Our third day in Alaska had us driving from Anchorage to Denali National Park. It is a beautiful ride though the maps can be deceiving. What looks like one of the few towns like Willow is little more than a gas station and a couple of buildings. It took about 4-5 hours but it is fun to be able to stop and meet people. You can also take the Alaskan train which goes through the amazing Alaska countryside. We went directly to RaftDenal, which was hands down one of the best decisions of the trip. Today was our white water rafting trip and we loved it.
In planning the trip, I had the great fortune of speaking with Judy White, the matriarch of the family that runs RaftDenali. Judy immediately took me and Jack under her wing and had spent days of emails arranging not only our visit with RaftDenali but advised us on where to go for the remainder of the trip. Judy knows everything and everyone in Alaska. We felt that we had a guardian angel looking over us from the moment we landed. Judy said that she wanted us to love Alaska as much as she does. She succeeded but, if this state had any sense, they would make Judy White the Secretary for Tourism.
We stayed in one of the cabins at RaftDenali, which is ideally located on the river and near the park entrance. The rafting trips go down the Tana, Chulitna, Talkeetna and Copper Rivers. The company is also just down from the grocery store and restaurants (more on the eating options tomorrow). Our cabin overlooked the mountains and we sat on the porch watching the river rushing below the cabin. (The view from the cabin is right). There is a road next to the cabins with traffic noise but you get the benefit of the river. It is not fancy but it is spacious, clean, and could hold a large family or group. It also has a kitchen so we were able to buy breakfast ingredients for the morning. Wifi is spotty but I could get a signal and just walked over to the porch in front of the office when I needed a stronger signal.
We went on the 6 PM rafting trip and Judy put us on the smaller paddle boat (rather than the boats where a guide does the paddling). It was much more exciting and we went down a river with numerous class 3 and class 4 rapids. They supply all of the equipment and I was bone dry underneath even though it was raining heavily at the start. We had the fortune of having Jeremy as our guide, a Jeremiah Johnson looking guide with a great sense of humor and terrific boating skills. All of the young staff guiding these boats are incredibly knowledgable and trained. They are certified on the river and all have years of experience rafting, kayaking, and hiking. They are also very funny, particularly during the training and equipment session. You felt entirely safe in their hands. You are put through a quick rafting lesson before entering the boat.
The river was awesome and, since you are getting wet on the river anyway (at least outside of your wetsuit), they all say that “rain is rafting weather” in Denali. The heavy deluge makes the river faster and more exciting. There are even a few unexpected sites like the remnants of an old train wreck from the early days. We had a ball and got back to the cabin around 10 pm. Since there is only four hours of darkness, things go longer here. Jack laid on the bed in his rafting clothes and said “This is really a comfortable b . . . ” and fell fast asleep. I could have done dental surgery on him without waking him.
I cannot recommend RaftDenali more highly. We looked at all of the companies but this family-operated business has all of the right elements. They have a very experienced and fun team of guides and excellent equipment. The cabins are also worth considering, particularly because two cruise lines occupy much of the hotel space in the area. If you are rafting however the company will drop you off at your hotel.
Here are some of the pictures (which RaftDenali shoots at a bend in the river and you can buy at the end of the trip).
I woke up to work on the blog on the porch next to the river and Washington never felt so wonderfully distant.