Anchorage to Denali National Park Driving Map
How Long Does It Take?
It takes about 4.5 hours to drive straight from Downtown Anchorage to the Denali National Park Visitor Center. But if you have the time, make a day of it! There are lots of things to see and do along the way. Our favorites are highlighted in the guide below.
What Will I See?
- Mountains Mountains Mountains! Departing Anchorage, the views start right away. The Chugach mountains tower overhead as you make your way north. Then, you'll be treated to views of the Talkeetna Mountains, and if the weather permits, Mt. Denali in the Alaska Range.
- Small Towns. You'll pass through several small towns as you make your way north. Most are within the first hour of the drive. Beyond Wasilla, the fastest-growing city in Alaska, you'll pass through just a few more small communities, like Willow, Trapper Creek, and Cantwell before reaching Denali. A favorite stopover, Talkeetna, Requires a 20-minute diversion from the main road to reach.
- Wildlife. Wildlife is never guaranteed, but you have a good chance of spotting moose on this drive, especially if you're on the road early in the morning. Look for them along the Palmer Hayflats, about 40-minutes north of Anchorage. They're also commonly seen in small lakes and ponds. Those same ponds are also a good place to spot Trumpeter Swans.
What Else Should I Know?
- You don't need to worry about running out of gas. There are plenty of places to fill up along the way if you need to fill the tank. There are gas stations in Wasilla, Willow, Trapper Creek, and Cantwell.
- The road is well-maintained with several passing areas. As a major outdoor recreation corridor, you'll likely share the road with motorhomes and large tour buses in the summer.
- If you're in a motorhome, there are lots of great places to camp along the way, as well as campgrounds in and near Denali National Park. If you need to rent an RV, see our list of rv and campervan rentals.
Anchorage to Talkeetna Turnoff (Glenn Hwy 1 and Parks Hwy 3)
Who can say no to a cool waterfall only a half-hour’s drive from town? One of the most popular “first hikes” for families with small children, the one-mile trail to Thunderbird Falls traverses a handsome birch forest along the Eklutna River canyon to reach a deck with views of a 200-foot waterfall. During winter, the falls can freeze, forming fabulous columns of blue ice.
Dating back to 1650, the park is the area’s oldest continuously inhabited Athabaskan settlement. View the colorful Spirit Houses built over the graves of the deceased, along with an Orthodox Christian Cross — a custom that came from the melding of the cultures.
Transport yourself to the Alaska of the past in this museum and historic town site. Check out mining digs as you travel down stairs painted like an old mine shaft. Then learn about the hard-rock gold mining in Hatcher Pass during the 1930s. View artifacts from Athabascans, learn about dog mushing, and walk through a historic dentist’s office. The main museum building, once a community center for basketball games and church services, now tells… ...more
Dedicated to the technology that opened the Last Frontier, this museum is a gearhead’s dream. And it’s pretty darned interesting even if you aren’t into trains, planes or heavy machinery. Set on 20 acres, you can wander through old train cars, around commercial fishing boats and cars and explore old farm and oil machinery. Or head inside and learn about Alaska Pioneering women, gold mining and aviation. Only four miles from downtown Wasilla,… ...more
This is one of Alaska’s few flat state parks. And because it’s studded with lakes, it’s a great place to take a summer canoe trip or winter cross-country or snowmobile expeditions. The state has created several different loops — complete with portage routes and cabins — that make for easy, multi-day adventures. Another unique feature of this park is its mostly deciduous forest. In the last century, fires burned the big spruce trees; in their… ...more
The Official Race Start begins in the town of Willow on the first Sunday in March. Come see the mushers head out on “The Last Great Race” and get a feel for a small-town Alaskan winter. The race begins at 2 p.m., with mushers leaving the gate every two minutes. Several thousand fans show up to cheer on the 60 to 70 dog teams; vendors selling food and souvenirs set up at the Willow Community Center. There’s usually a shuttle from Wasilla, and… ...more
Explore the rivers of southcentral Alaska on a float or fishing trip guided by Hell Bent Fishing Charters. Raft along a scenic river hiding away just minutes off the road system. It fits perfectly into a half day or full day, when you want to step out of the hustle and bustle of your vacation and into authentic Alaska.
Go for a relaxing 3‑hour float trip down gentle Willow Creek as you take in the gorgeous scenery of the Alaskan backcountry. Departing from Pioneer Lodge, just off the Parks Highway south of Talkeetna, you’ll board a raft with up to 6 others and an expert guide. Then just kick back, or grab a paddle if you like: You can expect easy-gliding Class I and II rapids on this gentle river.
Surprise! This bridge over the Susitna River appears without warning, so if you want to stop and see this huge drainage, slow down and pull off the road at either end. Alaskans call it the Big Su. We fish it, paddle it, and snow machine its frozen braids. Bush pilots even navigate by this river. The Susitna River winds its way over 313 miles of Southcentral Alaska; this old railroad bridge crosses the water on the eastern edge of Denali… ...more
It’s Milepost 98.9. Why should you care? Because if you make the turnoff — right where the wooden grizzly stands on its hind legs — you’ll be on your way to one of Alaska’s funkiest little towns: Talkeetna. In fact, driving this 14-mile path — the Talkeetna Spur Road — is kind of like following the white bunny down the rabbit hole of Alaska. One reason: that huge mountain that you’re always in the shadow of. Yes, this is where climbers base… ...more
Sample delicious syrup and sweets made from birch trees at Kahiltna Birchworks in Talkeetna — the world’s largest producer of birch syrup. Stop in to shop, or for a tour of the facility at mile 1.1 of the Talkeetna Spur Rd, just off the Parks Highway. You’ll also find Alaskan food products (many wild harvested), botanicals, and functional art like pottery, tiles, birch bark and wood crafts. Products are also available online.
