ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth

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.

Denali NP 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Lodging Lodging Campgrounds Campgrounds Boat Ramp Boat Launching Ramp
Food ServiceFood Service RestroomsRestrooms FuelFuel
Groceries Groceries Interpretive SiteInterpretive Site Picnic Area Picnic Area
  1. Paxson Lodge on Richardson Highway
    MP 0.0/135

    Denali Highway Cabins
    MP 0.2/134.8

  2. Alaska Range/glacial geology
    MP 6.5/128.5
    Interpretive Site
    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.


  3. Wrangell Mountain viewpoint
    MP 13.0/122.0

    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.

  4. 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).


  5. Tangle River Inn
    MP 20.0/115.0

  6. MP 21.0/114.0 Pavement ends/begins.

  7. Tangle Lakes Campground
    MP 21.5/113.5
    Campground Boat Ramp Picnic Area Restrooms
    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.

  8. Delta National Wild & Scenic River Wayside
    MP 21.5/113.5
    Campground Boat Ramp Picnic Area Restrooms
    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 habitat.

  9. Tangle Lakes Lodge
    MP 22.0/113.0

  10. 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)


  11. Alaska Range and Maclaren River viewpoint
    MP 37.0/98.0

    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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. Maclaren River Lodge, Maclaren Glacier viewpoint, Maclaren River Bridge
    MP 42.0/93.0

    The Maclaren Glacier is about 16 miles north.

    MP 43.3/91.7 Maclaren River Road and Maclaren River trailhead


  15. 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 moraine - a 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.

  16. Waterfowl lakes
    MP 49.5/85.5
    Interpretive Site
    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.

  17. Clearwater Creek - Denali Highway, Alaska Clearwater Wayside/Outhouse
    MP 55.5/79.5 Restrooms

    MP 55.6/79.4 One lane bridge across Clearwater Creek


  18. 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.


  19. 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)


  20. Clearwater Mountain Lodge (formerly Gracious House Lodge)
    MP 82.5/52.5

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. Alaska Range Interpretive Sign
    MP 95.0/40.0
    (gravel "road"on north side of highway) Interpretive Site

  24. Adventures Unlimited
    MP 100.0/35.0

  25. Brushkana Creek Campground
    MP 104.0/31.0
    Campground Restrooms Picnic Area
    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 Dolly Varden.

    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.


  26. 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.

  27. Denali Highway Orientation Sign
    MP 115.0/20.0
    Interpretive Site

  28. 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.


  29. Mt. McKinley View
    MP 124.0/11.0 to 130.5/4.5

    During clear weather, there are excellent views of North America's highest peak on this section of road. Approximately 80 percent of its 20,237 foot (6,168 meter) elevation rises above the surrounding landscape, making its base-to-summit rise greater than that of Mt. Everest.

  30. MP 132.0/3.0
    Pavement begins/ends

  31. Junction with Parks Highway
    MP 135.0/0.0

    Cantwell is approximately 2 miles to the west. Groceries Food Service Lodging Gasoline