Denali Highway - Best of the Last Frontier
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
Anyone who has ever road-tripped down the Denali Highway knows exactly what all the rage is about. The panoramic beauty is incredible, while the tranquility of being so remote is empowering. When National Geographic listed Alaska’s beloved Denali Highway as one of the top 10 greatest drives in America, we weren’t surprised in the slightest. A drive on the 135-mile-long (mostly gravel) Denali Highway is worthy of everyone’s bucket list this summer season. Flickr - Bureau of Land Management
The Denali Highway connects Cantwell on the George Parks Highway, to Paxson on the Richardson Highway. It was originally opened in 1957 as the first road accessing Denali National Park and America’s highest peak: Denali. At the time, the park was named Mount McKinley National Park. In 1971, the primary access to Denali National Park & Preserve became the George Parks Highway.Flickr - aliza sherman
Beautiful sights along the way include Mount Hayes (13,832. ft. high) and Mount Deborah (12,688 ft. high) in the Alaska Range. On a clear day, stop at milepost 15 and enjoy panoramic views overlooking the Wrangell Mountains, Chugach Mountains, and the Alaska Range. Talk about a triple whammy! The Denali Highway is nothing short of extraordinary. The recommended speed limit on the Denali Highway is 30 miles per hour—a good excuse to slow down and take more time to see the sights. Flickr - Bureau of Land Management
The long winding road gives way to towering mountain peaks in every direction, with vibrant flora and ample amounts of wildlife. Flickr - Donnie Kolb
On the Denali Highway, traffic jams are actually something to look forward to. Don’t be surprised if you see moose, bears, caribou, and much more wildlife. This area is also a spectacular birding destination. Flickr - Bureau of Land Management
Travelers down the Denali Highway are sure to be awed by the mountain peaks and glistening glaciers of the Alaska Range. At 4,086 feet, this is the second highest road in Alaska. Flickr - Mandy Jansen
If you’re an angling addict or a beginner looking to pick up a new hobby, the Denali Highway connects with several excellent fly fishing streams. Flickr - Dawn Endico
Camp in paradise and wake up to a million dollar view off the Denali Highway. There are dozens of pullouts where travelers can camp on public lands, or they can enjoy the comforts of more developed campgrounds at Tangle Lakes (Milepost 22) or Brushkana Creek (Milepost 104). Flickr - FairbanksMike
In the midst of the action-packed summer season, where RV’s and motor coaches line the highways for miles on end, do you ever have the craving to get away from it all? The Denali Highway is a great place to disappear into the raw, rugged, untouched version of mother nature. Flickr - Alexandra K. Diem
The Denali Highway is known for being an excellent place to soak in a colorful sunset or alpenglow. Red painted mountains and picture-perfect reflections are just some of the (many) magical moments that you can expect to find on this incredible drive. Flickr - J McDowell
Bring your four-legged best friend and stop (as often as possible) along the way. Enjoy hiking to a scenic lookout that you won’t find from the road. Flickr - FairbanksMike
Stop at Tangle Lakes off of the Denali Highway and go canoeing, hunting, fishing, or gathering under the glorious midnight sun. Flickr - Bureau of Land Management
The Denali Highway is closed from October through mid-May. Once summer arrives and the snow clears from the road, road-tripper’s heading down the Denali Highway won’t be able to ignore the snow-covered peaks and valleys in the distance. This is just a small reminder of Alaska’s frigid arctic climate that seasonal visitors don’t often get to experience. Flickr - M. King
After the peak of the blooming summer season, the Denali Highway is a stellar place to soak in magnificent fall foliage. The vibrant shades of orange, red, and yellow will keep you wide-eyed and unable to snooze throughout the entirety. Flickr - Kelly Marcum
Motorcyclists from far and wide travel north to Alaska each year, with a trip down the Denali Highway at the top of their list. Talk about living the dream! Flickr - Mr Hicks46
If you want to experience the Denali Highway without all the time in the car, a flightseeing tour is another great option for getting up close and personal with one of America’s top rated places. Flickr - Jonathan
If a road trip isn’t really your thing, or maybe you just want to break it up a little, consider biking parts of the Denali Highway. Enjoy all the same scenic beauty that the drive offers while soaking in fresh air and luscious amounts of vitamin D. Flickr - Bureau of Land Management
No matter how you choose to experience the Denali Highway, just make sure that you add it to the top of your summertime to-do list. Remember, there is a very good reason why this spectacular destination was named one of the top 10 drives in North America! If you are living and loving The Alaska Life – share your adventures with us on our Facebook page HERE, and they might just end up getting featured in one of our next blog posts.
Looking for more where that came from? Check out this Alaska road trip that will lead you through the most treasured tiny towns. Check out these 15 incredible lakes that will demand your attention this summer. Also, we're sure you'll agree with these 15 reasons why anyone who visits Alaska this summer won't want to leave.
Written by Courtney Dowd-Stanley
We took a motor home with seven people the entire length of the road and the road was paved and gravel but easy to drive on had a wonderful time and given the chance would do it again.
Dressing in layers is the key in Alaska. Temperatures can change quickly and will be surprisingly warm and dry to tourists if you hit on a warm spring day. Most days in May temps are around mid 50’sF . Occasionally, we may hit 65 ’ if you are lucky or not and you will complain to the hotel staff when there is no A/C.
I’ve been there, done that. Kyle is right. The majority of the highway is UNPAVED, and if you don’t want to run the risk of a flat tire, you darned well better drive very slowly. Worse than that, the no-see-ums and mosquitoes have been out-of-control insane during my visits there. Good luck.
What kind of clothing do we need between May 15 and 27? ty
We rent motorcycles that are equipped for this road. You must have experience on gravel road riding and tire repair. It is NOT chip sealed and can be very slippery in the rain. It is a great ride!
Such great memories of our trip there. A little disappointed the pictures don’t show more animals, we saw so many.
I used to live in Cantwell, what do I know? :)
For everyone reading, the entire Denali Highway is NOT chip-sealed despite what Richard says.
One if the highlights of our Alaska trip was driving and camping on this road in our RV. It’s everything they say and more. Pictures don’t do it justice! One of my favorite road trips!
You are correct Kyle. Only the two ends are paved. The majority is not paved.
Nope, you’re wrong. The entire Denali Highway is either paved (First 21 miles) or chip-sealed. Do your homework Kyle.
I’m with Kyle on that one. I drove Cantwell to the susitna River that’s approximately 52 MI and didn’t see any chip seal. This was late September 2018. The road was in good shape but it’s still gravel
This is not correct. Several miles from Paxon westward toward the Tangle Lakes area is paved and the vast majority of the rest of the highway is unpaved and gravel.
We drove the Denali Hwy in a motor home in 2010. Beautiful drive and no problems A few bumps and potholes but hey, its a gravel road.
The entire Denali Highway is now chip-sealed and considered a hard surface road. Rental companies should have no reason to deny travel on the Denali Highway.
We took the bus . It was very enjoyable last summer. Would consider that’s the way to go.
Margie, you’re correct. There’s a new local company in Anchorage called Alaska 4×4 Rentals that lets drive their cars on all state-maintained roads such as this one. And they rent sat-phones!
BTW, the rental car agencies don’t want you driving on gravel roads, so that means this and McCarthy i.e. travel at your own risk. There is also scant phone reception and services; be prepared to take care of yourself in emergencies.