It is easy to get lost in the beauty of the Alaskan Wilderness. A state so large, we feel tiny. A place so remote, we are skyscraper and traffic jam free. Our cell phones are roaming and so are herds of elk and moose. This is Destination Polaris’ top trip of the year and we start in Anchorage, Alaska’s most popular destination. We are the #1 off-road TV show in North America and are fortunate enough to travel to many of the best riding locations across the country and internationally. For this adventure, our crew is me (Lindsey), my co-host, Jared Christie and two photographers, Gram Krause-Lyons and Josh Bryant. Our production company, Ron Schara Productions, is based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota and we were lucky enough to snag a six hour direct flight to Anchorage.
For the week, we will call Gate Creek Cabins near Petersville our home. Petersville is about three hours north of Anchorage near Denali National Park and Denali State Park. Our cabin overlooks a trout fishing lake and we can head north, south, east or west on trails right from base camp. There are several open panoramic views of Denali, otherwise known as Mt. McKinley and the Alaska Range. What a welcome! The cabins are family owned and operated and extremely friendly/helpful. The game plan is to ride trails to get a better view of Denali, tackle the Alaska Range, pan for gold, see some wildlife and catch our dinner. From base camp, there are more than 200 miles of ATV/UTV trails to choose from. No snow yet, but fall colors are at their peak. September is moose hunting season, so the locals say we will see tons of hunters out on the trails. The guys from Eagle River Polaris are in the cabin next door and will be our trail guides for the week.
A clear morning is a good sign. There are only a few days every year that one can entirely see Denali, North America’s tallest mountain, which stands at 20,310 feet. The weather has to be perfect; she normally hides among the clouds. For our first adventure, we will trek through the Alaska Range for about 60 miles, pan for gold and ride right to the edge of Denali State Park. As we load up, we get to know our group. Jeremy Gallego works for Polaris Industries; he brought his dad, Dan Gallego and they have lived in Alaska for 20+ years. Jeremy will be our guide.
“I started riding with my dad at 8 years old. We ride all over the place both on snowmobiles and ATVs. We love the Yukon River and there are great trails in southeast Alaska and pretty much all over the state,” said Jeremy Gallego.
“I have been riding in this area for about 25 years. Jeremy and I have a real close relationship. He’s not only my son, but we’re friends,” said Dan Gallego.
Paul Hughes is from Eagle River Polaris; he provided some of the machines. We have a 2016 Polaris Ranger 900 XP, a 2016 Polaris General 1000, a 2016 Polaris RZR XP 1000, a 2015 Polaris Ranger 570 and a 2014 Polaris Sportsman Big Boss 6X6 800. I called the General. It is a bit chilly this morning and windy. The forecast for the week calls for highs in the low 50s and lows in the 30s.
We start out riding through moose country on the Dollar Creek Trail. There are thick pine forests and open fields with pockets of water on both sides of the trail. We pass dozens of hunting camps and even met a successful hunter. The bull moose on the back of his truck earned him bragging rights- a full freezer of food and a nice wall mount. After only a couple of miles, we get above the tree line and begin riding through the Alaska Range. No words or pictures will depict the true beauty of the views of Peters Creek Canyon. This one lane trail hugs the side of a deep gorge with waterfalls all around us. Peters Hills are covered in vibrant reds, oranges, yellows and greens. Our first stop is to see a large waterfall. It is about 400 yards away across a ravine. After a couple pictures, we continue to climb. The trails are rugged and rocky, but well maintained. As we snaked our way up the ridge, we saw our first epic view of Denali. The clouds were covering her peak, but it was still quite the backdrop for this trail. We also can see Mt. Foraker, Mt. Hunter, the Talkeetna Mountains and the Matanuska-Susita Valleys.
At about mile 26, you will pass through the abandoned mining camp of Petersville. The Alaska Range has the nickname, “The Gateway to Gold Country.” In Petersville, historic buildings remain, but are closed and all boarded up. Gold was discovered in this area back in 1898. Many of these trails were created by gold miners who “cashed in” in Cache Creek. Gold miner, Ken Lee, is going to show us how to pan for gold in the river.
