The Denali Highway is an exciting, interesting, and unique road to travel. It is perhaps my favorite highway in Alaska. The scenery is unmatched, but road conditions make it a difficult drive. Planning and forethought are essential. Otherwise, what could be a delightful experience could turn into a headache.
Denali Highway was completed in 1957 and became the only route to Denali National Park until the Parks Highway was built in the 1970s. Even now, it is a tremendously great way to travel to Denali National Park. It avoids a lot of tourist traffic and tourist traps. This, however, means it also avoids the traditional motorist services.
This is where planning comes in. The Denali Highway runs 135 miles between Paxson, Alaska on the Richardson Highway and Cantwell Junction on the Parks Highway. The majority of the road is gravel. The first 21 miles from Paxson and the last three miles before Cantwell Junction are paved. The remainder is not. Be sure to have your vehicle in fine working condition. Check your spare tire and tire changing equipment. Have on hand extra food and water for an emergency. Very limited services are available.
Although even many Alaskans are afraid of traveling the Denali Highway, my experiences have been excellent. It is open during the summer, from mid-May to October. Winter conditions close it down. When driving the Denali Highway, enjoy hiking, fishing, camping, and sightseeing. I believe that this highway boasts some of the best scenery in Alaska. Because there are very few buildings, the landscape is completely uncluttered. The mountains are a bit in the distance, so a person can see for miles. As the leaves begin to turn in the autumn, the colors are spectacular over the tundra. The chance of seeing animals is great, too. On my travels over the Denali, I have seen caribou, moose, swans, and ptarmigan. Don’t forget your binoculars.
Highlights of the Denali Highway
Landmark Gap View At about mile 22 on the highway, check out this amazing viewpoint. A caribou herd migrates through the area. McGinnis Peak and Mount Moffit are visible through Landmark Gap. A trail off the highway travels back to Landmark Gap Lake. It is amazingly gorgeous. Pack your fishing pole.
Kettle Lakes These small lakes were created by ice left behind by retreating glaciers. These can be found at around mile 41.
Susitna River This river is one of the most important rivers in Alaska. It is a major drainage system of the Denali region. Valdez Creek Mine is on the river, although it is now closed.
Brushkana Creek My husband loved fishing this creek. It is a refreshing place to stop after traveling about 100 miles on the highway from Paxson.
References and Other Reading:
“Denali Highway.” The Milepost. N.Pag. Web. 30 Aug. 2010. http://milepost.com/index.php?Itemid=356&id=296&option=com_content&task=view
“Denali Highway Points of Interest.” BLM Recreation Guide. U.S. Department of the Interior.