Quest to the Pacific Northwest - Train Ride to Denali
August 4, 2015 - Day 7
Most of the crew slept in on Tuesday, but I got up early and ate breakfast at the lodge restaurant, then sat on the deck and enjoyed the incredible view while drinking cocoa. Tom and John joined me at 9 and we hiked some trails around the lodge before meeting the bus at 1030 to depart for the rail station. Bus ride took a little over an hour due to construction delays. They have to do all the roadwork in just a few months due to the snow and frozen ground most of the year, so there is always construction and they use pilot cars to guide the traffic from alternating sides of the road causing traffic to be held up.
We had some time to kill at the rail depot, but boarded about 20 min after we arrived. 80 people were seated in each car on the upper deck with the glass dome. Underneath was the dining car, restrooms, and the viewing platform. Each car had a bartender and a tour guide that narrated the sights and shared facts and jokes about Alaska. They were very entertaining!
Train ride took about 5 hours and we particularly enjoyed the lunch on board - smoked salmon chowder being a highlight, along with the reindeer chili and a very good seafood salad sandwich. We also spotted some great wildlife, including several moose, but I was not quick enough with the camera to get a decent picture. Our quest to find great Alaskan brews continues on the train. What else are you supposed to do on a 5 hr ride?
Once we reached Denali, we transferred to a bus for a short ride to the Princess lodge. The lodge here is right in the main town of Healy, so its conveniently walkable to all the trip outfitters and places to eat. We dropped off our day packs in our rooms and then returned to the main lobby to meet our evening excursion group.
We pre-booked an ATV adventure, but instead of the traditional ATV, we picked an outfitter that had Argos, which are basically tiny tanks. They float in the water and can go over all kinds of terrain. Tom and I saw them while watching the Ultimate Survival Alaska TV show and so we sought them out here when we were doing trip planning.
Took a 30 min ride to the company office of Denali ATV Tours and then after a safety briefing we hit the trail in pairs of 2. They had speakers in the helmets so that we could hear instructions and narration from our guides. I rode shotgun with Tom and we floored it through every muddy puddle we found whilst doing his best Jeremy Clarkson impression from Top Gear UK. I loved it! Very bumpy and I wish we had a harness to hold you in rather than just hanging on to the railing but it was very fun, albeit a little bruising. John's argo broke down in a hole when the chains got caught on something, and had to be abandoned. The windscreens kept the mud off of you which was nice, and every 10 min or so we would stop so the guides could wipe down the windows.
We got back around 1030 pm and split up to grab pizza for our room and Chinese/Thai takeout for the other 2 rooms. There are many places to eat both on the Princess lodge grounds and across the street on the main street of Healy. All of us thought the food was really good. After 12 hours of travel and adventure we were ready to eat, shower, and turn in.