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Denali & the Alaska Range
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Denali & the Alaska Range


George Parks Highway (AK3) -- Wasilla to Fairbanks


Denali State Park

Denali National Park and Preserve

McKinley Park (the town)


Denali Highway (AK8)

National Wild and Scenic Rivers: Delta and Gulkana

Central Richardson Highway (AK4) -- Glenallen to Delta Junction

Denali Highway (AK8)

Road Conditions and Attractions—135 miles. Twenty-one miles at the east end are paved; the rest is graded gravel that can be rough, potholed, washboarded, muddy, or partially washed out in spots. Treeless high country with views, river and backcountry access, wildlife viewing, backcountry lodging, and solitude.

Stretching 136 miles from Cantwell to Paxson, the mostly gravel Denali Highway crosses the wide, wild land south of the central Alaska Range. Before the Parks Highway was completed in 1971, all vehicle-dependent visitors to Denali came via the Richardson Highway to Paxson, across the Denali Highway to Cantwell, and up to the park entrance. Today this upcountry route is used by more-intrepid explorers, including hunters seeking backcountry access.

This is one of my favorite Alaskan roads. Three free BLM campgrounds and numerous roadside turnouts offer primitive bases from which to walk into the wild country with will, water, granola bars, compass, and map. The land is largely administered by the BLM and is open to unlimited exploration. There are several small trails leading off to lakes and fishing spots. Most of the route is between 3,000 and 4,000 feet in elevation. It pays to carry the Alaska Atlas & Gazetteer or other detailed maps since few of the many off-road options are marked along the highway.

The road is closed for much of the winter. Inquire about conditions before venturing forth, and make sure you are gassed up and supplied with emergency items—especially very early or late in the season.

Paxson (Mile 0)—See Richardson Highway, below.

Tangle Lakes Archaeological District (Mile 17 to Mile 35)—More than 400 archaeological sites have been identified within this 226,000-acre area, some with signs of human activity dating back 10,000 years. Restrictions are few within the district, though critical sites are off-limits to ATVs in the summer. For information, contact the BLM office in Glenallen (822-3217, see the Appendix).

Tangle River Inn (Mile 20), Paxson, 822-3970, 895-4022 (winter), $45 and up. Gas, cafe, motel, bar, showers, store, canoe rental, RV hook-ups. RH

Tangle Lakes BLM Campground (Mile 21.2), I mile north of road on lakeshore. Access to Delta River Canoe Trail (see below).

Tangle River BLM Campground (Mile 21.7), access to Upper Tangle Lakes Canoe Trail.

Tangle Lakes Lodge (Mile 22), 822-4202. Good choice for birders. Cabins $65–$150. New restaurant. BL

McLaren Summit (Mile 35.2, 4,086' elevation)—This divide between the Delta and McLaren River valleys is also the divide between the Yukon and Cook Inlet watersheds.

McLaren River Road (Mile 43.3)—Mountain bikers can head north (12 miles, 200' gain) to the terminus of McLaren Glacier, the closest glacier to the Denali Highway.

Susitna River Bridge (Mile 79.3)—Enjoy this one-lane, 1,000-foot bridge. The Susitna flows 260 miles from Susitna Glacier to Cook Inlet. River runners should inquire about Devils Canyon, which is downstream and generally considered unfloatable.

Gracious House Lodge and Flying Service (Mile 82), Cantwell, 333-3148, 822-7307. Cabins and motel ($110–$125), some private baths, bar, cafe, tentsites, "cash" gas, tire service. BL

Brushkana River BLM Campground (Mile 104.6)—Free camping with stream access.

Nenana River Put-in (Mile 117.7)—The highway passes very close to the Nenana River for a stretch, offering put-ins for trips that can utilize a variety of take-outs along the George Parks Highway as far as the Nenana-Tanana confluence in Nenana. From there, the Tanana flows to the Yukon, offering one last road’s-end take-out at Manley Hot Springs before rolling on to the Bering Sea. Beyond McKinley Park there are Class V stretches unsuitable for canoes. Rentals are possible along the Parks Highway near Denali (see the Appendix).

George Parks Highway Junction (Mile 133.7)—The last two official miles of the Denali Highway lead into the village of Cantwell.