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Eielson Visitor Center, Denali National Park

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At mile 66 on Denali’s park road, Eielson Visitor Center provides a worthwhile destination for shuttle bus passengers.  On a clear day, you will have a stunning view of Mount McKinley, a.k.a. Denali, which is just 33 miles away.  (In the photo above, I added an outline that roughly shows where the mountain would be on a clear day.  I can’t guarantee accuracy.)  In addition, there are a couple of enjoyable trails that are worth hiking here.  And, the visitor center itself is excellent.

My Visit

When I arrived at Eielson, I didn’t care about the view, or hiking, or anything else.  I was exhausted and car-sick from the long, warm, jostling bus ride.  It had taken more than three hours to travel 66 miles, with only a handful of all-too-brief rest stops along the way.  I was glad I wasn’t going any further.  I walked into the visitor center with just one thing in mind: I needed to find a quiet corner, where I could curl up in a ball for a while.  And that’s exactly what I did.

I’m not sure how long I napped.  Maybe an hour.  When I awoke, I ate a snack from my backpack and walked around a bit.  Eventually, I started feeling human again.

Eielson offers two developed hiking trails.  One goes downhill from the visitor center, the other goes uphill — quite a bit uphill.  I sampled the more difficult of the two trails first: the Alpine Trail, to Thorofare Ridge.

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And just to be clear, I did not go all the way up to Thorofare Ridge.  That hike requires a 1,000-foot elevation gain in just one mile.  That’s a pretty brutal climb, and I was still somewhat shaky.  Not to mention, it was drizzling and foggy, and there were no great views of Denali to be seen.  On a clearer day, I’m sure the view from the top would be spectacular.

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Just a short hike up the trail, though, reveals a nice view of the park road.  This stretch is just before you arrive at Eielson.

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The entire panorama is pretty spectacular.

But I decided that this view was enough.  I headed back downhill…

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… past the visitor center, and on to the Tundra Loop.  This simple trail is 1/3 of a mile, round-trip, plus a side trail that adds another half-mile, out-and-back.  Just imagine The Big One standing behind all those clouds!

 

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The view is beautiful, even on a cloudy day.

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This trail does lose some elevation, which you have to regain to return to the visitor center.  That’s Eielson, just up the hill.

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Back at the buses, I checked to see how long it would be before the next bus departs.  I had about 45 minutes to wait, but I didn’t want to spend that time sitting around.  I had already done enough of that at Eielson.  I was ready to do more, and I certainly wasn’t looking forward to spending more time on a bus.  So, I started walking the road, and caught the bus when it drove by.  You can check out that part of my lonely adventure on the park road, here.

 

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