22254
Alaska
Choose Your Pace: Hike & Explore Denali’s Backcountry Wilderness
Explore one of Alaska’s premier parks as you hike at your pace, learn with Denali Education Center staff and travel deep into the heart of Denali to stay at the iconic North Face Lodge.
Rating (5)
Program No. 22254RJ
Length
10 days
Starts at
4,999
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10 days
9 nights
26 meals
9 B 8 L 9 D
Getting There
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DAY
1
Check-in, Registration, Welcome Dinner, Orientation
Fairbanks, AK
D
River's Edge Resort

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 3:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Program Registration: 3:00-5:00 p.m. After you have your room assignment, come to the Road Scholar table in the main lobby to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing the up-to-date schedule that reflects any changes, other important information, and to confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in.

Dinner: In the dining room at the River's Edge Resort in Fairbanks, we’ll have a buffet dinner with coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: Orientation. After dinner, the Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. Distances and durations of hikes may be affected by weather/local conditions. We will have evening presentations by local experts at the Denali Education Center. Topics will vary from natural history to mountaineering to living in the interior. Occasionally, presentations are part of a community offering, integrating us into the local culture. Periods in the schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

DAY
2
Train to Denali, Check-in, Orientation Hike, Presentation
Denali National Park, AK
B,L,D
Denali Education Center

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; on/off a railcar; on/off a bus. The train ride is about 120 miles, approximately 4 hours. The drive from Denali Depot to Denali Education Center is 10 miles. Walking 2 miles; wide, well-maintained gravel path, minimal elevation change.

Breakfast: At the River's Edge Resort, the breakfast buffet offers a variety of options each morning such as eggs, a breakfast meat, breads and/or cereal, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: After checking out of the resort, we will transfer to the train station via bus and board the train. Enjoy sweeping views as we ride the 120 miles south to Denali National Park and Preserve. Along the way, we will hear from one of the railroad’s on-board interpreters about the history of the railroad and the area. From the depot, we will travel 10 miles by bus to the Denali Education Center (DEC), our home for the next four nights. After arrival, we’ll have a short orientation to DEC, its amenities, and the 10-acre campus. Snacks such as toast, fruit, and granola bars, as well as coffee, tea, and water are available at all times. Alcoholic beverages are not available for sale on campus but can be purchased at a nearby general store.

Lunch: In DEC’s Riverside Hall, we will have a buffet lunch with lemonade, coffee, cold tea, and water included.

Afternoon: We’ll board a bus and ride 10 miles by bus to the Visitor Center Campus and the McKinley Station Trail for our first hike. This 2-mile wide gravel trail traverses the area that was at one time the Park’s original township. We’ll get oriented to Denali National Park and start learning about its rich natural history. Our hike will end at Denali’s Visitor Center where we’ll have some time to explore their exhibits. You might like to visit the only working sled-dog kennel in the National Park System and learn about Denali’s four-legged Rangers. A shuttle will be available to take those who are interested 4 miles from the Visitor Center to the Park kennels and back. We will return to DEC’s campus by bus this afternoon where we’ll have some time to freshen up and relax before dinner.

Dinner: In Riverside Hall, we’ll have a buffet dinner featuring healthy and balanced home-cooked foods; lemonade, coffee, cold tea, water included.

Evening: We’ll gather with a member of the DEC year-round staff to learn about the seasonal trials and joys of life in Denali. Groceries, babies, outhouses — we'll hear about it all.

DAY
3
Savage Alpine Trail Hike
Denali National Park, AK
B,L,D
Denali Education Center

Activity note: Two hiking levels available. Moderate: Hiking 3 miles; 4 hours; 900-foot elevation change; short sections of 15% grade; packed gravel with short sections of uneven rocks. Strenuous: Hiking 4.2 miles; 4 hours; 1,500-foot elevation gain; sections of 25% grade; includes packed gravel, short exposed sections, possible loose rock, and short sections of steep rock steps.

Breakfast: Riverside Hall buffet. After breakfast, we will pack our own lunches to take with us in reusable lunch sacks. Choose from favorite sandwich fixings, snack bars, fruit, plus coffee, tea, and water.

