Denali Highway, Alaska
A Mile-by-Mile Guide
A Guide to the Denali Highway
The Denali Highway is about 135 miles long and connects Paxson Lodge on the Richardson Highway with the Cantwell junction on the Parks Highway.
It is generally open from mid-May to October 1, and is paved only for the first 21 miles west of Paxson and 3 miles east to the Cantwell Junction.
Points of Interest
Note: The red numbers (given east to west) on
the map, indicate points of interest . Mileposts (MP) are approximate mileages.
There are only a few actual highway milepost markers along the road. For travel
east to west, set your odometer at 0 at the Paxson Lodge and use the first MP
in the numbered pair. For travel west to east, set your odometer at 0 just as
you turn onto the Denali Highway at Cantwell and use the second MP number.
- Paxson Lodge on Richardson Highway
Denali Highway Cabins
- Alaska Range/glacial geology
To the north is one of the state's greatest mountain ranges, the Alaska Range.
Several peaks in view have elevations greater than 12,000 feet. This range
extends in a great arc from Cook Inlet through the Mt. McKinley massif and
on to the Canadian border, a distance of 650 miles. The Gulkana and Gakona
glaciers, seen from this point, have formed as a result of the buildup of
snowfields high in the Alaska Range. Layers of snow accumulate year after
year and are compacted into ice. As the glacier becomes heavier, it begins
to move downslope, scraping and gouging the rock over which it passes. This
action, called glacial erosion, contributes to the rugged, jagged appearance
of the Alaska Range, and creates the long U-shaped valleys seen from the road.
MP 10.0/125.0 Short trail to Ten Mile Lake, where you can fish for burbot.
- Wrangell Mountain viewpoint
The Wrangell Mountains are about 78 air miles to the southeast. Mt. Sanford
(16,237') is the prominent peak on the left, Mt. Drum (12,010') is seen on
the right, and Mt. Wrangell (14,163') is in the center. Mt. Wrangell is the
northernmost active volcano on the Pacific Rim and occasionally releases steam.
Look for the Denali Highway orientation sign on the south side of the road.
- Tangle Lakes Archaeological District
(east boundary) MP 16.0/119.0
More than 500 archaeological sites indicate that ancient peoples inhabited
this area for at least 10,000 years. Because this district has some of the
densest concen-trations of archaeological resources in the North American
subarctic, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To protect these prehistoric reminders of the past for further study, off-road
vehicle travel is limited to designated roads and trails from this point west to MP 38. Collection of artifacts is illegal.
MP 17.0/118.0 Trail to Little Swede Lake (2 miles) and Swede Lake (3 miles).
- Tangle River Inn MP 20.0/115.0
- MP 21.0/114.0 Pavement ends/begins.
- Tangle Lakes Campground MP 21.5/113.5
BLM campground, water pump, toilets, and boat launch. Look for an interpretive sign about caribou migration at the entrance road pull off. In the Tangle
Lakes area, there is a series of long, narrow lakes that are connected by the Tangle River and form the headwaters of the Delta River. This lake and
river system was designated as the Delta National Wild and Scenic River. The Delta River is a popular 30-mile float trip with a half-mile portage around
two falls. Put-in is at Tangle Lakes boat launch and take out is at MP 212 on the Richardson Highway.
- Delta National Wild & Scenic River
BLM wayside, boat launch, picnic area and toilets. It is a launch point for extended wilderness canoe trips in the upper Tangle Lakes system with a 1/mile
portage to Dickey Lake in the Gulkana River drainage. The area south of here is dotted with numerous lakes of all sizes that provide important wildlife
- Tangle Lakes Lodge MP 22.0/113.0
- Landmark Gap view MP 22.5/112.5
Landmark Gap is a glacially-scoured cut in the mountains that formed during an Ice Age more than 10,000 years ago. The Gap has been a caribou migration
route and a favorite Indian hunting area in centuries past. The Nelchina caribou herd still uses this area today. The mountain peaks visible through the Gap
are McGinnis Peak (11,400') and Mt. Moffit (13,020').
MP 24.7/110.3 One lane bridge across Rock Creek.
MP 25.0/110.0 Trail to Landmark Gap Lake (3 miles)
MP 30.7/104.3 Trail to Glacier Lake (2 miles)
- Alaska Range and Maclaren River viewpoint
You are now at an elevation of about 4,000 feet, just a short distance from the Maclaren Summit, at 4,086 feet the second highest highway summit in Alaska (the highest is Atigan Pass on the Dalton Highway).
Stop and enjoy the panoramic view of the Alaska Range and the Maclaren River. Mt. Hayes (13,832') and the Maclaren River and Glacier are dominant features,
but Aurora Peak, Mt. Shand and Mt. Geist may also be seen. The Maclaren River flows from the Maclaren Glacier south to the Susitna River and then into Cook
Inlet just west of Anchorage.
Vegetation at this elevation is low-growing alpine tundra. Wildflowers bloom in abundance during the short Alaskan summer (June and July). Look for pikas,
ground squirrels and ptarmigan.
