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Denali & the Alaska Range
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Denali & the Alaska Range

Introduction

George Parks Highway (AK3) -- Wasilla to Fairbanks

Talkeetna

Denali State Park

Denali National Park and Preserve

McKinley Park (the town)

Healy

Denali Highway (AK8)

National Wild and Scenic Rivers: Delta and Gulkana

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


George Parks Highway (AK 3)—Wasilla to Fairbanks

Road Conditions and Attractions—320 miles. Good, paved road with some passing lanes; heavily traveled, areas of bad frost-heave damage and slumping, railroad crossings, open year-round. Access to Susitna River valley recreation, Hatcher Pass Road, Talkeetna, Denali Highway, Denali National Park and Preserve, Nenana, Fairbanks.

The Parks Highway gets wilder in steps as it leaves the sprawl of Wasilla and curves north, following the Susitna River valley to the west and the Talkeetna Mountains to the east. Between Wasilla and Willow there is access to fishing lakes, lowland recreation areas, vacation cabins, homesteads, and scattered highway services. Beyond Talkeetna, the highway climbs gradually through increasingly scenic terrain, passing through Denali State Park and up into Broad Pass—one of the more lovely stretches of road anywhere. Views of Denali are possible from many points if the clouds lift.

Broad Pass separates the Chulitna and Nenana River basins and divides the Susitna and Yukon River watersheds. North of Cantwell the road descends the Nenana valley, sometimes through wide basins, often through narrow defiles. Moose can be seen near the river, and rafting parties are often seen in it. From Cantwell to the Alaska Range foothills at Healy, small inclusions of private lands host B&Bs, cabins, campgrounds, hotels, homes, airstrips, and businesses related to Denali National Park.

North of Healy the road follows the Nenana River through lowlands to its confluence with the Tanana in the town of Nenana, then traces a high ridgeline to the outskirts of Fairbanks.

Glenn Highway Junction (Mile 35)—The Parks Highway begins here. Mileposts reflect the distance to Anchorage.

Wasilla (Mile 42.2)—See Wasilla in chapter 9.

Little Susitna River Campground (Mile 57.3)—An 86-site developed campground operated by the City of Houston.

Houston (Mile 57.5)—One suspects that when Wasilla starts to look like metro-Anchorage, Houston (population 956, 3.6 percent native) will be the new Wasilla.

Nancy Lake State Recreation Area (Mile 67.2)—This 22,685-acre, multi-use state recreation area encompasses a region of forest-covered low hills interspersed with numerous lakes. A 6.5-mile road provides access to four trailheads, three put-ins, and a 98-site campground. Twelve rental cabins are scattered on the shores of four different lakes; two are on islands.

Of particular interest is the 8-mile chain of lakes in the Lynx Lake Loop canoe route. The route can be paddled in a day, though it makes a great overnight trip. With the long Alaska days, you can put-in in the late afternoon, paddle to a great campsite or cabin, and be back on the road by noon the next day. For a longer trip, put-in to the Little Susitna at Mile 57 of the Parks Highway. Take the marked portage to Skeetna Lake and follow the lake chain to the recreation area road. Contact the ranger, Mile 1.3, Nancy Lake Parkway, 495-6273, www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks/units/nancylk/nancylk.htm.

Miners Last Stand Museum (Mile 68.7)—You can’t miss this thoroughly Alaskan-style combination of gift shop, museum, and theme attraction. The museum immortalizes Soapy Smith, who prospected at Hatcher Pass before heading to Skagway to enjoy a notorious final fling of ruthlessness. Open daily in summer, 495-6479, $3.

Willow (Mile 69)—This small settlement (population 368, 1.1 percent native) at Willow Lake near the junction of the Parks Highway and Hatcher Pass Road is essentially a roadside center for a larger homestead area. Travel services are spread out around Mile 69.

