Denali National Park to Fairbanks (Parks Hwy 3)

This northernmost section of the Parks Highway, paved and open all year, takes you through small towns and stretches of wilderness. The first portion of the 125 mile drive weaves alongside the Tanana River, and eventually takes you by the Minto Flats, a valuable waterfowl habitat, and the Tanana Flats, a beautiful area with sections of planned “burn zones”. You’ll also make your way through towns like Healy, Alaska’s sole commercial coal mine, or Nenana, where in 1923, President Warren G. Harding drove the “Golden Spike” to open the railroad.

Show Map

Driving Guide

Denali National Park to Fairbanks

The Nenana Riv­er, a glacial riv­er, forms the east­ern bound­ary of Denali Nation­al Park and is pos­si­bly the most pop­u­lar riv­er raft­ing des­ti­na­tion in the state. It offers a vari­ety of lev­els of dif­fi­cul­ty and has a thriv­ing com­mer­cial raft­ing indus­try that oper­ates 2 hour, 4 hour and overnight trips for locals as well as out of state tourists.

Difficulty: Difficult Distance: 6 miles

The first mile of this trail, which begins near the new Murie Sci­ence and Learn­ing Cen­ter, is mod­er­ate­ly steep, hik­ing through the for­est. The for­est even­tu­al­ly gives way to tun­dra. Trees turn to shrubs, and the land­scape opens wide. The last 1.5 miles are even steep­er. Your reward, how­ev­er, is sweep­ing views of the Denali Nation­al Park entrance area, the Nenana Riv­er Val­ley, Healy Ridge, and near­by alpine ridges. Those who want to climb to the  ...more

Men­tion Healy and inevitably the con­ver­sa­tion veers toward the Usi­bel­li Coal Mine. It lies just a few miles east of the high­way and employs near­ly 100 peo­ple year-round. They send their coal to pow­er plants around Alas­ka and export it to Pacif­ic Rim coun­tries. Healy school chil­dren nick­named the mine’s dragline Ace-in-the-Hole.” The dragline is the largest mobile land machine in Alas­ka and moves mas­sive amounts of dirt.

This is the lot­tery, Alas­ka-style. To enter, just buy a tick­et and pick the date and time (down to the minute) in April or May when you think the win­ter ice on the Tanana Riv­er will break. Win­ning could mean a wind­fall: the pool has reached near­ly $300,000 in recent years. 

Nenana was the ter­mi­nus of the Alas­ka Rail­road in 1923 when Pres­i­dent Hard­ing trav­eled to Alas­ka in July 1923 to dri­ve the Gold Spike” sig­ni­fy­ing the com­ple­tion of con­struct­ing the rail­road. It is also the start­ing point for the river­boat oper­a­tion which was devel­oped and oper­at­ed by the Rail­road to ship mate­ri­als and sup­plies to rur­al vil­lages along the Yukon Riv­er. Although the last sur­viv­ing river­boat can be found on dis­play in…  ...more

Expert Advice