Trail Repair in Denali National Park, Alaska

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14014A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Travel on the Alaska Railroad Denali Star
  • Explore the Park Road and Wonder Lake via the Park bus
  • See sled dog demonstration


  • Round-trip tickets to get you from Anchorage to Denali NP and back
  • Bus tickets to Wonder Lake
  • Most meals and snacks
  • Instruction in a variety of trail-building skills 


DatesJul 13–19, 2014
StaffElaine Stebler

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Home to the highest mountain in North America, Denali National Park comprises a massive area of six million acres, slightly more than the entire state of Massachusetts. Congress established the park in 1917 to protect its abundance of large mammals, especially the Dall sheep. Originally named Mount McKinley National Park, it was renamed to Denali National Park. In 1980 the park expanded in size by four million acres as part of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

The park is home to an abundant and diverse wildlife population. Today it is common to see grizzly bears, caribou, Dall sheep, moose, and foxes throughout the park. Less common, but still regularly seen, are the park's many wolves. Black bears are also occasionally seen, and the very lucky visitor might glimpse a wolverine or a lynx.  Birdwatchers can keep an eye out for bald eagles and peregrine falcons, as well as many other species. The Savage River is known as a good fly flishing spot for grayling.

The Project

Our work project will most likely be trail repair on two trails in the Savage River campground vicinity. We plan to work on the Savage Alpine Trail, which is a four-mile trail that connects the Savage River and the Mountain Vista day use areas. Last year our group helped open up the last section of this trail; this year we will be putting some finishing touches on the trail. We also plan to work on the two-mile-long Savage River Loop Trail, which offers tundra views of the Alaska Range and interesting geologic features. Our work will likely include such trail maintenance tasks as: building turnpikes, water bars, drainage structures, and brushing. We will be treated to fun informative ranger talks on some evenings at our campground. We can look forward to a great project in a wonderful area.


You will need to arrive in Anchorage the day before the trip starts and we will likely gather for an unofficial dutch-treat meal that evening.

Day 1: Early in the morning, we will meet at the Alaska Railroad train depot in Anchorage to catch our wonderful train ride to Denali National Park.  When we arrive at the park, park staff will pick us up and take us to the campground. The campsite has running water, toilet facilities, and bear-proof food storage facilities.

We will have time to set up tents and get oriented before our group dinner.  In the evening we can begin to get acquainted with each other and the ranger will give us a briefing on our work project for the week. 

Days 2-5: We will work on the trail.

Day 6: This is our day to explore further into the park. We can ride the park bus to explore all the way out to Wonder Lake. The cost of this is included with your trip cost.  Wonder Lake provides awesome views of Denali when the weather cooperates. The tremendous 18,000-foot difference from the mountain's lowlands near Wonder Lake up to its peak is a greater vertical relief than that of Mount Everest! Our route parallels the Alaska Range and travels through low valleys and high mountain passes. It is the only road in the park. Along its route, beautiful landscapes can be seen at every turn, and there are many opportunities to view Denali's peaks -- if the normally cloudy skies permit. This bus ride through the park provides the best opportunity to see abundant wildlife, although we can't guarantee it -- these are, after all, wild animals that follow their own schedule!  Many may want to visit the Eielson Visitor Center, located at mile 66, or stop elsewhere along the way to take a hike.

Day 7: We’ll break camp and catch the train back to Anchorage, arriving in the evening. We suggest that you don’t plan to fly out of Anchorage that night.  



Getting There

The trip will start at the Alaska Railroad train depot in Anchorage.  To meet our schedule, you will need to arrive the night before our trip leaves. We suggest getting a room near the depot or finding a motel with shuttle to the depot.  Taxis are readily available as well. 

