There we were, in a yellow school bus bumping down the Denali Park Road headed towards the Wonder Lake campground. The weather was cold, cloudy, and drizzly and we were more than a bit bummed that the weather would most likely make us miss out on the amazing views supposedly to be had at the end of the road, at the campground. The thing about Alaska, however, that I learned early on in this trip is that you just need to gear up with good rain gear and head out. Nine times out of ten you will be rewarded with some memorable experience, you would’ve missed out on had you fretted about the weather and stayed in. So, despite the drizzle, we were still headed to Wonder Lake to camp for the night.
Wonder Lake sits almost at the end of the 92 miles of Denali Park Road (DPR) and a mere 26 miles from Denali peak. The DPR is the only road in Denali NP and, the only way for visitors to explore the park. Visitors can only drive a very short section of this road in their own vehicles. The rest of the approximate 90 miles is via yellow school bus and takes about 6 hours. Yep, that’s 6 hours in a school bus like the one you might have ridden in as a child. The same crappy windows that are hard to get up and down, the same green naugahyde seats with minimal cushion, the same limited suspension. Despite the lack of luxury transportation, the 6 hours in our bus actually went by fairly quickly, and was not nearly the torture it first sounded like it might be. Despite the soggy weather, we were rewarded with quite a few breaks in the fog. These clearings afforded us the ability to make out quite a bit of the beauty surrounding us. We were also lucky to see several grizzlies, wolves, and caribou crossing sections of the road – all from the safety of our bus. Dahl bighorn sheep dotted the high ridge lines of the peaks.
Arriving at the Wonder Lake campsite we were definitely happy to be in Denali but definitely bummed that Denali peak, and all the surrounding mountains, were shrouded in heavy cloud cover. We pitched our tents and ate dinner, accepting the fact that we might not get the chance to actually see the peak on this trip. Travel is about the experience right.
What a thrilling surprise then to wake up in the morning, unzip our tents, and be greeted by a bluebird day and the hulking white mass of Denali peak visible in all its splendor. The Denali massif is so impressive from this vantage point, the majesty is really indescribable.
Alaska is amazing for many things, one of them for sure is that it teaches you to just accept the moments you’re given and head out adventuring anyway.
Here are a few tips about camping at Wonder Lake:
- Be prepared for the potential for lots of mosquitos. Those fun, little net hats are definitely worth a purchase. The mosquitos, although quite prolific, did not ruin the experience of camping at Wonder Lake.
- There are 28 reservable sites
- Bear canisters must be obtained and used for almost anything you might be bringing … i.e. toothpaste, chapstick, sunscreen, food, etc. even if it says unscented.
- Last but not least … I would highly recommend bringing lots of your own snacks for the bus ride since it is 6 hours in and 6 hours out without any food purchase options along the way.
If you find yourself in Denali I highly recommend at least one night at Wonder Lake campground.
Happy camping and you get to ride a version of the Life Bus to the camp sight.