Just south of the legendary Denali National Park and Preserve on the George Parks Highway, the small town of Cantwell provides visitor services as well as access to the Denali Highway.
About Cantwell (Ahtna Athabascan: Yidateni Na’)
Thanks to the many people who visit Denali National Park and Preserve, 28 miles north, Cantwell is a full-service community that provides lodging, camping, food, and fuel right along the highway. Named after the Cantwell River, the original name for the Nenana River, Cantwell was established in the mid-1920s as a railroad construction camp and later became a flag stop for trains traveling between Anchorage and Fairbanks. After the Parks Highway was completed in 1971, the town’s commercial district shifted to the intersection of the Parks and Denali Highways.
In addition to close access to Denali National Park, Cantwell is a home base for dog mushing, fishing, and sightseeing tours. There are several lodging options including a couple of lodges and inns, plus an RV park.
Cantwell sits on the north end of Broad Pass, at mile 203.6 of the Parks Highway, where the Nenana River curves north and cuts through the Alaska Range. The pass is one of the most beautiful spots along the Parks Highway and the Alaska Railroad, both of which use the low gap to cross the Alaska Range. Along the highway are pull-outs and parking areas so travelers can stop to hike in the mountain valley, pick wild berries, or just soak in the scenery. Rivers to the south of the pass drain into Cook Inlet and those to the north flow to the Yukon River.
The Denali Highway, which is open and maintained seasonally, is one of Alaska’s most beautiful and rugged drives, and stretches from Cantwell about 100 miles east to the Tangle Lakes area and the Richardson Highway.
About 20 miles south of Cantwell is an architectural oddity that is hard to miss. A 4-story abandoned hotel shaped liked an igloo, known today as Igloo City, is a notable landmark and photo-op for visitors driving to Cantwell. The hotel was built in the 1970s but never opened due to coding issues. After operating as a gas station and gift shop for a several years, the operation shut down in the early 2000s and the building has been vacant ever since.
Learn more about Denali National Park and Preserve.