

Alaska week continues…

A brief summary of our Alaska trip thus far: we slept in an airport full of stuffed animals,  hiked through Alaska’s oldest national park, crossed a stream teaming with fish on our way to the raptor center, explored downtown Sitka, ate the best King Crab ever, slept in a cabin by a shrine, camped beside a glacier (and saw a bear!), took a death-defying puddle jumper to Gustavus and hiked to one of my most favorite places in the world, hopped on a  boat and spotted whales, seal, puffins, eagles, moose, bear, and calving glaciers,ate hands down one of the most memorable meals of our lives, got trapped in an airport for hours, then took a road trip up around the Kenai Peninsula, paddled down the Moose River (and saw a moose!), hunted for blueberries and stayed in a haunted hotel,  hiked up to Exit Glacier before making camp at Denali National Park,and took a 5.5 hr camper bus through Denali to Wonder Lake Campground

We arrived at Wonder Lake Campground in the early afternoon and walked a bit up to the campground from the bus stop, chose our site, and set up camp. Sites were first come first serve and most of the sites near the restroom and covered picnic shelter were occupied. No matter, our preference is to always be away from the crowd so we chose the most secluded site available furthest away from all the other tents and closest to the mountain.

Having been up since 4am that morning we were completely exhausted by the time we reached camp. After setting up our tent, which took like 5 minutes, we kind of just sat for a while and stared out at our amazing view. And then we decided to lie down ‘just for a little bit” which turned into “a quick nap” which turned into us passing out for an hour or two.

It took some effort to get up but when we finally did we quickly put on even more layers and some light rain gear, and hiked out to the Reflection Pond. In the distance we watched as thick gray clouds rolled in creating the most dreamily lit landscape but obscuring our view of Mt. McKinley. The trail to Reflection Pond was a bit confusing for our tired brains (no map, bad signage, poor planning) and we ended up backtracking more than a few times on some of the asphalt fire trails.

While stopped for a brief moment to gain our bearings I noticed a fuzzy black creature running towards me. Immediately assuming it was a dog, I crouched down and motioned for it to come closer. As the creature came closer I started to realize that…wait…maybe it’s not a dog? Brief panic set in along with the realization that I was in frickin’ Alaska not the burbs and maybe this wild creature could eat me. I stood up quickly as the ‘dog’ ran faster towards me, growing larger and larger.

It wasn’t a dog,

It was a silver fox!

The fox gave us a nod as he ran past us and we watched him until he disappeared into the tundra. Meanwhile, a large flock of birds circled ominously over us as the sky began to shake with large claps of thunder. With nothing to do but hike we kept on going, reaching the lake just as the skies opened up and dumped buckets of freezing cold water on us. We took shelter under a scrubby little bush huddling together shivering like crazy. It was then that I learned that ‘waterproof’ jackets have limitations — after 45 minutes of pounding rain, I was soaked to the bone.

When the rain finally let up some we peeked out of our hideout and took a few more photos of the lake – without a reflection – before heading back to camp where we changed into what dry clothes we had left (we hardly brought anything with us) and slipped into our cozy sleeping bags for another nap.

I awoke around 10pm and popped my head out of the tent and saw the top of Mt. McKinley glowing in the last light of summer. The sky was still a deep shade of blue and the mountains still lit as if by some magical light. I woke up Sly and, after realizing we brought the wrong fuel for our stove and unable to find any leftover fuel in the pantry, we ate our pouches of Indian food cold. We didn’t mind though. Everything tastes wonderful when you have an amazing view.

DETAILS

  • Campsites are sectioned off with gravel floors and private picnic tables. Each site is laid out in such a way that you don’t really see your neighbors. All of the sites have a spectacular view of Mt. McKinley.
  • The bathrooms were ‘normal’ bathrooms, not pit toilets as one would expect. They are clean and feel luxurious out in the wild.
  • There is a main eating area with a bunch of covered picnic tables and a big walk-in bear pantry to store your food (or anything with a scent). People leave a lot of food and fuel behind if for some reason you forgot to bring something.
  • We never really encountered mosquitoes while camping here, perhaps because we were camping a bit late in the season (early September) and it was rather cold. I’m not sure how we lucked out on that given that I’m a mosquito magnet. I have heard this is not normally the case and that mosquito nets for your head / bug spray is highly recommended.
  • There are a couple different lakes around Wonder Lake campground. We were initially confused thinking that Wonder Lake was actually the Reflection Pond, but they are two different things. On clear days, both have reflections though.Wonder Lake is the one near the campground (hence the name), Reflection Pond is in the opposite direction of the campground.
  • Bring appropriate rain gear, lots of warm layers, and more than one extra pair of dry socks.
  • TIP: One of our favorite meals to eat whenever we are backpacking is pre-cooked pouches of Indian Food. They are spicy, flavorful, not too heavy, all-natural, filling, inexpensive, can be found in most grocery stores, and can be eaten hot or, in the event you bring the wrong fuel, cold. They aren’t as light as freeze-dried food, so it might not make sense for a longer backpacking trip. But for short trips like this they were great. It felt like we were having take-out in the wilderness.

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  • marcell November 21, 2014 at 6:46 am

    Wonderful photos Sly and Veronica and a great article ! I also visited Wonder Lake Cg. first time this September and it was absolutely breathtaking: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Marcell-Puzsar-Photography/150315855049406
    I am from SF and I was surprised that the park’s visitors were mainly from abroad (EU and Asia). Denali itself and especially the Wonder Lake area is just so beautiful (especially in the fall) Great luck on that silver fox there. all the best on your next adventures !

    • veronika November 22, 2014 at 1:27 am

      Hi Marcell!

      Thanks for your comments! Your photos of Alaska are beautiful — really makes me miss Alaska. Looks like we were there about the same time of year except we did not see any snow like you did. We both lived in SF for a while as well and we were always surprised how people in general never left the city except to go to Tahoe or Napa (if that) when they were surrounded / so close to so much beauty. In the National Parks we have always found that once you are away from the visitor’s centers there’s pretty much nobody around except for a few foreigners. I’m assuming you’ve been to Death Valley. Whenever we went we hardly ever saw a soul. It was awesome!

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