Denali Highway Connects: Paxson to Cantwell, AK
Route#: Alaska Route 8
Length: 134 miles
Road Surface: 15% Paved, 85% Gravel
Season: Closed in winter
Highest Pass: Maclaren Summit, elev. 4,086 feet
Map (1 detailed pdf file available):
Paxson, AK to Cantwell, AK
The 134-mile-long Denali Highway links Paxson at Milepost V 185.5 on the Richardson Highway to Cantwell at Milepost A 210 on the Parks Highway. When the the highway opened in 1957, it was the only road link to Denali National Park and Preserve until the completion of the Parks Highway in 1972. “If you want real wilderness scenery—vast tundra-covered valleys where caribou roam beneath breathtaking snow-covered mountains—then this highway is for you,” says MILEPOST® field editor Sharon Nault.
The first 21 miles of the Denali Highway from Paxson and the first 3 miles from Cantwell are paved. The remaining 110 miles are gravel. On a sunny day, Richardson Highway travelers should not miss a side trip on the Denali Highway, even if it is only the first 21 miles of pavement because the views are amazing.
Summer road conditions on the gravel portion of this route vary, depending on how recently there has been maintenance; weather conditions; and the opinion of the driver. But if you slow down for the rough spots, this road is very drivable.
The Denali Highway has been a favorite destination for many Alaskans over the years. Long-standing businesses and newer businesses along the highway can attest to this road’s enduring popularity. Accommodations from east to west are: Denali Highway Cabins at Paxson; Maclaren River Lodge at Milepost P 42; Alpine Creek Lodge at Milepost P 68 and Clearwater Mountain Lodge at Milepost P 82.2.
The Denali Highway provides access to the Delta River canoe trail at Tangle Lakes, headwaters of the Delta Wild and Scenic River, and to dozens of off-road vehicle (ORV) trails. During the fall hunting season, the many small turnouts along this route are packed with cars, campers and ORVs. For detailed information on ORV use on public lands or canoeing the Delta River, contact the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field office in Glennallen, phone 907- 822-3217, or visit www.blm.gov/alaska for more information.
Birders will find Smith’s Longspur, harlequin ducks, gyrfalcons, arctic warblers and more than 100 other species along the Denali Highway.
The Denali Highway is unmaintained and closed to vehicle traffic in winter, but draws a significant snow machine crowd. When snow covered, the highway becomes a winter destination for hundreds of snow machiners who travel out to lodges along the highway. Seasonal road maintenance ends Oct. 15. The Alaska Dept. of Transportation & Public Facilities reminds drivers that travel on an unmaintained highway during the winter is extremely risky and drifts can claim vehicles and lives. Crews begin opening the highway in early May, which involves 8 personnel working for 3 weeks from both Cantwell and Paxson.
The MILEPOST® Quick Reference Log
Miles from Paxson (P) shown.
P 0 PAXSON (pop. 10; unincorporated) began in 1906 when Alvin Paxson established a roadhouse at Mile 192.
P 0.2 Denali Highway Cabins; bed and breakfast open year-round, very nice cabins, dining hall, gift shop, electric bicycle rentals.
P 7 Paved rest area to the north. Informative stop with truly great views.
P 21.1 Pavement ends, chipseal begins, westbound.
P 21.3 BLM Tangle Lakes Campground, 0.5 mile north from highway; camping, fishing.
P 21.5 BLM Delta Wild and Scenic River Wayside and boat launch to south; day use only.
P 36.7 Maclaren Summit (elev. 4,086 feet). Second highest highway pass in Alaska.
P 42 Maclaren River Lodge to south on west side of bridge; good food, dry RV parking, pet-friendly, cabins, camping, tire repair, gas, propane, boat launch, scenic boat trips. Gift shop specializing in furs. Easy hiking and good fishing.
P 68 Alpine Creek Lodge offers good food, bar, lodging and free coffee. Old- time Alaska lodge atmosphere, beautiful views from lodge.
P 79.5 Susitna River bridge.
P 82.2 Clearwater Mountain Lodge to south; a B&B with multiple tour options, large meeting room, baked goodies, The Sluice Box bar, food, gas and tire repair.
P 104.6 BLM Brushkana Creek Campground.