Break up the long haul between Anchorage and Denali or Fairbanks and save your pocket cash for the destination by stopping at one of these free Parks Highway activities.
The Parks Highway stretches 362 miles from Anchorage in southcentral Alaska to Fairbanks in the interior. It’s impossible to go that far on the Alaska road system without passing some prime fishing, and there are lots of opportunities on the Parks. Sure fishing is only free once you have the gear and the permit, but if you’re outfitted, tossing a few casts is free of charge.
Alaska Fish and Game stocks lakes in the Matanuska-Sustina Valley with rainbow trout, landlocked salmon, Arctic grayling, and Arctic char. Check the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website for a list of stocked lakes. The Little Susitna River is a popular king salmon fishery and is has one of the largest silver runs in southcentral Alaska.
The Deshka River is a tributary of the Susitna River that has an excellent king salmon run from late May through mid-July. About the first half of the season favors the lower river and the second half favors the upper river.
Fish the Chulitna River for Arctic grayling and rainbow trout. The Chulitna River bridge is at milepost A 132.8.
Mile 180 Lake at (you guessed it) milepost A 180 is stocked with Arctic Grayling.
Fingers crossed for some good weather and this free Parks Highway activity won’t even require you to stop driving. Of course it’s worth leaving the car to admire the Great One and take a little more time to enjoying the mountain’s splendor. There are numerous Denali viewpoints. Turn off at milepost A 134.8 for Denali viewpoint south. Denali viewpoint north and campground is at milepost 162.6.
Alaska Veterans Memorial/POW-MIA
A semicircle of five, 20-foot tall concrete pads, each dedicated to a branch of the military, comprise the memorial in Denali State Park at milepost A 147.1. The rest area has a picnic table, toilets, viewing scopes, and visitor information center that is usually open Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Have some fun with the family, free of charge, at one of the community playgrounds along the drive. Iditapark is just a couple miles off the highway in downtown Wasilla. The 28-acre park has a playground, skateboard park, basketball courts, tennis courts, and a couple pavilions.
Stop in Ester, which was established as a mining community, just before you reach Fairbanks. The community park is located just past the turnoff from the Parks Highway.
Recreational gold panning
This isn’t just a free Parks Highway activity, you might even make money! OK chances are you won’t make much, or any, but it’s a good excuse to get out and stretch the legs. Most public land in Alaska permits secreational gold panning. Panning is only allowed in active stream channels, not along the shore, and some waterways may have restrictions to protect fish and other aquatic life.
Best practice says gold is most often found where fast-moving water slows down. Your best bet for finding some shiny flakes are below rapids, behind boulders, or in deep pools.
Try turning off the Parks at milepost A 114.9 for Petersville Road, which was built by miners in the 1920s, and dip the pan in the Petersville Recreational Mining Area.
Alaska Railroad Museum
Nenana may be most famous today for the Ice Classic, but it’s also is where President Warren G. Harding stopped in 1923 and drove the golden spike that completed the interior Alaska railroad. The railroad depot, located at the end of Main Street in Nenana, was built in 1923 and renovated in 1988. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now houses the Alaska Railroad Museum. Visitors to the museum can interact with old railroad office equipment.
Stop at the Ester Dome Single Track and trade out those gas-powered wheels for some pedal-powered wheels. Turn just outside of Fairbanks at milepost A 355.7 to access Ester Dome Road and the 11 miles of single track available at this bike park. The trails are a collaborative effort among various organizations and involve thousands of man hours. They do take donations.