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.
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.
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