There’s still gold in Alaska, and you can learn from Denali Gold Tours what it takes to pan for the shiny flakes in pristine water near Trapper Creek. Spend a half-day or full-day in the gorgeous Alaska countryside with your guide, who will share old-timer panning techniques and stories from the dramatic days of Alaska’s gold rush.
Talkeetna Turnoff to Denali National Park
Talkeetna River Guides has offered expertly guided rafting day trips for over 20 years. Float through the remote wilderness of Denali State Park, just a stone’s throw away from Denali National Park’s wild south side. Choose the two-hour Talkeetna River Natural History Float Trip, the four-hour Chultina River Raft Tour, or an overnight or multi-day excursion.
Trapper Creek is a major intersection of the Parks Highway and Petersville Road, with gas stations, restaurants, and a post office. Known locally as the southern gateway to Denali State Park, Trapper Creek only had 423 residents at last count. Excellent outdoor recreation opportunities in both the summer and winter draw visitors from all over the state. Of course, Denali (Mt. McKinley) can be seen from numerous locations on the highway and… ...more
This lodge offers spectacular views of Mount McKinley and is situated within Denali State Park on the banks of the Chulitna River. Rooms offer nine-foot ceilings and fans; some offer amazing mountain views. When you’re not in your room, relax in the Great Room with its huge stone fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows. Or, step outside and stroll one of the three nature trails, either on your own or on a guided, park ranger-led walk.
This trail follows Troublesome Creek .3 miles down to where it enters the broad, glacial gravel bar of the Chulitan River. Marvel at the Ent-like Grandaddy Cottonwood, just five minutes down the trail. The trail’s end has been swept away by floods, so it can be confusing, but the adventurous can keep going onto the Chulitna’s gravel bar to look for wildlife, tracks, or views of Denali. The large-leaved plants along the trail are Cow Parsnip and ...more
This is the southernmost trail that leads to Kesugi Ridge. On average, it takes a hiker 4 hours to get above the treeline. This trail is often closed due to flooding as well as bear activity for the safety of its hikers. Please check with Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources to make sure that the trail is open to hikers before starting this trip.
During periods of clear weather, this route through Denali State Park offers similar terrain and scenery to Denali National Park — including unparalleled views of Denali — without the cumbersome permitting process. This trail system offers many options for starting and ending points, as there are four trailheads along its length.
2019 UPDATE: Trail, day use area, kayak tours & rentals, and public use cabins are open, but the main campground will be temporarily closed beginning in 2019 due to the danger posed by trees infested with spruce-bark beetles. Rotting trees have been toppling. State parks plans to reopen the campground after the hazardous trees have been removed. This is one of four trails that lead to Kesugi Ridge. From the Denali State Park campground at ...more
This trail is the northernmost trail that provides access to Kesugi Ridge. On a clear day, Little Coal Creek Trail takes you to amazing views of Denali (Mt. McKinley). It also gives you those views in the shortest amount of time, about 1.5 hours, of any of the access trails to Kesugi Ridge.
This is one of four trails that lead to the high Kesugi Ridge along the Parks Highway about an hour north of Talkeetna. The trail begins in a forested area and ends up above the tree line looking down on muliple drainages. The view at the top is wonderful, so bring a camera! It takes about 2 hours on average to get above treeline.
The Chulitna River flows to the south out of a huge valley from Broad Pass, one of only two breaks in the Alaska Range Mountains, where the highway, the train, the geese, and the river, all pass on their way to Cook Inlet. It offers a chance for a float of 75 miles and can take as little as 3 days in kayaks but can be a nice 4 or 5‑day trip. Canoes and kayaks are fun on the upper but tippy on the lower section. There are three forks of the… ...more
This bridge is the connection between southcentral Alaska and the interior of the Territory. The bridge represents an engineering marvel for the day and age it was constructed, and is as strong today as when it was constructed nearly a century ago.
Experience the thrill of the iconic Alaskan sport of dogsledding from veterans of the Iditarod and Yukon Quest races! Operating in summer and winter from Cantwell, about a 30-minute drive south of Denali National Park, the private tours will be just you and your group, led by expert guides. Winter tours can involve learning to drive your own dog team or riding out to see the northern lights. In summer, the excited dogs pull a side-by-side on ...more
Here is the junction of the Parks and the Denali Highway. The Denali Highway is approximately 135 miles long stretching from Paxson to Cantwell, connecting the Richardson and Parks highways. Before the Parks Highway was completed in the early 1970s, the Denali Highway was the only road access to Denali National Park.
An exclusive lakeside oasis with hideaway cabins accessible by car and only 7 miles south of Denali National Park entrance. In addition to luxurious accommodations, you can enjoy the art gallery, artisan bakery, and spacious lawn with a campfire circle and a lovely view of the Alaska Range.
Denali Air flights see the majestic mountain a whopping 90% of the time, thanks to the company’s experienced pilots and its location just outside the park. And, everyone is guaranteed a window seat. Listen to your pilot narrate while you enjoy the views.