I had just left Denali National Park with a heavy heart. I had expected Denali to be one of the highlights of my stay in Alaska but had been really disappointed. The landscape was spectacular for sure but the rather regimented way in which tourists have to experience it ruined the place for me. If you want to enter the farther reaches of the park you are required to do so on one of the uncomfortable park buses and the whole thing smacked of a coach tour, something that I have always religiously avoided. I didn’t feel like I had seen the real Alaska but now I had hopes of doing just that by travelling the Denali Highway.
The Denali Highway is a 126 mile road which cuts across the Alaskan interior just south of Denali
National Park. The majority of the route is gravel track and unpaved road and so few tourists venture very far along the route but I wanted to travel the entire distance. This had presented a problem with hiring a vehicle as most companies will not permit you to take their cars onto the road but after calling 17 organisations I finally found one that would provide me with a vehicle.
The route must be traversed advisedly. Due to the rough terrain progress is very slow and should you break down, rescue could be a long time coming. As few as 10 vehicles a day pass through so if you run into trouble of any kind it could be terminal! Praying for a safe passage I set off into the last frontier with great excitement.
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The first few miles of the road afford magnificent views of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America. This mountain is so enormous that it creates its own weather system and its huge bulk dominates the landscape. Before long it seems like you are truly in the wilderness and the scenery was breath-taking. The highway is certainly isolated, not quite Bear Grylls territory, but close enough for me! I felt like a real life adventurer setting off into the unknown and the tourist centre of Denali seemed a distant memory.
The wildlife is prolific as it is largely undisturbed by human intervention. Caribou, arctic foxes and bald eagles abound and I found myself constantly stopping to get a closer look. At one point I stumbled across the magnificent sight of a mouse and calf standing in the sparkling sunshine on the shores of a small lake. The stresses of normal life were far away and I never felt the need to look at my watch. Here during the summer months daylight lasts until midnight and beyond and so time really seems to stand still.
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After a magical journey I finally arrived at my accommodation for the night. The Tangle River Inn was the only place open at the time and it looked frankly more like a concentration camp but you couldn’t argue with the setting. The Inn sits opposite a beautiful lake and to be fair the beds were comfortable, the rooms were clean and the food was great considering the limitations of the location.
I spent the following day exploring the area around the Inn which was stunning to say the least. I found a beaver lodge, foxes playing in the tundra and a wonderful hiking trail with views of the spectacular caribou migration route. Eventually it was time to move on and I did so with a heavy heart. The Denali Highway is one of Earth’s greatest wonders and yet so very few people ever see it. Thousands swarm into Denali National Park when the Jewel in the crown is just around the corner!
Sally Stacey is a keen writer and business owner who divides her time between writing and running her bridal shop.