After 5 days in Palmer and our wedding on a glacier, we set out on our 10 Day Honeymoon Road Trip through Alaska. But, it didn’t start off as we planned. I began to experience symptoms of minor altitude sickness the day after our ceremony, which happened to be the day we began driving north toward Denali. In addition, the allergies I had from Pennsylvania got worse, and now looking back I realize became bronchitis. I felt like crap, but we were determined to make the best of our time in the Last Frontier. We stocked up on medicine and fluids for me, and began our drive north from Palmer to Denali.
Day 1: Talkeetna
Our first stop was Talkeetna, about 2 hours north of Anchorage. The best way I can describe this town is that it is a very small town that’s both touristy but quaint on the way to Denali. Because it’s one of the only real “stops” along the route north, everyone stops here. It’s nice because there’s a few different food options and shops and art to check out, but also, everyone stops here so it’s pretty busy.
This is also where a lot of the flight-seeing or other Denali excursion tours take off from. We really wanted to do a Denali flight-seeing tour, but after my altitude sickness, that wasn’t in the cards for us this time. We stayed overnight at the Talkeetna Lodge and were hoping to get a glimpse of Mount Denali from the back porch which is 20,000 feet tall but it wasn’t clear enough when we were there to see it.
Day 2: Talkeetna, 15 Mile Drive, & ATV Tour
The next morning we continued our way north. We stopped again in downtown Talkeetna on the way for the famous spinach bread food truck. I know some people love it but it wasn’t for me (or maybe I just didn’t have the taste buds for it from being sick).
We drove about 2.5-3 hours north through road construction and finally reached the entrance to Denali National Park in the afternoon. This is the 21st National Park we have visited together.
We drove the 15 miles that a private car can go into the park to check out wildlife and see what we could from the 15 miles. We were lucky and saw a caribou right near the Savage River. We then checked into our hotel and I was exhausted so I napped for a few hours before our midnight sun ATV tour we already pre-booked. Because June 22nd was around the longest day of the year in Alaska, the sunset wasn’t until about midnight. We finished our guided ATV tour around 11:30 and headed into the park for sunset. We were hoping to see a glimpse of Denali since we hadn’t yet, but it was too cloudy by the mountain to see anything.
Day 3: Bus Tour, Creekside Lunch, & Pizza Dinner
The next morning was our bus tour which started around 8:30 AM at the bus depot. Since you can only drive a personal car 15 miles of the 90 miles into the park, the bus is the only way to get further back into the park road. Normally one of the paid busses can take you the whole way to the end of the road in Kantishna, but with the permafrost and landslide issue around mile 43, that’s as far as you can go at this time. We heard that around 2026 is when more of the road will be back open to buses.
We opted for the non narrated bus when we booked our tour because we were planning to do one of the hikes in the back country. But because I wasn’t feeling well and Teddy had developed a bit of a cold too, we decided to just stay on the bus the entire time rather than getting off and back on. Even with staying on the entire time, the tour ended up being about 6 or so hours. It was a long day to sit in the bus seats, but we got to see so much wildlife including quite a fear bears, caribou, Dall sheep, and a few people on our bus even saw a lynx that crossed in front of us along the road. Teddy was very disappointed to have missed that one. After our bus tour, we grabbed some lunch at McKinley Creekside Cafe south of the park. I didn’t have a huge appetite but got some salmon chowder. We were both tired so we took a nap and read before heading to dinner at Prospector’s Pizza. The atmosphere there was great, but our waitress wasn’t the most attentive. Luckily, the bartender and another waiter were and helped us out with getting our food and drinks.
Day 4: Sled Dogs, Brewery Lunch, Steak Dinner, and an Evening Hike
The day started with a visit to the sled dogs for their demonstration of how they would pull a sled. They just use a cart with wheels instead of a snow sled for the demonstration. I really enjoyed it and loved getting to see the dogs. We missed our dogs back home so Teddy and I went around to all the dogs and picked out our favorite looking and also our favorites by name. My favorite dog was Bos’n and my favorite dog name was Munchkin with Summit being 2nd place. His favorite dog was Kusko and he also loved the name Munchkin.