Morning: Choose your pace for the day! One hike is “moderate” and the other “strenuous.” Both will explore two areas of the same trail. We will hop aboard the bus together and travel 15 miles towards the Savage River and the start of the hikes. One of DEC’s field educators will lead each group while explaining the terrain as we travel through it. Today’s hikes will highlight the ecosystems found in the subarctic with a focus on alpine specific plants, wildlife, and geology. The moderate hike will explore the eastern portion of Denali’s Savage Alpine Trail, taking in its splendor while stretching our legs. We will marvel at and learn about the scope of Denali from tiny lichens that paint our landscape to the mountains that make up our skylines. Be on the lookout for Arctic ground squirrels dashing around our feet and Dall sheep clinging to rocky slopes above. This trail offers an excellent opportunity to explore the diversity of flora that exists in the transition zone between our Boreal forest and subarctic tundra. Weather permitting, this could also be the first opportunity to gain views of Mount Denali. The strenuous hike will set off into the subarctic tundra along the western portion of the Savage Alpine Trail. Beginning at the Savage River, we will gain approximately 1,500 feet to the Mount Healy ridgeline. Weather permitting, this will be the first opportunity to gain views of Mount Denali. Be on the lookout for marmot, caribou, and Dall sheep. Wildflowers and bird life abound in Denali, even at higher elevations. We will end our hike at the historic Savage River Campground.

Lunch: At a scenic spot in the field, we’ll have the lunches we prepared this morning.

Afternoon: After our hikes, we’ll return to the Denali Education Center aboard our bus. We’ll then gather for a presentation by a field educator about the sometimes surprising, always extreme, conditions that shape life in Denali and define our subarctic ecosystem.

Dinner: Riverside Hall buffet.

Evening: We’ll gather to hear a guest speaker on a topic of interest related to the program.

DAY
4
Boreal Forest Choose Your Pace Hikes
Denali National Park, AK
B,L,D
Denali Education Center

Activity note: Two hiking levels available. Moderate: Hiking 4.5 miles, 5 hours; compact gravel trail, some roots and rocks; sections of 15% grade, 700-foot elevation gain. Strenuous: Hiking 4 miles, approximately 5 hours; gravel, stone and soil trail, some roots and rocks; sections of 25% grade, 1,700-foot elevation gain.

Breakfast: Riverside Hall buffet. After breakfast, we will pack our own lunches to take with us.

Morning: Choose your pace! We’ll have a choice of two hikes, one “moderate” and the other “strenuous.” The moderate hike will take us along the Rock Creek Trail as it winds through Denali's boreal forest. As we traverse the landscape, a field educator will highlight the ecology, botany, geology, and history that have shaped interior Alaska. The strenuous hike will involve an invigorating climb up Mount Healy. As we catch our breath on the switchbacks, we’ll look for evidence of old ski runs used by soldiers for recreation in 1942. Weather permitting; we’ll gain a bird's-eye view above the treeline towards the Alaska Range.

Lunch: At a scenic spot in the field, we’ll have the lunches we prepared this morning.

Afternoon: When our hikes conclude, we’ll return to DEC’s campus by bus. We’ll regroup for a presentation by a field educator about extraordinary animals that call Denali home and their marvelous adaptations to life at high latitudes.

Dinner: Riverside Hall buffet.

Evening: We’ll gather to hear a guest speaker on a topic of interest related to the program.

DAY
5
Triple Lakes Trail Hike
Denali National Park, AK
B,L,D
Denali Education Center

Activity note: Two hiking levels available. Moderate: Hiking 5 miles, 5 hours; compact gravel trail, some roots and rocks; 700-foot elevation gain. Strenuous: Hiking 9.5 miles, 6 hours; compact gravel trail, some roots and rocks; possible sections of wet trail; shorter sections of 15% grade; 1,000-foot elevation gain.

Breakfast: Riverside Hall buffet. After breakfast, we will pack our own lunches to take with us.

Morning: Choose your pace! We’ll have a choice of two hikes, one “moderate” and the other “strenuous.” Both options will hike different parts of the same trail. Participants in both hikes may see beaver, moose, or a variety of waterfowl. The moderate hike will have a short bus shuttle to the Southern trailhead of the Triple Lakes Trail. With a field educator, we will hike along the three lakes that give this trail its name. This out and back section of the trial will take in sweeping views of the valley while winding through Denali's wilderness areas. The strenuous hike will begin in the boreal forest at the trail’s Northern trailhead. After the first mile the trail will start to climb up a long ridge as it switchbacks its way through Denali’s wilderness and alpine areas. The strenuous hike will traverse the trail's entire length, ending at the Southern Trailhead before a short shuttle ride back to the campus.