Willow Trading Post Lodge (Mile 69.5), Willow Station Road (turn east at Mile 69.5, turn left at post office after tracks), Willow, 495-6457. $70 double, $70–$80 cabin double, $50 cabin or room (shared bath). Good location, lots of character, cozy restaurant and bar, friendly hosts. RH

Willow Creek State Recreation Area (Mile 70.8)—Follow road 4 miles to $10 sites and creek access.

Hatcher Pass Road Junction (Mile 71.2)—Turn east here to reach Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine State Park (see chapter 9). The road climbs gradually along Willow Creek into the Talkeetna Mountains, passing small ranches, homes, and signs of mining activity.

Lucky Husky Racing Kennel (Mile 80)—Stop here for a look at the world of sled dogs and racing, and perhaps for a ride in a wheeled sled (or a real one in winter). They took a break in the summer of 2003 and I'm not sure what's in store for the future, but expect the availability of trips and tours almost yearround. Check their web site. Mile 80 Parks Highway, Willow, 495-6470, www.luckyhusky.com. Open May–September Wednesday–Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., by reservation at other times; tour $6, sled ride $24.

Sheep Creek Lodge (Mile 88.2), Willow, AK 99688, 495-6227, www.sheepcreeklodge.com. Impressive log lodge. Restaurant, camping, cabins for $30 and up. RH

Montana Creek (Mile 96.6)—Though not an incorporated town, the area was homesteaded in the 1950s and is now home to about 200 people.

Talkeetna Road Junction (98.7)—Turn east and head 15 miles down this spur road to reach Talkeetna (see below). Stop here at the Talkeetna Visitor Information Center for area info. Consider visiting Talkeetna and using one of the excellent air services for Denali area flightseeing.

One mile up Talkeetna Spur Road is Mary Carey’s Fiddlehead Fern Farm, 733-2428. Not surprisingly, it’s the only one of its kind in the world. Fiddleheads make a tasty, healthy Alaskan treat. Frozen, pickled, and fresh (in season) fiddleheads are on sale, as are plants and seeds. Read about Mary Carey below at the Mile 134.5 entry.

Trapper Creek and Petersville Road Junction (Mile 115)—The official population of Trapper Creek (population 304, 6.1 percent native) includes fewer than half of the area residents, many of whom homesteaded nearby and along Petersville Road. There are plenty of highway services.

Denali State Park (Mile 132 to Mile 169)—See below.

Mary Carey and Mary’s McKinley View Lodge (Mile 134.5)—Mary Carey is an area legend. While a reporter, she explored the Mount McKinley region by air. She circled the world twice and authored 10 books, mainly about Alaska and Texas. After homesteading here in 1962, she lived a rugged, isolated life while fighting for the development of the Parks Highway.

Though Mary Carey is no longer alive, her lodge is still in business on the only significant roadside private parcel within the bounds of Denali State Park. Some of the best southern views of Denali are available here.

Mary’s McKinley View Lodge, George Parks Highway, Trapper Creek, 733-1555. Unbeatable views, $75 rooms, restaurant (open 8–8), keepers who know the area history.

Denali Viewpoint (Mile 135.2)—One of the best southern views of the mountain is found here, in part because the Denali State Park stretch of the Parks Highway is the closest highway approach to the summit—as close as the national park road.

Troublesome Creek State Campground and Trailhead (Mile 137.3)—The campground has 10 $6 sites near this lovely, clear stream. The Troublesome Creek Trail can also be accessed at Mile 137.6 (see Denali State Park, below, for details).

Byers Lake State Campground (Mile 147)—Black bears are common here. There is trail access around Byers Lake to the Troublesome Creek/Kesugi Ridge trail system. 66 sites, $12.

Alaska Veterans Memorial (Mile 147.2)—A nice location for a deserved monument.

Denali View North State Campground (Mile 162.5)—Twenty sites, short trail, and nice views.

Little Coal Creek Trailhead (Mile 163.8)—This is the north end of the state park trail system that includes Troublesome Creek Trail, Kesugi Ridge Trail, and Byers Lake Trail (see Denali State Park, below, for details).

