The scenic, essential 323-mile-long Parks Highway connects Anchorage and Fairbanks, threading its way past some of Alaska’s most iconic Alaskan areas, including Denali National Park and Mt. McKinley. But we’ll take you far beyond what you can see from the road. We’ll also show you some of the hidden gems you wouldn’t find on your own, like an old trapper’s cabin that offers a glimpse into Alaska’s past. We’ll let you in on cool trails to hike, where to get a dream photo, what the Denali park rangers do in the winter, and other little-known tidbits about life in this area.

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Points of Interest

Boom­ing econ­o­my. Grow­ing pop­u­la­tion. Red­neck cap­i­tal of the state. Wel­come to Wasil­la! Home of relaxed rules, traf­fic con­ges­tion, and Idi­tar­od Head­quar­ters. Land is plen­ti­ful here for pri­vate homes as well as com­mer­cial enter­pris­es. Wasil­la is also home to politi­cian Sarah Palin.

When sil­ver salmon are run­ning up Mon­tana Creek by the thou­sands, fish­er­men are run­ning up the Parks High­way by the hun­dreds to go com­bat fish­ing.” They stand elbow to elbow along the creek, cast­ing their lines and catch­ing every­thing from fish to coat sleeves. Up and down the creek, you can hear peo­ple holler Fish on!”

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

Don’t miss the old trap­per’s cab­in at Byers Lake. Most Sour­doughs — that means old-time Alaskans — don’t even know it’s there. Hid­den in trees along the lakeshore trail, the old Bee­man cab­in stands as a reminder of sim­pler times. Peek in the win­dows and imag­ine liv­ing there all win­ter. Now part of Denali State Park, it’s an easy 10-minute walk from the main park­ing lot.

Blue­ber­ries and moun­tain views dom­i­nate Broad Pass. Watch for moose and cari­bou, too. And berry pick­ers in the fall. This is the high­est point on the Parks Highway.

Denali Nation­al Park’s pop­u­la­tion swells each spring with an influx of sea­son­al employ­ees. They work for the park ser­vice as rangers, vis­i­tor cen­ter and muse­um staff, groundskeep­ers, and oth­er pro­fes­sion­als, as well as in pri­vate tourism-relat­ed busi­ness­es. But a hand­ful live here year-round and they see a dif­fer­ent side of Denali in when most of the park’s vis­i­tors have gone. Con­trary to pop­u­lar belief the park does­n’t com­plete­ly shut down…  ...more

Boards cov­er its win­dows. The front door is locked. Weeds sur­round its perime­ter. No one ever slept in the now aban­doned igloo-shaped hotel. Sev­er­al peo­ple have tried over the years to make this project work, but all failed. Alas­ka has always attract­ed dream­ers and vision­ar­ies. But there’s a fine line between wish­ful think­ing and vision. The igloo is just one small example.

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. 

The U.S. and Rus­sia were allies dur­ing World War II. Alas­ka was a key exchange point for war­planes in the Lend-Lease pro­gram, which leant thou­sands of Amer­i­can-made planes to Rus­sia for use at the battlefront.

Fair­banksans don’t let a lit­tle cold stop them from going out to run errands. Some leave their cars run­ning while they shop. Oth­ers car­ry along an exten­sion cord and plug their car in to keep the flu­ids from freez­ing. That’s what the out­lets are for in pub­lic park­ing lots.