Alaska is one of the most stunning regions in the world, offering diverse views of mountains, lakes, forests, and the Arctic Ocean. But did you know that Alaska also offers a multitude of biking trails? Read on to find out all about the longest biking trail in Alaska!
What is the Longest Biking Trail in Alaska?
The longest biking trail in Alaska is the Denali Park Road. Located in Denali National Park, this gravel and dirt trail runs for 92 miles over various terrain. Because it is unpaved, adverse weather conditions like rain or melting snow may render it difficult to navigate. It also involves significant elevation gains and losses, resulting in arduous uphill climbs. The road begins at the Denali National Park entrance and ends at Kantishna near Wonder Lake. Both tour buses and shuttle buses run along this road; private vehicles aren’t permitted after mile 15.
The Denali Park Road
Denali National Park is the third-largest park in the United States, occupying 6 million acres of land. The Denali Park Road winds through 92 miles of its stunning terrain, offering views of its forests, lakes, and mountains.
Denali National Park Entrance to Mile 3
This first section of the trail is heavily developed, catering to visitors just entering the park. Here cyclists will find trailheads to the following smaller trails, including the Roadside Trail, the Mount Healy Overlook Trail, and the Horseshoe Lake Trail. Riley Creek Campground provides accommodation for visitors.
The Denali National Park Visitors Center is located at mile 1.5. This comprehensive nexus includes a restaurant, gift shop, and bag check. It also provides access to park rangers, a bus depot, and the Alaskan Railroad Depot. Passing beyond this point, cyclists will approach the beginning of the true wilderness.
Mile 3 to Sable Pass
This section of the trail marks the beginning of the real wilderness on Denali Park Road. This part of the road is closed during the winter to motorized vehicles, though dog sleds and skiers are allowed. Moose are common on this part of the road; bull moose or cows with calves may be aggressive, so cyclists should proceed with caution. Foxes, rabbits, and ground squirrels are also common sights. Taiga forest rules here, replete with pines and spruce.
The trail crosses over Rock Creek and continues on to mile 10, where both peaks of Denali (previously Mt. Kinley) are visible. At this point, the taiga transitions into the tundra, which eventually gives way to the alpine tundra. The road continues to Savage River, where cyclists will find the Savage Cabin & Interpretative Trail, the Savage River Campground, and the Savage River Loop Trail.
Further on, starting around mile 23, the Sanctuary River, Teklanika River, and Igloo Creek Campgrounds provide cyclists with a potential overnight stay. Igloo Mountain and Sable Pass both offer stunning views.
Polychrome Pass to Kettle Ponds
At Polychrome Pass, Polychrome Overlook allows visitors to take in the gorgeous panorama of the surrounding country. The name comes from the multicolored volcanic rocks in the region. Past Tolkat River, around mile 58, cyclists will come to Highway Pass, the highest point in the park with an elevation of 3,980 feet. Bears, caribou, and wolves abound in these regions.
The Eielson Visitor Center at mile 66 offers breathtaking views of the mountain Denali, views which continue for miles down the road. Kettle ponds begin to crop up at this point, dotting the landscape for the last twenty miles before the end of the road at Kantishna.
Wonder Lake to Kantishna
This is the last section of the Denali Park Road, and it’s well worth waiting for. At mile 84, cyclists will come upon Wonder Lake, the “crown jewel” of Denali Park. This long, narrow lake is the result of glacial activity. It stretches 3.5 miles long and less than a mile wide, with a depth of 250 feet. The Wonder Lake Campground lies nearby, with 25 sites. The road continues over Moose Creek at mile 89, crossing its clear, fast-moving waters by means of the iron Moose Creek Bridge. Nearby, Camp Denali and Kantishna Roadhouse provide a pricey but comfortable overnight experience. Just short of Kantishna, Skyline Drive allows backcountry access to Quigley Ridge and Wickersham Dome.
The historic settlement of Kantishna ends the Denali Park Road. Here, the Kantishna Airport provides access to the park by plane.
Navigating the Route
As rewarding as the experience can be, the Denali Park Road can be challenging even for experienced cyclists. Inexperienced cyclists may only wish to bike a portion of it and take advantage of the shuttle buses along the route. Because it runs for 92 miles, cyclists should consider stopping along the way at one or more of the numerous campsites to make it a multi-day trip. Travelers should also be aware that the section between the park entrance and Kantishna contains a 10,928-foot elevation gain and a 10,907-foot elevation loss.
Possible hazards along the Denali Park Road include:
- Adverse road conditions. The road is unpaved and frequently dusty. In winter, the road will be snowy and/or icy; at other times, it may be muddy due to rain or melting snow.
- No shoulders or bike lanes. The road has no designated shoulders or bike lanes, meaning cyclists must be especially careful around other traffic.
- Frequent motorized traffic. Private vehicles (including RVs), shuttle buses, and heavy equipment all use the Denali Park Road. Aside from the possibility of collisions, motorized vehicles may kick up gravel on their way past.
- Blind turns. The road has frequent blind turns and blind spots. Not only is this a traffic hazard, but it can also result in startled wildlife.
- Wildlife. Cyclists may expect to encounter a variety of wildlife along the Denali Park Road. See the section below for more details.
Wildlife on the Denali Park Road
Wildlife is abundant along the Denali Park Road. Though it may be exciting to witness, it can also be dangerous for unwary cyclists. Grizzly bears are numerous in Alaska and present a serious threat to humans. Despite their size and bulky build, grizzly bears can reach speeds of 35-40 miles per hour, faster than the fastest recorded human sprint at 27.3 miles per hour. It is impossible to outrun a grizzly, and nearly impossible to outpace one on a bike. For protection, always carry bear spray on your person (not in a backpack or pannier) and make noise when approaching blind spots on the road. Startled wildlife are much more prone to attack. Check out this guide to grizzly bears in Denali National Park.
However, grizzlies are not the only animals along the road. Alaska is home to a vast array of wildlife, including black bears, polar bears, wolves, Arctic foxes, moose, reindeer, Dall sheep, wood bison, beavers, and porcupines. Bird-watchers may spot short-tailed albatrosses, bald eagles, ptarmigans, jays, and various waterfowl, just to name a few. Water-dwellers include humpback whales, orcas, various dolphins and porpoises, and sharks like the Pacific sleeper shark.
If you’re an avid cyclist who loves to take in the beauty of the natural world from atop a bike, then the longest biking trail in Alaska just might be the adventure you’re looking for!
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