Accommodations and Food

We will be tent camping in a group campsite provided by the National Park Service. You will need to bring all of your own camping gear, including your tent. While we are at the park, all meals and plenty of snacks will be provided. Please come with the attitude that food is part of the adventure. Our meals will tend toward the vegetarian end of the spectrum, although we will have some meat available at times. We’ll provide plenty of healthy and nutritious foods.  Participants will take turns assisting the cook with meal preparation and cleanup. If you have special dietary concerns or food allergies, make sure that you contact the cook prior to applying for the trip to see if reasonable accommodations can be made. 

The first meal that we will provide will be evening dinner on the first day and the last meal will be lunch on the last day. Participants will be responsible for their own food during the train ride to and from the park. You can bring your own food onboard or there will be various options for purchasing food on the train. 

Trip Difficulty

This trip is considered strenuous. We will be doing trail repair work on a trail that is rated strenuous because of the steep sections. Participants should be in good physical shape. Building and maintaining trail is physically demanding work; expect that you will wear yourself out and be very tired at times. Participants should have some past experience in hiking and camping, but it is not necessary to have any prior trail building experience. 

Equipment and Clothing

You will need to bring your own tent and other camping gear to make your tent your home for the week. In Alaska, any given day can bring snow, rain, or sun, so pack the right clothes for working in cold, driving rain -- if it's sunny, that's a bonus! The national park will provide the tools for our work project, but you will need work gloves, sturdy boots, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt.  You will also need a day pack to carry lunch, extra clothes, water, work gloves, raingear, sunscreen, and other personal items to the work site.  Be sure to bring mosquito repellent and possibly a head-net for use at Wonder Lake.  We will provide a first-aid kit for emergencies, but you should bring any personal medications you require, moleskin, bandaids, and Tylenol (or the like) for dealing with life’s little aggravations.  Food and the necessary equipment for cooking it will be provided, but you will need personal eating utensils, such as bowl, cup, and spoon.  Bring a couple of water bottles and plastic containers with tight-fitting lids for carrying your lunch to the work site each day. 

We will be limited on space for baggage, so plan to bring all of your gear in only two bags, one large soft-sided duffel or backpack and one daypack. A final detailed equipment list will be sent to you after you’ve been accepted onto the trip. 



  • Trails Illustrated map of Denali National Park. It is waterproof and costs around $14.95 from and many local outdoor stores.


  • The Denali Park web site has a comprehensive list of books (including one Harlequin romance):
  • Capps, Kris, The Denali Road Guide. This is the classic guide to Denali Park Road's sights and experiences and it is particularly helpful if you are taking the bus ride through the park to Wonder Lake. 


You would think that the size and remoteness of Denali National Park would make it immune from conservation issues.  Unfortunately, this is not true. Alaska and its national parks are feeling dramatic effects from our changing climate.  Denali provides a special opportunity to study a large, intact, and naturally functioning ecosystem. Researchers can monitor climate change in Denali and contribute to larger-scale climate monitoring and management efforts.

Within the park there are still issues with ATV use, Park Road use, and stream heavy metal contamination due to historical and continued mining in the areas adjacent to the designated wilderness.  Participants have conservation stories from home and will be invited to share hometown issues with the group.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Elaine Stebler is from Oklahoma, where she enjoys country-living and raising much of her own fruits, vegetables, and free-range chicken eggs. She has a background in Natural Resources Ecology and Management and loves being outdoors exploring nature wherever, but especially in wilderness. She is looking forward to escaping the Oklahoma heat and enjoying the refreshing cool mountain air of Alaska while meeting new people and repairing trail in this precious habitat. Elaine hopes to share her enthusiasm for the vast diversity of plants and animals that will likely be seen while working in this beautiful national treasure. Elaine has led or cooked on many different type service trips to many wonderful locales since 1993. Last year Elaine cooked for the Denali service trip and loved it so much she is coming back again this year.

Assistant Leader:

After moving around most of her life, Cara Wilson finally settled down 10 years ago in Monterey, where she works as a satellite oceanographer for NOAA in Monterey, California. She has led Sierra Club service trips since 2009. She is looking forward to visiting Alaska’s awesome Denali National Park and getting a “behind the scenes” experience through doing service work for them.

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