September 10, 2015 – Today we also had the early bus tickets into the park. Since we knew where and when to go, we got in line and were able to get front seats with a perfect view. We had the same bus driver, but this time there was a group from Germany who were just having a blast in both English and German. They spotted quite a few moose in the first 12 (paved) miles of the road, including a large bull. Once we left the paved we quickly noticed that one of Denali’s peaks was in view. We were fortunate to be able to watch the mountain for much of the way into the park.
The views were so perfect that we hopped off the bus at Polychrome Pass and walked on the well-worn social trail to the top. Our plan was to hike down towards a small lake. We looked around for animals, and noticed a herd of moose on the opposite hill; they were moving away from the lake. There was also a flock of ptarmigan that were causing quite a commotion. We started down towards the like, stopping every few feet to make sure we didn’t trip and to look around.
That’s when Tony spotted the grizzly bear ambling up the social trail by the lake. We started talking a bit more loudly, and the bear stopped, picked up our scent, and picked up his pace so he could run behind the opposite hill. Since we weren’t sure where the social path led we turned and went back to the parking lot to wait for another bus. This one was quite crowded, and while we took it to the next rest stop we swapped buses there.
Our new driver was a park worker who lived in a primitive cabin somewhere in the wilderness, her bus was a lot less crowded and much more relaxed. Upon reaching the visitor center we got out, refilled our waters, and headed down the trail towards the river. There was some snow in the air, but not much, and a great view of parts of the mountain. About halfway down the trail we saw a very large bull moose walking along the river, following the trail. We watched him for awhile and decided we didn’t want to be down there with him. Our wildlife viewing wasn’t over yet, since there was a little grizzly bear near the visitor center, happily running around and chasing ground squirrels.
We debated about doing more hiking in the area, but at the last minute decided to take the bus all the way to Wonder Lake. Wonder Lake is pretty, but the best view is from the small hill near the campground. On a clear day you can look across the plains and have a perfect view of Denali. We didn’t have a 100% clear view, but we could see both peaks, and the views only got better on the way back to the visitor center.