Drive the Denali Highway

With over one hundred miles of rustic and rugged dirt road, the Denali Highway snakes through the high alpine foothills of the central Alaskan Range. Constructed in 1957 as the original road access to Denali National Park, the highway serves up some of Alaska's best mountain views and a quick escape from the rows of souvenir shops and adventure tours in The Canyon to the west. Listed by National Geographic as the "No. 2 Driver's Drive in the World," here are a few of our tips after the two and a half days we spent driving this breathtaking byway. 

SEE    The stunning views.

Most travel books note mileages on the highway from east to west, though we set off on the trip after our visit to Denali National Park and headed east out of Cantwell. Regardless of the direction you're traveling, the views on the Denali Highway are sure to impress, with a new jagged ridgeline or snow dusted peak nearly every direction you turn. 

Driving from the west: Views of Denali wave goodbye and the Alaska Range gives a grand greeting. North of the highway, mountains tower over alpine meadows -- Mount Deborah at 12,688 feet, followed by a steep and rocky Mount Hess at 11,940 feet and the tallest, Mount Hayes at 13,700 feet. 

As the highway weaves through valleys and over several major river drainage areas, it wraps around rocky ridges to reveal the Maclaren River Valley and the Macalaren Glacier. Following the valley, the road climbs to Maclaren Summit (4,086 feet and the second highest pass in Alaska) before dropping down through the Ampitheater Mountains and Tangle Lakes.

DO    Grayling Fishing at Tangle Lakes.

At the well-known Tangle Lakes area, we jumped on the fly-fishing opportunities for a day. With two lakes and the beginning of the Tangle River, this spot is a favorite for locals and travelers alike. With a few black flies and mosquitoes, we enjoyed a tasty grayling for dinner and two for lunch the next day. (Cooking technique mirrors that of Dolly Varden.)

There are also a few rough off-roading trails around, that are a lot of fun. We took the MacClaren River Road about 5 miles, though had to turn around as the river was too high to cross. Though the road stretches on for 14 miles and takes you awfully close to the mouth of MacCalaren Glacier.   

EAT   Breakfast at the Alpine Creek Lodge.

Claude and Jennifer are the friendly owners of the beautiful lodge located at mile 68 on the highway. A large cabin with a leisure and dining hall the length of the building, decked with deer mounts and furs -- trapped by their son, Bob -- the camp is the perfect oasis for hunters, ATVers, snowmobilers, etc. 

The all-you-can-eat-breakfast, by Chef Chrissy, is only $10 and served family-style at a long wooden table in the middle of the lodge. The delicious hash browns with bacon, blueberry pancakes, oatmeal, fruit and fresh coffee were just what we needed after a chilly night of camping in the mountains. 

SLEEP    Tangle Lakes Campground or one of the several dozens of primitive camping pullouts along the drive.

At only $6 a night, the Tangle Lakes Campground provides prime fishing, potable water and vault toilets. The rocky horizons boasting vivid sunsets are also well worth the minimal dinero.

GO    July or August. 

The road is closed to all traffic from October to mid-May each year, though snow can come down any month and usually makes an appearance in September -- here's a photo from the first snow this year, on September 17. We drove the highway in late August and enjoyed bright sunny days filled with fishing and blueberry picking. 

See more of our recent photos on Flickr / Find tips on Denali National Park


  1. Byegone if my favorite song of new Volcano Choir album, and I'm seeing them next Friday :) Looks like you two are having a great time, hope all is well!

  2. Great report and great photos! We drove the denali about a week or so before you did. It was rainy and overcast all day, so it was great to see what we missed! We spent those rare sunny days in Talkeetna and had a fantastic day for an overflight of Denali ( We're currently on the Kenai, but have a ferry booked heading south for Sep 26. Happy travels!

  3. Hey Witt! We had rain in Denali NP the week before. Loved your post on flying above Denali. That's something we wished we had done, but the weather wasn't cooperating with us that week!

  4. wow, denali is beyond gorgeous. i wanted to go and hunt bears there for the longest time, haha. so glad you went. what a dream trip!


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