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"Along Denali Highway (Paxson to Cantwell)" Top 5 Page for this destination Alaska Travelogue by PA2AKgirl

Alaska Travel Guide: 7,135 reviews and 15,736 photos

Not an all season road...

Note: The Denali Highway doesn't go through Denali National Park. It connects the Richardson Highway to the Parks Highway--the only road that does so between Glennallen (Glenn Highway to Palmer) Fairbanks (where the 2 highways meet up)

This highway is one we've wanted to drive for some time. Unfortunately, we weren't in the state during its open months so we planned to take it this summer. We still will but really, the "road closed" thing was just a suggestion. Being so close to the date it's supposed to open, we decided to take drive during a time when few people would be traveling this route

Travel at your own risk

Between October and mid May, this road isn't maintained. This means if something happens to you out here, it's not the state's fault and you're pretty much on your own. Since most of it is gravel and this area gets a ton of snow with bitter temperatures, the chance that something could happen isn't unrealistic.

So, why risk it? Well, if you like to use snowmachines/snowmobiles, it looks like a great area and you don't have to worry about cars. And if it's spring, there are lots of caribou here--no traffic to bother them. Maybe it's just the isolation that's appealing. For those just visiting Alaska, most likely the road will be open when you're here and none of this applies anyway.

How many warnings do we need?

A bit beyond the pavement on the Cantwell side, we came across this foreboding sign of the condtions ahead. Still, it's placement right on the side of the road makes you wonder if someone put it there.

It's absolutely beautiful

This is Alaska. By this I mean, it's what you think of when you picture this state. It's empty, it's not an easy road one that winds through open tundra. You can see forever but you feel small. It's quiet. Absolutely silent except for the running of the new thawed streams and some birds. The way Alaska is supposed to be.

Late April and there is still quite a bit of's also windy and a little cold. But that just added to the beauty and kept most other drivers away. We'll be back in the summer, though because there are trails that run along this highway--part of the Delta Wild and Scenic River and the Tangle Lakes Archaeological District. Also, there were clouds hiding the Wrangell Mountains. From here, on a clear day, the view is supposed to be incredible. This whole glacially carved area is incredible, though...


There are lodges along the highway and camping areas. Right at junction of the Richardson and the Denali highways, there is this place. We took a picture of it not because they are especially lovely cabins but because it's a weird combination of things they advertise to try to lure in the guests.


So, it's not like this road connects 2 major cities. It was used originally as the only road to get to Denali National Park (when it was called McKinley National Park). Paxson has some gas, a place to eat, lodging and this poor former roadhouse. Less than 50 people live here...

And then Cantwell

You're approaching Denali National Park...gorgeous backdrop, big park, railroad, lots of tourism from the Parks Highway...this place has to have a decent population, right? Well, close. 166. More of the same: lodge, gas, food and a trading post. Lots of ORV riding here.

UPDATE: drove the highway again in August. More information is in an album on my homepage

  • Page Updated May 9, 2016
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