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.
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.
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.
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.