Denali, Alaska Half the fun going to Denali National Park and Preserve was getting there! If you are driving from Anchorage as we did majority of the drive will go along Parks Highway and you’ll see everything from rivers and forest to tundra and mountains. You’ll pass the starting point for the world longest dog sled race (Iditarod), small trading posts with history back to the 1800’s gold rush and new communities formed by today’s tourism. And don’t forget all the cute/odd small coffee shacks along the road!
Relevant: ‘Our Alaska Adventure – Denali to Kenai’
The drive from Anchorage to Denali is about 240 miles / 4 hours, but there is lots to see so expect to use a full day. We had several detours on the way, the first one was driving via Hatchers Pass, a mountain pass with mining history and a beautiful scenery! This is where State Historical Park Independence Mine is, a reconstructed gold mine from 1906. As it was raining cats and dogs we decided to not stop by the old mine, hopefully we’ll have the chance to come back later. You can access Hatcher Pass from either Willow or Palmer. The part between Willow and the pass is dirt road, but fully drivable for everyone. If you have a rental car, don’t tell the rental company you where here! Most rental companies don’t allow driving on dirt roads… (I know!! No driving on dirt roads in Alaska, is that even possible?) Despite of the heavy rain we got a few nice photos.
Our second detour was the small, rural community Talkeetna. Downtown Talkeetna is designated a National Historic Site and the village is well worth a visit. We enjoyed it so much that we decided to dedicate a separate blog post for the it: Talkeetna – at the base of Denali.
After you pass Talkeetna you soon enter Denali State Park (not to be confused with Denali National Park) and the landscape opens up. Denali State Park ranges between the Talkeetna Mountains and the Alaska Range and Parks Highway runs through it. There are two view points from the highway where you can see Mt.McKinley if weather permits. There are several camp grounds and hiking trails in the park – check out this brochure if you want to spend more time in the park. The weather cleared up and when the sun came out the fall colours sparkled and displayed the beauty of this area!
Getting closer to Denali National Park we passed Cantwell and Cantwell Trading Post. This is one of the small communities with history back to the gold rush times. I found an interesting section about Cantwell in an old document from United States Department of the Inferior from 1936.
Cantwell is a section point on the railroad, and a few men are stationed here for railroad maintenance. A roadhouse and a trading post are operated for prospectors, miners and trappers who make Cantwell their summer and winter headquarter.
Source: Valdez Creek Mining District of Alaska, 1936 by United States Department of the Inferior
After driving through this remote wilderness the circus started when we got to Denali Park Entrance! This is clearly an area created for/by tourism. The park entrance area has hotels, restaurant and adventure agencies. You can go ATV driving or rafting, there is all sorts of activities available. If you don’t mind the crowds this is one of the locations to stay the night before your visit to Denali National Park. I read somewhere that some Alaskans have given the park entrance area the nick name “Glitter Gulch.” The pizza at ‘Prospectors’ was very good though and they had an excellent selections of drafts.
One of the things you should not miss when in ‘Glitter Gulch’ is to drive up to Grande Denali Lodge. First of all the road up is very funny with amusing signs along Grande Drive and when you get to the top the view from the lodge is amazing!
We decided to move on and stay the night at a local bed and breakfast in Healy that was way cheeper than the hotels at the park entrance. The B&B was in the middle of the woods in Healy, it was nice and relaxing and had great views! They also served up a warm breakfast in the morning with eggs and sausage and that it always welcome when you have a long day ahead of you. We were set for an adventurous day in Denali National Park!
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