- Palsa MP 41.0/94.0
(no parking spot) Road construction in 1957 cut into the partially collapsed palsa on the south side of the road and initiated its deterioration.
A palsa is a small dome-like frost mound, usually 10 to 20 feet high, containing peat. Closer examination reveals individual ice and peat layers characteristic
of a palsa.
- Kettle lakes MP 41.5/93.5
Several small lakes and depressions in this area were formed when chunks of ice broke off retreating glaciers and were buried in the glacial debris. The
ice eventually melted, leaving circular-shaped depressions called kettles.
- Maclaren River Lodge, Maclaren Glacier
viewpoint, Maclaren River Bridge
The Maclaren Glacier is about 16 miles north.
MP 43.3/91.7 Maclaren River Road and Maclaren River trailhead
- Crazy Notch MP 46.0/89.0
The Crazy Notch was formed by the actions of ice and water. The Maclaren Glacier once flowed through the Maclaren River Valley and deposited a lateral morainea
buildup of rocks on the sides of the glacier. Crazy Notch was created when a glacial stream cut through the moraine. The notch acts as a natural snow
catchment, closing the Denali Highway in winter with huge snowdrifts.
- Waterfowl lakes MP 49.5/85.5
These lakes and ponds are excellent summer habitat for many species of waterfowl and shorebirds. Look for diving and dabbling ducks, geese, grebes, and shorebirds.
You may also spot bald eagles, moose, caribou, beaver and fox in the vicinity. Look for the interpretive sign on the north side of the road.
Clearwater Wayside/Outhouse MP 55.5/79.5
MP 55.6/79.4 One lane bridge across Clearwater Creek
- Eskers MP 59.0/76.0
You are driving on an esker, a sinuous ridge of silt, sand, gravel and cobbles that were carried and deposited by a stream that flowed within the glacier
and was confined by walls of ice. When the glacier melted away, these deposits were left as elongated mounds. Eskers along this highway are some of North
America's outstanding examples of this type of glacial feature.
MP 68.0/57.0 Hatchet Lake Road (4x4 only)
MP 77.0/48.0 Private airstrip
MP 79.0/46.0 Valdez Creek Road leads to the abandoned mining camp of Denali. Originally developed in 1903, the area was worked extensively until 1995.
- Susitna River MP 79.5/55.5
One lake bridge across the Susitna River, a major drainage system in the Denali region. The river flows south from the Susitna Glacier and the Alaska Range and eventually turns
west to flow through the Talkeetna Mountains and then south to empty into Cook Inlet. The Susitna is not floatable because of Devil's Canyon downstream.
MP 81.0/54.0 Trail to Snodgrass Lake (2 miles)
- Gracious House MP 82.5/52.5
- Valdez Creek Mine Viewpoint MP 85.0/50.0
Look across the Susitna River to the east for a view of the Valdez Creek gold mine reclamation in the foothills of the Clearwater Mountains. Originally
discovered by the Peter Monahan party in 1903, about 495,000 Troy ounces of gold were produced from the mine before it closed in 1995.
- Alaska Range Viewpoint MP 85.5/49.5
Watch for a small hill on the north side of the highway. The slight climb for about 600 yards is well worth the effort. You will be rewarded with a
breathtaking view of Mt. Deborah (12,339'), Mt. Hess (11,940') and the Susitna River valley.
- Alaska Range Interpretive Sign MP
95.0/40.0 (gravel "road"on north side of highway)
- Adventures Unlimited MP 100.0/35.0
- Brushkana Creek Campground
BLM campground with firepits, water, toilets, trail and 18 campsites that are available on a first- come, first-served basis. The creek is home to Arctic grayling and
MP 106.5/28.5 Canyon Creek
MP 111.0/23.0 One lane bridge across Seattle Creek, which has Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden.
- Taiga MP 111.5/23.5
At northern latitudes there is a short, cool growing season followed by a long, cold winter. The trees that survive under these harsh conditions have
stunted growth caused by permafrost, climactic conditions, elevation exposure, and other factors. These boreal forests are called "taiga"and are
dominated by spruce trees.
- Denali Highway Orientation Sign MP
- Nenana River MP 116.5/18.5
(gravel turnout) The Nenana River is a glacial river whose primary source is the Nenana Glacier. The river flows into the Tanana River west of
Fairbanks, which then flows into the Yukon River and out to the Bering Sea. The Nenana is not good for fishing because it carries a heavy glacial silt
load during the summer but it is increasingly popular for river running.
MP 127.5/7.5 Bridge across Fish Creek, which has good Arctic grayling fishing early in the summer.
- Mt. McKinley View MP 124.0/11.0 to
During clear weather, there are excellent views of North America's highest peak on this section of road. Approximately 80 percent of its 20,320' elevation
rises above the surrounding landscape, making its base-to-summit rise greater than that of Mt. Everest.
- MP 132.0/3.0
- Junction with Parks Highway MP 135.0/0.0
Cantwell is approximately 2 miles to the west.