Lunch: At a scenic spot in the field, we’ll have the lunches we prepared for ourselves this morning.

Afternoon: Our hikes will continue before returning to DEC.

Dinner: Riverside Hall buffet.

Evening: At leisure. Enjoy camaraderie and the view from the back deck overlooking the glacial-fed Nenana River. Prepare for check-out and transfer tomorrow.

DAY
6
Transfer via Denali Park Road to Denali’s North Face Lodge
Kantishna, AK
B,L,D
North Face Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a bus; driving about 90 miles, approximately 6 hours including stops. Walking up to 3 miles throughout the day; compact gravel, 250-foot elevation change.

Breakfast: Riverside Hall buffet. After breakfast, we will pack our own lunches to take with us.

Morning: We’ll all get on the bus and head to the Denali Visitor Center and Railroad Depot. For those interested in more hiking, one of DEC’s field educators will lead a 3-mile hike on the Park’s Horseshoe Lake Trail. This scenic trail winds besides the Nenana River creating great habitat for a number of Denali’s wildlife species.

Lunch: At a scenic spot in the field, we’ll have the lunches we prepared for ourselves this morning.

Afternoon: After finishing the Horseshoe Lake Hike, we will walk from the Trailhead to the Denali Railroad Depot, adjacent to Denali’s Visitor Center. There, we will board buses where expert naturalists (who will also be our drivers) will interpret the landscape as we travel. During our transfer to North Face Lodge, we’ll learn about Denali's geology, ecology, and history as we travel along the length of Denali's 90-mile park road. In addition to rest stops, we will stop for wildlife viewing, photographic opportunities, and a picnic dinner. Be on the lookout for caribou, Golden Eagle, grizzly bear, or the peaks of the Alaska Range on this journey through the heart of Denali National Park.

Dinner: At a scenic spot, we’ll have a picnic dinner along the banks of one of Denali’s glacially-fed rivers.

Evening: Upon arrival at North Face Lodge, a host will greet and welcome us into the dining room. We’ll have a warm beverage and some light refreshments as we learn about some of the Lodge's amenities before checking into our rooms.

DAY
7
Heart of Denali Choose Your Pace Hikes
Kantishna, AK
B,L,D
North Face Lodge

Activity note: Three hiking levels available. All will include sections of on-trail and off-trail hiking. Foray: Vehicle-based travel, 1-2 miles total hiking; 300-foot elevation change over 5 hours. Moderate: 2-4 miles total hiking; up to 800-foot elevation change over 5 hours. Strenuous: 4-6 miles total hiking, up to 2,000-foot elevation change over 5 hours.

Breakfast: At North Face Lodge, we’ll have choices of a plated hot dish, whole grain hot cereal, house-made granola and cold cereals, house-made yogurt, juice, coffee, hot tea, and water. After breakfast, we will prepare sack lunches to take with us. Choose from in-house roasted sliced meat, roasted vegetables, sandwich spreads, house-made breads, trail mix, carrot sticks, fruit, freshly baked cookies; water and cold tea both available.

Morning: Choose your pace! We’ll have a choice of three hiking levels: Foray, Moderate, and Strenuous. All will focus their learning and exploration on the terrain that immediately surrounds North Face Lodge. Before choosing your pace for the day, an educator will provide detailed descriptions of the specific route and terrain of each hike with ample time for questions. Foray: Rather than one longer hike, the foray will use vehicles as a tool to explore several ecologically rich areas that surround the lodge. Total driving for the day is less than 10 miles. Our educator will break the day up into several shorter interpretive walks. Each stop will help to highlight the ecology and rich natural history of the area. Hiking could include sections of gravel, uneven ground, and short vegetation. Moderate: This hike will explore the tundra terrain that immediately surrounds North Face Lodge. The hike will include time on-trail and off-trail. Trails contain compact gravel and organics, roots, rocks, and possible wet sections. Educators will explore and explain the complex ecology and natural history of the area. Off-trail hiking could include uneven terrain with shorter steeper sections, and negotiating vegetation, roots, rocks, and wet sections. Strenuous: The strenuous hike will seek to explore some of the alpine areas that surround the lodge. The hike will include time both on-trail and off-trail. Our educator for the day will seek to highlight the area’s ecology as we stretch our legs in Denali’s wilderness. Hiking will be steep in sections and could include exposed terrain, rocky ground, taller vegetation, and uneven footing.

