If you want to go back in Alaska history, the Denali Highway is a great place to explore. Before the Parks Highway was built in 1972, visitors traveled from Anchorage on the Glenn Highway to Glennallen, then up to Paxon and over the Denali Highway to get to Denali National Park. The mostly gravel Denali Highway is less traveled today – at least when it’s not hunting season – and has stunning views of Denali and the Alaska Range. Most travelers drive the Denali Highway as a loop route, and you can do the whole 135-mile long Denali Highway in one day – but why would you want to? There are plenty of places to camp along the way, as well as some small lodges. Be sure to bring your hiking shoes, a berry bucket, and fishing pole for this road trip.
Fill up your gas tank and start driving from either end of the Denali Highway – from Cantwell on the Parks or Paxon on the Richardson – but for this itinerary, we’ll start in Paxon.
Day 1 From Fairbanks
From Fairbanks, head south along the Richardson Highway approximately 180 miles to Paxon. (Or, from Anchorage, take the Glenn Highway approximately 190 miles to Glennallen, then head north approximately 70 miles to Paxon.) Paxon is a pretty small town, but there’s camping and lodging nearby. Try fishing for lake trout in Paxon Lake, or take a raft trip down the Gulkana River. This place is all about the water!
Start your drive west on the Denali Highway to the Tangle Lakes area. Tangle Lakes is the access point for the Bureau of Land Management’s Delta National Wild and Scenic River and a canoer’s dream.
While most of the area surrounding the Denali Highway is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Alaska Department of National Resources manages the Tangle Lakes Archaeological District. This area, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been inhabited for more than 10,000 years. DNR limits off-road vehicle travel here in summer, but there are miles and miles of hiking trails leading to tundra, lakes, and interesting geological formations. It may be a bit soggy, but it’s a good place to birdwatch – and perhaps see the Nelchina caribou herd. If you’re a geologist – or just into rocks, you’ll see interesting land formations all along the Denali Highway, including views of the Wrangell Mountains, as well as the Alaska Range. You’ll cross both the Susitna and Nenana Rivers on this trip.
Camp overnight at a BLM campground or call ahead to make a reservation at a private lodge
Once you reach the end of the Denali Highway in Cantwell, you can point your truck towards Healy and on to Fairbanks, approximately 150 miles north, or Talkeetna and Anchorage, 210 miles south.