Hurricane Gulch (Mile 174)—Stop at the south end of the bridge and find the unmarked trail on the east side of the road that leads along the gulch edge. The bridge is 550 feet above Hurricane Creek.

The Igloo (Mile 188.5)—You can’t miss it, though you can easily live without it. Services here.

Sourdough Paul’s Bed and Breakfast (Mile 193), Cantwell, 768-2020. Finnish sauna, full breakfast, Denali view, northern lights (winter).

Broad Pass (Mile 195 to Mile 210, 2,300' elevation)—This long, wide basin is largely unforested, affording marvelous views of the Alaska Range to the northwest, the Talkeetnas to the southeast, and "the great one"—if it’s out. Watch for wildlife and photo ops.

Cantwell (Mile 209.9)—The little town of Cantwell (population 145, 22.4 percent native) sits at the north end of Broad Pass where the Nenana River curves north and cuts through the Alaska Range. Highway services are available around the intersection of the Parks and Denali Highways. The Cantwell Road heads west 2 miles to the actual settlement, located along the Alaska Railroad tracks. The annual Cantwell Music Festival, generally scheduled the first weekend after July 4, offers a small, enjoyable and very Alaskan weekend.

Cantwell Lodge (Mile 209.9), 768-2300, www.cantwellodge.com, old-town Cantwell at train tracks (2 miles west of Mile 209.9), Cantwell. $70 and up. Roadhouse style in town, cafe, bar, liquor store, basic at best.

Denali Highway Junction (Mile 209.9)—Turn east to take the 136-mile route across the high country between the crests of the Alaska and Talkeetna Mountains. See Denali Highway, below, for details.

Carlo Creek Lodge (Mile 223.9), HC2 Box 1530, Healy 99743, 683-2576. Creekside cabins $75–$95, RV and tent sites $11 and up, store. Some very nice wooded sites.

The Perch (Mile 224), Healy, AK 99743, 683-2523. The closest thing to fine dining near Denali, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily in summer. Cabins available year-round, $65–$95. Call for winter dining hours.

Rick Swenson’s Carlo Heights B&B (Mile 224.1), 683-1615. Also a sled-dog school! Rick is an Iditarod champion.

McKinley Village Resort (Mile 231.1), 241 West Ship Creek Avenue, Anchorage, 99504, (800) 276-7234, 276-7234, www.denaliparkresorts.com. One of Aramark’s two big Denali resorts. Many bus tourists. Rooms $120–$200.

Denali River Cabins (Mile 231.1), (800) 230-7275, 683-2500, www.denalirivercabins.com. Cabins, lodge, and restaurant on the Nenana River. Crowded but nice, $140 and up, cheaper in shoulder season.

Denali National Park and Preserve Entrance (Mile 237.3)—Turn west into the park. The visitor center, hotel, and entrance campgrounds are all within 3 miles (see below).

McKinley Park (Mile 238 to Mile 239)—See below.

Healy (Mile 248 to Mile 251)—See below.

Anderson Road Junction: Clear and Anderson (Mile 283.5)—Anderson (population 626, 3.7 percent native) is a small community situated on the banks of the Nenana River. Closer to the highway are the gates of the Clear Missile Early Warning Station, an active military installation. Both are reached by a westbound road that meets the Parks Highway at Mile 283.5. Clear is worth a peek at the gate, but that’s all you’ll get. Sleepy Anderson offers little more, except when the town comes alive the last weekend in July for the annual Anderson Bluegrass Festival. The large Riverside Park, where the festival is held, is good for picnicking and camping. Tent and RV sites are $10, $12 with hook-ups. P.O. Box 3100, Anderson, AK 99744, 582-2500.

Nenana (Mile 304.5)—See chapter 14.

Monderosa (Mile 308.9), Nenana, 832-5243. Known far and wide as the place to get delicious, big burgers and more.

George Parks Monument (344.2)—There’s a viewpoint here as well.

Ester Junction (Mile 351.7)—See Fairbanks, chapter 14.

Fairbanks City Limit (Mile 356)—See chapter 14.