Points of Interest
Note: Points of interest are listed in numeric order traveling east to west. Approximate milepost (MP) numbers are also listed for travel in either direction. For travel east to west, set your odometer at 0 at the Paxson Lodge and use the first set of MP numbers. For travel west to east, set your odomter at 0 just as you turn onto the Denali Highway at Cantwell and use the second set of MP numbers.
1: Paxson Lodge on Richardson Highway
2: Alaska Range/Glacial Geology
To the north is one of the state's greatest mountain ranges, the Alaska Range. Several peaks in view have elevations greater than 12,000 feet. This range extends in a great arc from Cook Inlet through the Mt. McKinley massif (a principal mountain mass) and on to the Canada border, a distance of 650 miles. The Gulkana and Gakona glaciers, seen from this point, have formed as a result of the buildup of snowfields high in the Alaska Range. Layers of snow accumulated year after year and are compacted into ice. As the glacier became heavier, it began to move downslope, scraping and gouging the rock. This action, called glacial erosion, contributed to the rugged, jagged appearance of the Alaska Range, and created the long U-shaped valleys seen from the road.
3: Wrangell Mountain Viewpoint
The Wrangell Mountains are about 78 air miles to the southeast. Mt. Sanford (16,237') is the prominent peak on the left, Mt. Drum (12,010') is seen on the right. In the center is Mt. Wrangell (14,163'), which occasionally releases steam. It is the northernmost active volcano on the Pacific Rim. Look for the Denali Highway orientation sign on the south side of the road.
4: Tangle Lakes Archaeological District
(east boundary) MP 16.0/119.0
More than 500 archaeological sites indicate that ancient peoples inhabited this area for at least 10,000 years. Because this district has some of the densest concentrations of archaeological resources in the North American subarctic, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To protect these prehistoric reminders of the past for further study, off-road vehicle travel is limited to designated roads and trails from this point west to MP 38. Collection of artifacts is illegal.
5: Pavement Break
6: Tangle Lakes Campground
This BLM-managed campground, equipped with water pumps, toilets, 45 campsites on a first-come, first-served basis, and a boat launch rests amid a series of long, narrow lakes known as the Tangle Lakes. The lakes are connected by the Tangle River and form the headwaters of the Delta River. The campground boat launch provides access to the lakes and is also the designated put-in for the popular 30-mile Delta National Wild and Scenic River float trip (refer to the BLM brochure Delta National Wild & Scenic River). An interpretive sign at the campground entrance explains the importance of this area to caribou migration.
7: Delta National Wild & Scenic River Wayside
This BLM wayside is for day-use only (no camping) and is equipped with a picnic area and toilets. The boat launch provides access and parking for extended wilderness canoe trips in the upper Tangle Lakes system to the south, where numerous lakes of all sizes provide important wildlife habitat.
8: Landmark Gap view
Landmark Gap is a glacially-scoured cut in the mountains that formed during an Ice Age more than 10,000 years ago. The Gap was a caribou migration route and a favorite Indian hunting area in centuries past. The Nelchina caribou herd still migrates through this area. The mountain peaks visible through the Gap are McGinnis Peak (11,400') and Mt. Moffit (13,020').
9: Alaska Range and Maclaren River Viewpoint
You are now at an elevation of about 4,000 feet, just a short distance from Maclaren Summit (4,086'), the second highest highway summit in Alaska. Stop and enjoy the panoramic view of the Alaska Range and the Maclaren River. Mt. Hayes (13,832') and the Maclaren River and Glacier are dominant features, but Aurora Peak, Mount Shand and Mount Geist may also be seen. The Maclaren River flows from the Maclaren Glacier south to the Susitna River and then into Cook Inlet just west of Anchorage.
Vegetation at this elevation is low-growing alpine tundra. Wildflowers bloom in abundance during the short Alaska summer (June and July). Look for pikas, ground squirrels and ptarmigan.
(no parking spot) Road construction in 1957 cut into the partially collapsed palsa on the south side of the road and initiated its deterioration. A palsa is a small dome-like frost mound, usually 10 to 20 feet high, containing peat. Closer examination reveals individual ice and peat layers typical of a palsa.
11: Kettle lakes
Several small lakes and depressions in this area were formed when chunks of ice broke off retreating glaciers and were buried in the glacial debris. The ice eventually melted, leaving circular-shaped depressions called kettles.
12: Maclaren Glacier Viewpoint, Maclaren River Bridge
The Maclaren Glacier is about 16 miles north.
13: Crazy Notch
The Crazy Notch was formed by the actions of ice and water. The Maclaren Glacier once flowed through the Maclaren River Valley and deposited a lateral moraine, which is a buildup of rocks on the sides of the glacier. Crazy Notch was created when a glacial stream cut through the moraine. The notch acts as a natural snow catchment, closing the Denali Highway in winter with huge snowdrifts.
14: Waterfowl lakes
These lakes and ponds are excellent summer habitat for many species of waterfowl and shorebirds. Look for diving and dabbling ducks, geese, grebes, and shorebirds. You may also spot bald eagles, moose, caribou, beaver and fox in the vicinity. Look for the interpretive sign on the north side of the road.
15: Clearwater Wayside/Outhouse
You are driving on an esker, a sinuous ridge of silt, sand, gravel and cobbles that were carried and deposited by a stream that flowed within the glacier, confined by walls of ice. When the glacier melted away, these deposits were left as elongated mounds. Eskers along this highway are some of North America's outstanding examples of this type of glacial feature.
17: Susitna River
The Susitna River is a major drainage system in the Denali region. The river flows south from the Susitna Glacier and the Alaska Range and eventually turns west to flow through the Talkeetna Mountains and then south to Cook Inlet. The Susitna is not floatable because of Devil's Canyon downstream. Access to the historic Valdez Creek Mine is on the east side of the Susitna River. The mine is now closed and the land is being reclaimed.
18: Valdez Creek Mine Viewpoint
Look across the Susitna River to the east for a view of the Valdez Creek gold mine reclamation in the foothills of the Clearwater Mountains. Originally discovered by the Peter Monahan party in 1903, about 495,000 Troy ounces of gold were produced before the mine closed in 1995.
19: Alaska Range Viewpoint
Watch for a small hill on the north side of the highway. The slight climb for about 600 yards is well worth the effort. You will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of Mt. Deborah (12,339'), Mt. Hess (11,940') and the Susitna River valley.
20: Alaska Range Interpretive Sign
(gravel "road"on north side of highway)
21: Brushkana Creek Campground
BLM campground with firepits, water, toilets, trail and 22 campsites that are available on a first- come, first-served basis.
At northern latitudes there is a short, cool growing season followed by a long, cold winter. Trees that survive under these harsh conditions have stunted growth caused by permafrost, climactic conditions, elevation exposure, and other factors. These boreal forests, called taiga, are dominated by spruce trees.
23: Denali Highway Orientation Sign
24: Nenana River
(gravel turnout) The Nenana is a glacial river whose primary source is the Nenana Glacier. The river flows into the Tanana River west of Fairbanks. The Tanana River then flows into the Yukon River and out to the Bering Sea. The Nenana is not good for fishing because it carries a heavy glacial silt load during the summer, but its whitewater rapids make it increasingly popular for river running.
25: Mt. McKinley View
MP 124.0/11.0 to 130.5/4.5
During clear weather, there are excellent views of North America's highest peak on this section of road. Approximately 80 percent of its 20,320' elevation rises above the surrounding landscape, making its base-to-summit rise greater than that of Mt. Everest.
26: Pavement Break
27: Junction with Parks Highway
Cantwell is approximately two miles to the west.