After flying back to Chitina, we drove north along the Richardson Highway through enormous Black Spruce forests—mile after mile of taiga–until we reached our destination, the Denali Highway.
To clarify, this 135-mile gravel road is not in Denali National Park. Until the 1971, it was the only road leading to that area. Since the modern Parks Highway was constructed, the Denali Highway has become a less-traveled road used primarily by hunters and nature lovers. It is a glorious road that passes through tundra and boreal forest, with great views of the Alaska Range and numerous lakes and rivers. In many places, it is a shrubland, looking similar to the heathlands of Nantucket or Maine. In autumn, the landscape develops rich seasonal colors just like New England forests. The area is used by migrating shorebirds and waterfowl and large and small mammals. We saw caribou, moose, trumpeter swans, and sockeye salmon in this region . . . and some very starry nights!
1) Spruce along Richardson Hwy. 5) Dinner on the tundra, Tangle River Inn
2) Observing caribou 6) Our hosts at Denali Highway Cabins
3) Trans-Alaska pipeline 7) Susitna River with Alaska Range
4) Cotton Grass along Denali Highway
The road itself is, in my opinion, in good condition. I have seen far worse in Massachusetts, Maine and elsewhere. Car rental agencies may think differently. If you are concerned about this issue, you may want to investigate some locally-owned rental agencies. Be aware that the road is closed from October 1 to May 15. Snow machines and dogsleds are welcome, but the highway department doesn’t provide winter maintenance.