From Fairbanks to Cantwell and the start of the Denali Highway, our route through Alaska passed the single road entrance to Denali National Park. Mountains will always be magnets, and tempted by the chance of seeing the great icy massif of Denali/Mt McKinley up (relatively) close was enough to convince us to deviate from our main route and cycle the long dead end road into the park.
We cycled the dirt road to a National Park-operated campground at Wonder Lake, 136km in, over two days. The road continues just 7km further before ending at the tiny community of Kantishna, home to private tourist resorts. Aside from the scenery, the beauty of this ride is that the road is devoid of private vehicles. Mile 15 is as far as private vehicles can go, so the vast majority of park visitors enter this unique place by buses operated by the park. For cyclists, this gives a chance to enjoy a gravel road through a remarkable landscape without constant (and careless) traffic.
The Nuts & Bolts
⊕ The ride into the park is a classic dirt road ride and would be worth doing as a standalone ride, or a part of a tour, as we did. Many people told us that it’s best to bus in and ride out as it’s ‘easier’ but don’t be fooled – the road starts and ends at pretty much the same elevation with a bunch of passes in between, grades were generally fairly mellow. If anything it’s easier riding in as you do the first climb on a sealed road, it’s also nice seeing the scenery and scale unfold from a bike, rather than a small and dusty bus window.
⊕ The park’s bus service can portage your bike (only two at a time on racks on the front of the bus) but not every bus has these, so check the timetable. Note that the fattest tyres that will fit in the racks are about 2.3 inch. 3 inch and fat bikes won’t fit.
⊕ Denali National Park park service information is here.
⊕ We have found the Milepost publication (available in print and as an app) essential for information on Alaskan and Canadian roads and highways. We run the app on an iPad and refer to it often – mostly to get an idea of what’s available to eat along the way and in towns for resupply, and information on campsites. It’s incredibly detailed, describing every campsite, overlook and road side pull-in.