“Ken at Cache Creek Cabins has panned a lot of gold out of this river. The water is crystal clear and with Ken, you won’t go home empty handed,” said Jeremy Gallego.
Jeremy was right. In about an hour, we found about two grams of gold flakes. According to Ken, that is worth about one hundred dollars. Since gold and diamonds are a girl’s best friend, Ken gifted me the vial of gold leaf to take home.
We saved the best for last today, Denali. Denali National Park and Denali State Park are one of Alaska’s prized attractions. North America’s tallest peak can be quite the tease. All day, her peak has been hiding behind one stubborn cloud. Riding up to the edge of Denali State Park was quite an adventure. We literally felt like we were on top of the world. We ride right on the Alaskan tundra among expansive vistas, lush valleys and rugged mountains. No one is out here with us except wildlife. There’s no snow, just amazing fall colors. We are prohibited from riding ATVs/UTVs in the state park, so we had to park our machines and hike for about 30 minutes to get the best view of the mountain yet.
“We’re looking into Denali State Park and it’s actually one of the largest parks in North America. There’s a bus tour that will get you about 40 miles closer and will show you the north side of Mt. McKinley. It is a totally different view than where we are. This is the south side,” said Jeremy Gallego.
This view was a bucket list item for everyone on our trip.
New day, new location, today, it’s all about mudding and fishing. A little rain can’t dampen the energy of the small town, Talkeetna.
“Talkeetna is a pretty cool town; it’s a climbing town. Another town that was founded by gold miners. In the summer, it gets really busy with climbers for Denali/Mt. McKinley. This is their base camp and many fly out of here. Some of the best fishing is around here too. Neat town, lots of history,” said Jeremy Gallego.
Larson Creek Lake Trail takes us from Talkeetna to our fishing hot spot. There are a dozen river crossings and tons of mud pits. We even found bear tracks and a red salmon swimming up river. Twenty miles of slick, thick, muddy trails; we felt like we were in the south. It is amazing how different the terrain can change in just a couple of miles. Whatever type of riding one prefers Alaska offers. Three rivers meet along this trail and that is our fishing hot spot. Prime fishing season is long gone, but we at least wet a line. We had red salmon swimming at our feet (amazing), however couldn’t catch a trout all afternoon. I love to fish. I recently caught a 29 inch walleye in Quebec, Canada, but left Alaska empty handed. We all did, so I guess that means we have to come back again.
With this much rain, it turned into a mud fight. Once we arrived back at camp, we grilled steak and salmon for dinner. There’s nothing like a delicious home cooked meal accompanied by an amazing sunset. No TV and limited Wi-Fi, so every night we spent time relaxing, hanging out and sharing stories. Old school fun is still in style.
In the middle of the night, a group of us decided to go for a ride in search of the Northern Lights. The forecast for Aurora activity was a seven. Night rides are one of my favorite. As we all sat in the middle of this open field waiting, we heard a moose. The noise kept getting closer and closer. Sure enough, a mama moose and her baby appeared and crossed the trail right in front of us. We were all so excited to see our first moose; the mama moose had a different opinion. She put her head down and ears back and that was our signal to put the machines in reverse and quickly, get out of there. Don’t mess with a mama moose; she will charge and you will lose. Such amazing experience- we wish we could have gotten a picture, but it all happened so fast. I still can’t get over how large they are- huge, even the baby calf.
We decided to take a trail to a different field and continue our search of dancing lights in the sky. Soon, a green stripe appeared and arched across the entire sky. It looked like a rainbow, an entirely green rainbow. However, it was faint and didn’t last long. The moon was far too bright that night. At about 3:30 in the morning, we decided to call it a night and go get more sleep.
Next stop Minneapolis, Minnesota. Wow, what a trip-awesome trails, Denali, wildlife, gold and great locals! I don’t think anyone is ready to go home. We put on a lot of miles this week, however Alaska is the largest state in the U.S. and we didn’t explore a fraction of what the state has to offer. Off-roaders can ride alongside glaciers, anglers can deep sea fish, whale watchers can hopefully see an orca and the list goes on. We will be back again. Until then, Alaska will forever be on our mind.