Lichens and Tires and Beards, oh my!
Denali National Park was absolutely gorgeous and is about as wide open space as you can get. So on the last day of our stop there, when my brother and I heard of a way to drive ATV’s around the national park, we were sold. We checked out Denali ATV Adventures, booked our spots, and got ready to zip around at some pretty darn high speeds through the woods and trails.
Other than the buses on the roads, motorized vehicles are not allowed in Denali in order to preserve the environment (even the park rangers use dog sled to move things through the park), so officially the ATV tours take you through areas outside of the official park preserve. They explain it a bit on the bus ride over, I believe they said it was the site of an old coal mine or quarry that was just bordering the official park line.
You can take a few different tours and a few different vehicles options. You’ll get to ride right along the area made famous by Chris McCandless of “Into the Wild” fame. Let me tell you, you’re in for a treat. Some amazing views, wildlife sightings, and FAST vehicles.
“Alaska Bob” was our shuttle driver over from the hotel and was a funny guy. He lived in Texas half the year and that was the nickname his friends down south gave him. Soon we arrived, did intros and got suited up. “Mad Jon” and Erica were our two tour guides and they were helpful throughout the evening.
There is a brief “Driver’s Test” you go through on the ATV’s to prove you know how to drive and won’t gun it through giant potholes. Nothing to be worried about and you’re done in about 10 seconds.
Unless you have a GoPro or are in a dual person vehicle, you simply won’t be able to take pictures while driving, you’re going fast. But tour is about 2.5 hours long from start to finish, and you stop a few times to look at the mountains and hear some local info from the guides, and take pictures, so bring your camera.
It’s hard to do the views justice.
At points along the tour, the guides will point out wildlife they might see or tell you some interesting things about the scenery. Jon picked up a bunch of lichens, which to put it simply is a mix between fungus and algae together (I can already hear the lichen experts shake their heads… Please feel free to give me the full description in the comments of what a lichen really is).
“And the great thing about them is that they hold water and are a natural filter!” John exclaimed. He held the mound over his head and squeezed the water into his mouth like a giant sponge. He asked if anyone wanted to try it and had a single taker. I think his volunteer was surprised at what he found inside the mound after he’d finished drinking.
I won’t ruin the surprise for anyone who may take the tour in the future, (Erica laughed that she’d seen Jon joke with guests throughout the day) but there was actually a point where I asked out loud, “wait did he just do that?”
Some of these shots truly look like a Thomas Kinkaide painting. Just gorgeous.
Just when I thought the views couldn’t get any better, we’d turn the corner, head up a hundred feet in elevation and see another mountain.
You possibly will get a little muddy and wet as you’re driving as high speeds through some large dips with standing water. Even in August it was also cold, especially added on top of the fact you’re speeding through the trails. So dress appropriately.
In total, the trip was fantastic. Jon and Erica did a superb job keeping everyone together, providing excellent knowledge of the area, and giving us great opportunities to take pictures. And of course, the fact that I got to speed through the trails on an ATV surrounded by mountains didn’t hurt either.
I’d highly recommend one of the Denali ATV Tours if you’re in Denali National Park. If I’m ever back in Denali I’d definitely considering taking one of the longer tours, or depending on the time of year one of their, “Midnight Sun Tours.” Our ATV trip through Denali was a great experience and money well spent.