We went to lunch at 49th State Brewery which was an awesome vibe and I loved their outdoor area with a replica of the bus from Alone. After lunch we took a long nap since we were still not feeling great and then grabbed dinner at a Canyon Steakhouse near the hotel. Teddy got a steak but all I wanted was mashed potatoes so I ate Teddy’s potatoes and some fried shrimp.
After dinner we did our first hike since before the wedding. We drove out the 15 miles in the park to the Savage River Loop Trail which is easy/moderate and about 2 miles. We saw a Ptarmigan and her babies, as well as a moose right near the trail. It was one of the prettiest trails I’ve been on. It reminded me a bit of what I imagine Scotland or an Ireland landscape to be. Some craggy rocks and mountains, a river, and green hillsides. We did the hike and ended around 10 PM. We then did part of a hike closer to the entrance to the park called Horseshoe Lake. It descends pretty steeply down to the lake and then comes back up so we went down until we got a view of the lake and then headed back to the car so we could get some rest for the night.
Day 5: Onward to Cooper’s Landing
We grabbed breakfast at the Black Bear Coffee House before starting our 6 hour drive south. We grabbed lunch in Anchorage at Serrano’s Mexican Grill. We loved the vibe. Our water was wonderful, and our food was really good. After lunch we continued south to our hotel in Cooper’s Landing for the night. I’ll share more about what we did In the area in an upcoming post!
Day 1 – Anchorage to Denali
- Leave Anchorage early in the morning and drive 2 or so hours to Talkeetna
- Grab coffee and breakfast in Wasilla
- Walk around and grab lunch in Talkeetna. If you have extra time in your schedule and money in your budget, this is the place to do some flightseeing of Denali. You can even book one with a glacier landing.
- Stretch your legs or go for a short hike in Denali State Park
- Stay overnight at Denali Bluffs Hotel or the Grand Denali Lodge
Day 2 – Bus Tour & Hiking
- Book your bus tour ahead of time with an early morning departure. You can grab coffee and snacks at the bus depot before you board. If you don’t plan to get off the bus and want a comfier ride and are willing to pay for it, choose the narrated option. If you may want to get off and do some exploring, pick the green bus like we did but bring your own snacks
- Grab a late lunch at Prospector’s Pizza and order the fried ravioli
- Hike the Horseshoe Lake Trail that’s about 2 miles and 400 or so feet of elevation
- Enjoy dinner at 49th State Brewing and order a soda flight If you want to try their various flavors
- Try to catch sunset in the park and if it’s clear, maybe a view of Denali!
Day 3 – Sled Dogs, Hiking & An ATV Tour
- Grab breakfast at Black Bear Coffee House. We loved their chai and baked goods.
- Attend the sled dog demonstration and check out and meet all the adorable pups. There’s also a little history hut you can check out too and has yearbooks of their missions and pictures of previous dogs.
- Pack a picnic for lunch so you can stay in the park before your afternoon hike.
- Hike the Savage Alpine Trail which is about 4 miles point to point You can catch a bus from the point back to your car.and 1400 feet elevation gain. It’s rated as hard, but from what I hear, it’s totally worth it.
- Dinner at Canyon Steakhouse in the McKinley Chalet Resort. If there’s a wait for dinner, sit in the circle shaped room off the right. If there’s a seat open you can sit right down and don’t have to wait.
- Go for a ride on the Midnight Sun ATV Tour and enjoy the views around the park
Day 4 – Hiking & Driving Back to the Anchorage area
- Drive into the park for some wildlife watching or take a hike before heading out or stop to hike in Denali State Park
- Grab lunch south of the park at McKinley’s Creekside Cafe or continue on and get lunch in Talkeetna
- Meander your way back to the Anchorage area