Alaska RVing: to Tok via the Denali Highway

On Day 12 of the trip, Wednesday, August 12th, we drove 224 km (139 mi) from Denali National Park to Tangle Lakes Campground on the Denali Highway. The next day was a long one, 476 km (296 mi) to Tok via Copper Center.

We left Riley Creek Campground just after 11:00, with the first stop being the sani-dump and fresh water refill station. This is the best facility like this I’ve seen – clean and efficient, with 2 islands for moving a lot of people through quickly.

Sani-dump and fresh water refill station at Riley Creek Campground, Denali Park
The last weather forecast I’d seen called for sunshine for what could be one of the most scenic days of the trip, but it started off with occasional showers that at least eliminated any dust on the long construction area just south of the park. The clouds were high enough that we were able to see the peaks of the Alaska Range as we passed through it, so it was all okay.

Construction on the Parks Highway, Alaska
It was 1:00 when we finally turned on to the Denali Highway – the first 3 miles and the last 21 miles are paved. This highway gets little use by tourists, as it’s notorious for being rough, and most vehicle rental companies don’t allow their cars and RVs on it.

Denali Highway, west end
It felt really good to be back on the Denali. Just 10 minutes from Cantwell, the views of endless wilderness begin. I’ve driven tours across it a few times, but my last drive across it had been many years before. The posted speed is 50 mph, and on the western part of the road the surface was smooth enough to get close to that.

Denali Highway, Alaska
Lovely reflections at 1:20 pm – Joe Lake at Mile 126.2 (from Paxson, the east end), I think.

Denali Highway, Alaska
The Brushkana River bridge at Mile 104.6, at 2:10 pm. A 22-site campground to the left was filled to overflowing.

Brushkana River bridge, Denali Highway, Alaska
Just east of the Brushkana River, the views of the Alaska Range get dramatically better.

Spectacular mountains along the Denali Highway, Alaska
With caribou hunting season open, every possible camping spot along most of the highway was full.

Denali Highway, Alaska
A narrow, 1,036-foot-long bridge crosses the Susitna River at Mile 79.5, where a fire had recently burned the hillside on the far side of the river.

Susitna River bridge, Denali Highway, Alaska
Just before 4:00, we gave up on finding a nice place to stop for a late lunch (now an early dinner), and just pulled over to the side at a slightly wider spot on the road.

RVs parked along the Denali Highway, Alaska
Highway traffic was mostly Alaskans, mostly in pickups or smaller RVs. It would be a long dusty or muddy ride on a bike, even a motorized one. You can see on the right side of this photo how bad the washboarding was on some sections of the road.

Motorcycle on the Denali Highway, Alaska
The view east from Mile 48. The highway is almost constantly on, or beside a glacial feature of one sort or another – 2 miles ahead, it goes through a deep notch in a moraine known as Crazy Notch.

Denali Highway, Alaska
Just before 7:00, we reached our destination for the night, the Tangle Lakes BLM Campground at Mile 21.3. I was extremely pleased and a bit surprised to find a couple of the 45 sites available. For $12 per night for a site large enough for both rigs, it was perfect. Goldie had picked up quite a load of mud during the day! We had averaged a little under 25 mph during the day – for many long stretches, the best I could do was well under 20.

Tangle Lakes BLM Campground on the Denali Highway, Alaska
I stretched my legs a bit by climbing a hill to get this panoramic shot of the campground. Being late, we all had a simple supper, took the dogs for a longer walk down to the lake, and were in bed early.

Tangle Lakes BLM Campground on the Denali Highway, Alaska
The next morning (Thursday, August 13), started of with a fairly thick, cold fog.

Foggy morning at the Tangle Lakes BLM Campground on the Denali Highway, Alaska
The fog burned off fairly quickly, and just before 11:00, Cathy and I took the dogs on a long walk up a nice trail that climbed an esker towering over the campground.

Tangle Lakes BLM Campground on the Denali Highway, Alaska
We were back on the road just after 11:30. As spectacular as the scenery along the highway had been the previous day, it was even better this day. This photo was shot right at noon, at about Mile 9.

Denali Highway, Alaska
A large paved rest area at Mile 7 offers a stunning panoramic view of the Alaska Range, Fielding, Sevenmile and Summit Lakes, and the Gulkana Glacier.

Rest area at Mile 7 of the Denali Highway, Alaska
By 1:00 pm, we were on the Richardson Highway which runs between Fairbanks and Valdez, headed for Copper Center. The pickup truck in front of us in this photo (we were slowly following a pilot car through a construction area) had had a successful caribou hunt.

Richardson Highway, Alaska
A large pullout allowed for a good dog walk and this broad view of the Gulkana River valley.

View along the Richardson Highway, Alaska

In Copper Center, my plan to have an unannounced visit with a long-time friend who I’ve only talked with by email or on Facebook didn’t work out, but we had an excellent lunch a block away.

Back on the Tok Cutoff, we got stopped for 45 minutes by this project.

Road construction on the Tok Cutoff Highway, Alaska
An hour from Tok, we came across a very bad crash – a southbound pickup seems to have crossed the centre line, glanced off a pickup towing a large 5th wheel trailer, then hit the 5th wheel and destroyed it. The driver of the southbound pickup was extremely badly injured but I can’t find any information about it online. From the police accident-scene activity there, I think that he was expected to die. A woman we met at the campground later witnessed it close up and was traumatized 🙁

Accident on the Tok Cutoff, Alaska
We had originally planned to go back to the Tundra Lodge Campground in Tok (because we liked it), but decided at the last minute to try a new place, and the Sourdough Campground reviewed well. It was a good choice.

Sourdough Campground in Tok, Alaska
I rather reluctantly joined the others at the Pancake Toss, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. Being the only one who hit the bucket with both pancakes didn’t hurt the fun at all 🙂

Pancake Toss at the Sourdough Campground in Tok, Alaska
The owners are new this year, and have done a great deal of work to improve the property. There are still some minor rough edges, but nothing that detracted from the experience.

Laundry at the Sourdough Campground in Tok, Alaska
The quality of their open-air museum surprised me.

Open-air museum at the Sourdough Campground in Tok, Alaska
Our sites were large and almost level.

Camp site at Sourdough Campground in Tok, Alaska

The trip was almost over – the next day, we’d drive to Congdon Creek Campground on Kluane Lake and spend our final night with MJ and Jim. They had to have their RV back to Fraserway on Saturday morning, but we’d spend the Discovery Day holiday weekend there and return home on Monday.

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