Lunch: At a scenic spot in the field, we’ll have the lunches we prepared for ourselves this morning.

Afternoon: We’ll return to the lodge after our hikes and have some “down” time before dinner.

Dinner: At North Face Lodge, we’ll have a plated and served 3-course meal including soup or salad with fresh-based bread, a main dish (meat, fish, or vegetarian), side dishes, house-made dessert, plus coffee, tea, water.

Evening: We will enhance our understanding and appreciation of the Far North during a presentation by lodge staff. The remainder of the evening is at leisure to enjoy a quiet evening walk, play a game of chess or checkers by the fireplace in the living room, or just relax.

DAY
8
Denali High Alpine Area Full-Day Hike
Kantishna, AK
B,L,D
North Face Lodge

Activity note: Three hiking levels available. All include a shuttle to trailheads via bus and off-trail hiking; 70 miles total driving. Foray: Vehicle based travel, 1-2 miles total hiking, up to 300-foot elevation change over 7 hours. Moderate: 3-4 miles, up to 800-foot elevation change over 7 hours. Strenuous: 4-6 miles, up to 2,000-foot elevation change over 7 hours.

Breakfast: At North Face Lodge, plated meal.

Morning: Choose your pace! We’ll have a choice of three hiking levels: Foray, Moderate, Strenuous. All will focus their learning and exploration on the alpine areas that surround Denali’s Eielson Visitor Center; 70 miles total driving. Before choosing your pace for the day, an educator will provide detailed descriptions of the specific route and terrain of each hike with ample time for questions. The 30-mile drive each way is a great opportunity to take in Denali’s scenery. Be sure to keep your eyes open for wildlife along the drive. Foray: A vehicle-based excursion. Rather than one longer hike, the foray will use the vehicles as a tool to explore several ecologically rich areas that surround Eielson Visitor Center. Our educator will break the driving up with several shorter interpretive walks. Each stop will help to highlight the ecology and natural history of Denali’s alpine tundra and its wildlife. Rocky terrain, roots, and short brush. Moderate: Today’s hike will explore the alpine tundra located in the heart of Denali with an educator. The hike will be all off-trail, giving us the chance to forge our own path and delve deeply into Denali’s alpine ecology. Educators will explore and explain the complexity and importance of this vast landscape as we travel through it. Off-trail: steep exposed terrain, taller brush, roots, uneven, and/or spongy footing, wet ground. Strenuous: The strenuous hike will seek to explore some of the alpine ridges located in Denali’s heart. The hike will be all off-trail, exploring alpine ecology and taking in Denali’s remote and beautiful vistas along the way. Sections of the day may be steep and could include exposed terrain, rocky and loose rock (scree) terrain, taller vegetation, stream crossings, and wet ground.

Lunch: At a scenic spot in the field, we’ll have the lunches we prepared for ourselves this morning.

Afternoon: We’ll return to the lodge after our hikes with some time to freshen up and relax before a well-deserved dinner.

Dinner: At North Face Lodge.

Evening: We will gather again with Lodge staff for a presentation on some of the wonders of the Far North. Then prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
9
Transfer to Fairbanks
Fairbanks, AK
B,L,D
River's Edge Resort

Activity note: Getting on/off a bus and motorcoach; driving about 220 miles total, approximately 8 hours. Walking up to 2 miles throughout the day; compact gravel, small inclines, 1-3 steps possible.

Breakfast: Early at North Face Lodge.

Morning: We’ll return as we came along Denali Park Road to the Denali Visitor Center. Take this time to reflect on our time in Denali, savor the stunning scenery, and watch for wildlife as we journey from the heart of the park back to Denali's entrance area. Along the way, our driver will point out wildlife sightings, provide commentary, and answer any lingering questions.

Lunch: At the Denali Railroad Depot, we’ll have a buffet lunch with coffee, tea, and water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: We’ll board a motorcoach that will take us back to Fairbanks where we will check into the River's Edge Resort for the night.

Dinner: At River's Edge Resort. Share favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends during our farewell dinner.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and departure in the morning.

DAY
10
Program Concludes
Fairbanks, AK
B

Activity note: Hotel check-out 11:00 a.m.

Breakfast: Resort buffet. This concludes our program.

Morning: If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!






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