Posted by: kerryl29 | October 16, 2018

Alaska: Denali Highway

When I think back on the Alaska trip my biggest regret is that we weren’t able to spend more time on the Denali Highway.  It wasn’t due to negligence.  We had hoped to have the opportunity to spend at least two full days on this route but the weather–we had the equivalent of at least 2 1/2 days of rain when we were based in the Denali area–prevented this.  In the end, we had less than one-half day on the Denali Highway which was enough time to cover, barely, 1/3 of the length of the road.

Forest Mist, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

Wetland, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

The Denali Highway is a mostly unpaved, pothole-filled road that runs from Cantwell, at the western end, to Paxson, roughly 135 miles to the east.  For the unpaved portion of the highway–which represents at least 110 miles of the route–it’s strongly recommended not to drive faster than 30 miles per hour, assuming you want to avoid a flat tire.   The road is lightly traveled and runs through some spectacular scenery, south of the Alaska Range.  There are forests, creeks and streams, river valleys, lakes, tundra and associated wetlands, and mountain overlooks.  Wildlife sightings aren’t uncommon (we saw moose and tundra swans during our brief visit).

Alaska Range Sunset, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

Edmonds Creek, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

On the day we took our ride on the Denali Highway, we were greeted with rain throughout the morning.  We chose to photograph some creeks in Denali National Park and, almost out of frustration with the seemingly endless moisture, we made our way toward the Denali Highway, about 20 miles south of where we were staying (and 35-odd miles south of the entrance to the park) early that afternoon.

Lily Creek Black & White, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

Edmonds Creek, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

It was still socked in cloudy and sprinkling occasionally when we reached the highway’s eastern terminus, and our early photo opportunities reflected these conditions.  We were treated to views of some beautiful creeks and wetland areas.

Nanena River, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

Spruce Tunnel, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

Edmonds Creek, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

We made frequent stops and, because the highway is broad and not heavily trafficked, we could pull over pretty much wherever we wanted.  And with the light unchanging during this portion of the day, we could take our time and work sites we found appealing…which we did.

Fish Creek Black & White, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

Alaska Range Evening, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

As we slowly made our way east, we started to see breaks in the clouds and, by early evening, we were experiencing partly cloudy conditions.  We had noted a number of locations to photograph along the way and with the light suddenly very nice (and getting nicer), we scrambled to try to take advantage of it, knowing that we’d only have the opportunity to hit one or two spots.  Besides, given the physical condition of the road, the idea of quickly reaching any spot that wasn’t very nearby was out of the question.  So, we made the most of what we had at our immediate disposal.

Alaska Range Sunset, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

Nanena River Black & White, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

Alaska Range Sunset, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

At our first overlook–facing essentially north, toward the Alaska Range–we had the advantage of a tundra landscape that was entering peak color conditions.  When the sky color in that direction faded, we literally walked across the road, where the sky to the southwest reached its peak.  The foreground was less dramatic, so I used the trees on the side of the road as secondary interest and let the sky steal the show by allowing the colorful cloud formations to dominate the frame.

Sunset, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

Sunset, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

Sunset, Denali Highway, Denali Borough, Alaska

It took about an hour to drive back to Cantwell on the pothole-filled road–in the gathering darkness–but we made it without incident.

We reflected upon the fact that we hadn’t even caught a glimpse of the scenery abutting 2/3 of the road–including the much-recommended eastern portion with its ride through the Alaska Range foothills.  In our trip post mortem we agreed that, if we have the opportunity to return to Alaska at some point in the future, covering the entirety of the Denali Highway would be a top priority.



  1. Beautiful photos! Love the black and whites !!!

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Beautiful scenes

  3. Your ‘Alaska Range Sunset’ literally took my breath away. Marvelous, Kerry!

    • Thanks, Gunta!

  4. The Denali Highway is definitely a “big bang for your buck” location. There is something for everyone…wetlands, flowing creeks, mountain vistas, ponds, major rivers, wildlife. And my guess is that in wildflower season it is just as spectacular as in the fall. Yep we need to go back and spend more time there.

    • Agreed. I’m particularly anxious to see the extensive section of the road that we missed.

  5. Really nice photos….I would love to get the opportunity to visit this beautiful landscape, also to see the wildlife.

    • Thanks very much! I hope you get the chance to visit Alaska.

  6. For a limited photo trip, you certainly got some spectacular shots.

    • Thanks, David. I can’t help but wonder what we might have found on the eastern 2/3 of the route.

  7. Such a great trip you had, even with the rain. The first Edmonds Creek photo, with those colorful, water-splashed rocks and the creek rushing by, is wonderful. I also really like the calm breadth of the image below it (Nenana River).

    • Thanks very much! That overlook of the Nanena River Valley was a special spot.

  8. […] into the National Park to the following day , and having had an all-too-short taste of the Denali Highway the previous day, we had one day left to check out Denali State Park.  The day started […]

  9. […] make the journey via a scenic, circuitous route that included traversing the entire length of the Denali Highway and then taking the Richardson Highway northwest to Fairbanks.  This would have been an all-day […]

  10. […] in the Denali area of Alaska this past August–probably most notably during our time on the Denali Highway, but during other excursions as well.  But it became a nearly constant occurrence when we were in […]

  11. […] trip.  It was unfortunate that we weren’t somewhere else, somewhere spectacular–the Denali Highway, for instance–during this impressive display, but it was an opportunity to implement another […]

  12. […] from the Brooks Range and the Dalton Highway more broadly toward our much anticipated time on the Denali Highway. In between, we had a couple of days to spend on the Richardson Highway, on the south side of the […]

  13. […] Ellen and I both wanted to rectify based on our 2018 experience in Alaska was a lack of time on the Denali Highway. Contrary to popular belief, the Denali Highway is not located in Denali National Park. The […]

  14. […] we reached Fish Creek, I well remembered our experience at this location three years earlier and attempted to leverage what I recalled to aid my image making this time […]

  15. […] of my favorite locations from the 2018 foray on the Denali Highway was a wetland area that contained a kind of tree tunnel, and I was looking forward to visiting the […]

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