Wednesday is often called "hump day"'the midpoint of the traditional work week'but in Alaska, perhaps February could be considered "hump month" for winter. Life in our northernmost state is a lot more fun if you embrace cold weather activities, and the folks in and around Denali National Park and Preserve will "celebrate Alaska's longest season" with an impressive slate of activities February 21-23 at Denali Winterfest 2014.
Winterfest is a long-running community-wide event for the park and the surrounding Denali Borough communities, and organizers have planned activities with "something for all ages, interests, and abilities."
Festivities kick off on Friday, February 21, at 6:00 p.m. with a potluck dinner at the McKinley Park Community Center. After dinner, outdoor adventurer Luc Mehl will speak about the creative routes that he and friends utilized to do human-powered traverses over the three tallest mountains in North America: Denali, Logan, and Orizaba. The Community Center is located off Mile 230 Parks Highway on the "Old Parks Highway" spur road.
After the potluck dinner and talk, participants can enjoy a change of pace with some foot-tapping music and dancing at the 229 Parks Restaurant, located approximately Â½ mile south on the Parks Highway.
Plenty of Indoor and Outdoor Activities on Saturday
On Saturday, February 22, the National Park Service (NPS) is offering a wide variety of activities at or near the Murie Science and Learning Center (MSLC) on the Denali Park Road.
The day's offerings in and near the MSLC include an ice carving demonstration by master carver Larry Moen, short ranger talks, sled dog rides, a snowshoe walk and guided ski tours, indoor and outdoor children's activities, a snow sculpting contest, and a presentation on photographing the northern lights by local author and photographer Tom Walker.
Hot drinks and light lunch refreshments are provided for Saturday's activities by park concessioner Doyon/ARAMARK Joint Venture. The Alaska Geographic bookstore at the MSLC has a selection of park-related publications available for sale.
Lots to do at Mountain Vista Rest Area - "Weather Permitting"
Any winter event in this area always includes the disclaimer, "weather permitting," but if Mother Nature cooperates, the Denali Park Road will be open to the public as far as the Mountain Vista Rest Area (Mile 12) during Winterfest. The NPS will offer two activities in that area Saturday afternoon: a guided ski tour (snow conditions permitting) and an open house of the historic Savage River Cabin, which is used by rangers during winter patrols.
The rest area has vault toilets and picnic shelters. If the weather cooperates, this is an ideal location for viewing Mt. McKinley, and is a great starting point for a snowshoe walk, ski tour, or dog sled trip.
On Saturday evening, activities will move to Healy, with a community chili dinner beginning at 5:00 pm, accompanied by a cakewalk and dessert silent auction at 6:00 p.m.
After dinner the community will hold "Winter Olympics" games for children and adults. These activities are taking place at the Tri-Valley Community Center at Mile 0.5 on the Healy Spur Road (Mile 248.8 Parks Highway).
On Sunday evening, February 23, the Tri-Valley Community Library (Mile 249 Parks Highway) will host a showing of the night sky indie film "The City Dark" at 6:30 p.m., followed by creative outdoor lighting ideas from the NPS night sky team.
Meals, Lodging and Camping Available
If you don't live in the immediate area, there are winter season options for visitors who need a place to stay or dine. Meals, lodging and other services are available year-round in the communities of Healy and Cantwell, and the Bear Loop of the park's Riley Creek Campground is open for free camping. A vault toilet is provided for winter campers and water can be obtained at the Murie Science and Learning Center.
Winterfest really is a community effort, and the event is made possible with the assistance of Alaska Geographic, Denali Borough, Denali Borough School District, Denali Education Center, Doyon/ARAMARK Joint Venture, Holland America/Princess, National Park Service, and the Tri-Valley Community Library.
For the current status of those "weather depending" activities, or for more details about this event, you can call the front desk at the MSLC at 907-683-9532 between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. daily. You'll find a complete schedule of activities during Winterfest at this link.
Additional information to help plan a visit to Denali National Park and Preserve at any season of the year is available on the park website.