A trip to the awe-inspiring landscapes of Alaska is deserving of an equally spectacular tour.
With the closure of the Denali Park Road at Mile 43 in 2021, Denali Backcountry Adventure was forced to adapt. Instead of offering a lesser version of the wild adventure of years past, the team behind the acclaimed bus tour opted to reroute in a whole new direction on the legendary Denali Highway.
Located east of Denali National Park, the Denali Highway has a history as one of the world’s most spectacular roadways, earning a spot as one of National Geographic’s “Top 10 Drivers’ Drives” in 2010. Situated along stunning vistas reaching out to the Alaska Range, the new route gives visitors a chance to explore the Last Frontier from a whole new angle.
Here are just a few reasons why a trip along the Denali Highway is an absolute must while visiting Alaska.
The Denali Highway first opened in 1957 as the only road into Denali National Park. Over the next two decades, visitors traveled the stretch of mostly gravel road to discover the wonders of Alaska wilderness. In 1971, however, the Parks Highway opened, rerouting a vast majority of guests en route to Denali. With the new route came less traffic and the already remote Denali Highway became even quieter.
The area’s human history dates back far further than the 1950s, though. Archeologists in the region have found evidence of early humans dating back millenniums. Just beyond the Denali Backcountry Adventure route in the neighboring Tangle Lakes Archeological District, for example, evidence of human inhabitation stretches back over 10,000 years.
As the Denali Park Road now limits other tours to a fraction of its former self, the Denali Highway remains fully open to exploration. In true northern wilderness fashion, much of the Denali Highway’s 135 miles is unpaved. But no need to worry! Denali Backcountry Adventure’s rugged-ready buses are designed to take on the rough and tumble surfaces with ease.
The Denali Backcountry Adventure tour buses are more than up to the challenge of rough terrain, but not all vehicles are. Many rental companies in Alaska prohibit drivers from taking unpaved roads, with the Denali Highway specifically mentioned as a no-go at many outlets. The result? Less traffic, open roads and quieter conditions.
If you’re in search of epic mountain views, you came to the right place. The Denali Highway runs parallel to the south side of the Alaska Range, home to North America’s highest peak, Denali. On a clear day, the Denali Backcountry Adventure route offers picturesque views of the mountains throughout.
While natural marvels abound along the roadway, you’ll also find some human-made structures. The old Valdez Creek gold mine, for example, is a remnant of a small gold rush that was triggered by the Peter Monahan Party back in 1903. Close to a century of mining followed, with roughly 495,000 ounces of gold recovered from the site. Today, the mine sits abandoned, though it is still visible from a viewpoint on the Denali Highway roadside.
The remote, untamed geography along the Denali Highway, although undeniably beautiful, can be less than hospitable for humans, especially during the colder months. That said, there are several places to lay your head in the area year-round. One such location is Alpine Creek Lodge, which marks the destination for Denali Backcountry Adventure before turning around for the return trip. Alpine Creek delivers a true taste of Alaska, thriving in the unforgiving northern conditions. When the highway closes from October through mid-May, the lodge becomes only accessible by sled dog teams and snow machines.
While few people call the region home, it’s far from abandoned. Wildlife of several species reside in the forests and waterways along the Denali Highway. Trumpeter swans and beavers are regularly spotted during Denali Backcountry Adventure tours, along with the occasional moose and rare caribou. Of course, the area is also home to black bears and grizzly bears, although sightings are uncommon along the Denali Highway.
The Alaska Range. Denali. The Susitna River. These big-ticket locations are household names, and for good reason. Along the Denali Highway, you’re likely to see them all on a clear day, and they are all remarkable sights. But there’s something to be said for the spots along your journey that you may not see coming.
Unnamed lakes and quiet viewpoints represent lasting bastions of untamed wilderness in Alaska. And there’s no shortage of them along the new Denali Backcountry Adventure route. Along with scheduled stops, groups can request stops throughout the tour, allowing for true connection to this incredible place. From certain viewpoints along the Denali Highway, you’ll even see patches of wilderness untouched and unexplored by humans in the distance. There’s a reason they call Alaska the Last Frontier, after all!
Feeling up to the adventure? Learn more about Denali Backcountry Adventure and explore the Denali Highway for yourself by booking here.