A “Spring” Getaway in Denali State Park

One of my favorite places in Alaska is Denali State Park. It’s closer to Anchorage than Denali National Park, is free to enter, and is easier to access by car. Plus the views of Denali are still amazing! I’ve backpacked Kesugi Ridge and stayed in a public use cabin at Byers Lake, but my favorite thing to do is stay in the public use cabins at K’esugi Ken campground. These three cabins are notoriously hard to book, so when I hopped online a few months ago and saw that there was a 3 day stretch where the Denali cabin was free in the beginning of April I booked us a trip. I thought it would be a lovely spring trip with sunshine, warmish (30s?) temperatures, and enough snow for snowshoeing. I was definitely right about two of those things! I’ll review the cabin later (spoiler alert: it’s probably my favorite cabin in Alaska State Parks) but for now I’ll share how our trip went!

Our view of Denali from the Parks Highway

On Wednesday morning with packed up our car and headed three hours north of Anchorage. Denali was out and we loved the frequent opportunities to view her throughout the long drive. Elliott didn’t nap at all on the drive, so when we arrived we quickly moved our gear into the cabin and then got out for a snowshoe hike up Curry Ridge so he could nap in the carrier and we could enjoy the views.

The Denali Cabin

We snowshoed this trail last March when we stayed in the same cabin, so we thought we knew what we were going to find when we got there. This time, however, the trail was not as wide or as well packed as it was last year. The area apparently got a lot of snow last weekend, so we had to deal with a very narrow trail broken by a single ski track. By the time we got to the bridge that signifies the start of the real elevation gain we discovered that the ski tracks ended and we were going to have to break trail the rest of the way. The trail is about 3 miles one way and I figured that my husband (who is not a big fan of hiking) wouldn’t want to go that far. But as we started breaking trail and struggling our way uphill I realized that we were probably only going to make it a mile. Breaking trail is exhausting, especially with a baby on your back! Elliott only slept a half hour before waking up and acting like his silly toddler self. When we noticed that our dog (who has short legs) was struggling to walk in the deep snow, we decided to throw in the towel and go back to the cabin. We only did 2 miles total but at least we got to see some good views before the clouds moved in.

The rest of the day was spent unpacking, cooking dinner (taco mac and cheese that we made at home and only had to reheat at the cabin to save time), and snuggling by the fire. We put Elliott down to sleep at his regular bedtime and figured that he’d sleep through the night because he was so tired. We even got to play a few games of Dutch Blitz while he slept!

E hanging out and enjoying the view of Denali from our cabin

However, toddler life is unpredictable and he woke up multiple times throughout the night and would NOT go back to sleep. I think he slept a total of 4 hours, which means that we slept even less because we stayed up to play cards! I don’t know what it was – maybe it was because the loft where we slept the first night was really warm, or he’s just not a fan of cosleeping with me on camping trips anymore. But it was a reeeeeeeeeeally long night. I think we all cried at one point. At 5 am we finally just decided to get up and start our day because Elliott kept crying and pointing downstairs to where the food and his books were. After things settled down a bit, I went back to sleep for a few hours and apparently slept right through a 5.5 earthquake! By the time I woke up the temperatures were dropping and the wind was picking up so we decided that today was going to be a chill day indoors.

Reading our books by the fire

Through some kind of miracle we got Elliott to nap in his playpen for 4 hours while we relaxed by the fire. I’m the kind of person who is constantly trying to pack my camping trips full of activities, but it was nice to spend the day reading a book by the fire while drinking coffee after the crazy night we’d had. That night we decided to sleep in the bedroom downstairs even though it was the coldest part of the cabin. We had Elliott sleep in his playpen again using his Little Mo sleeping bag to keep him warm, and Andrew made sure to keep the fire going all night. We all got a full night of sleep and I felt like I learned a lot about how to set up sleep arrangements for our summer camping trips!

E twinning with Elmo in his Little Mo sleeping bag

On our final morning at the cabin we woke up to clear, sunny, and COLD skies. My phone said that it was -11, but the clear skies brought perfect views of Denali so I wanted to get outside for a quick hike before the long drive home. We snowshoed the Moose Flats Loop Trail, which started right next to our cabin. This trail is only a mile total so I knew we wouldn’t be out in the super cold temps for too long. It was absolutely worth it because we got to see the most incredible views of Denali! It was the perfect end to our trip and made me so excited to come back here in the summer.

The Alaska Range and Denali – the tallest mountain in North America!

This was probably one of my favorite cabin camping trips with the family. Spending 3 days/2 nights at the cabin instead of pushing everything into 2 days/1 night made it feel like we were actually able to relax and enjoy the cabin instead of unpacking and then repacking right away. We got to do a good mix of hiking and relaxing, and even though it was crazy cold we still got to see Denali so it was worth the trip. Other than the difficult first night, the rest of the trip was really fun and relaxing and Elliott was in a great mood 99% of the time. And I learned a lot by testing out some new camping gear that we bought for the summer! I’m hoping that this trip was our final goodbye to winter and that there’s only warmer trips from here.

What’s the coldest temperatures you’ve ever camped in? Have you ever gone snowshoeing?

8 thoughts on “A “Spring” Getaway in Denali State Park

  1. Lovely article that really makes me want to go to Alaska. I have never been there but I am dreaming of Denali. Great to read that the ploughing through the snow was worth it and thanks for sharing the wonderful photos!!

  2. I’m glad you all had a great time! I’m not a winter camper so I haven’t camped any time other than the summer. I had a chance to go snowshoeing once in Colorado and didn’t and regretted it later.

    1. Winter camping is so much fun (minus the freezing cold outhouse part of it)! But I don’t think I’d ever want to try it in a tent.

  3. What an amaaaazing adventure and epic view of Denali! I flipping love the elmo-like baby sleeping suit too!
    We have only camped at close to 0 temperatures…I like the idea of camping in the snow, but we didn’t actually try it yet. We’d need to buy warmer gear!

    1. I don’t think I could ever winter camp in a tent, but cabin camping in the winter is great and honestly easier than it looks! We just use a regular air mattress, sheets, and a super warm comforter to stay warm at night. Winter tent camping looks awesome but yeah that gear is expensive!

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