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George Parks Highway

George Parks Highway

As the most sparsely populated state in the U.S., one would expect Alaska to be almost devoid of highways. Fortunately for you and me, such is not the case. The Alaskan interior and Southcentral Alaska are well-served with highway routes which lead to all but where nature intended (islands, the inland wilderness, and the remote Arctic & Bering coasts). The highways work their way around the two major mountain ranges: Brooks and Alaska.

Fairbanks is the main population center of the interior region, serviced by the Alaska Highway. The George Parks Highway runs south from Fairbanks almost to Anchorage where it joins the Glenn Highway for the final approach. It provides access to Denali National Park, and the park's chief attraction, Mt. McKinley.


Along the Way

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Fairbanks to Anchorage

Many visitors to Alaska make Denali National Park their major destination, and this route takes you there quickly, as well as farther south to Anchorage. This is the latest in the network of Alaskan highways, having opened in the early 1970s. If you intend to make the grand tour through Anchorage and back to the Alaska Highway, this is the first route on a counter-clockwise loop drive, which begins from the Alaska Highway (in Fairbanks), to Denali and Anchorage on the George Parks and Glenn highways (into Anchorage), through the Kenai Peninsula, and then returning north to the Alaska Highway (at Tok), via the Glenn Highway. 


Nenana & Tenana Rivers

Leaving Fairbanks, heading south, the Parks Highway passes through rolling hill country covered with spruce and birch. After 53 miles (85 km), you'll reach Nenana, at the confluence of the Tenana and Nenana rivers. The town is home to a sizable tug and barge fleet, which services Alaskan villages located along the Tanana and Yukon rivers. 



The docks are located to the left side of the highway (southbound). A historic tug, the Taku Chief, sits behind the town's information center. The barges move down the river as soon as the ice is gone, taking enough supplies to outfit the villages for the next year. Moving down the river, they travel at about 12 miles-per-hour. On the way back, fighting the current, they slow to about five or six m.p.h. The Nenana Ice Classic celebrates the day each year when enough ice disappears to move a metal tripod set over the river, connected with a cable to a clock. A lottery is held to determine the best guesser, who wins close to $200,000 for the most accurate prediction. The ice leaves sometime between mid-April and mid-May.


Alaska Range -- North Slope

After leaving Nenana, passing the turnoff to the small coal-mining town of Healy (Spur Road), the route begins to climb across the Alaska Range. Healy, only 109 miles (175 km) from Fairbanks, is only 15 minutes north of the entrance to Denali National Park. There are several places to stay in the town, including the historic Healy Hotel. Before reaching Denali, the highway crosses a deep canyon, carved by the Nenana River. There's a turnout on the south side of the bridge for gorge-viewing and picture-taking.


Denali National Park

The boundary of the park is at the north end of Crabb's Crossing Bridge, the second bridge over the Nenana River. The highway runs through the park for another 6.8 miles (11 km) before coming to the main entrance road. As you get closer to the en trance road, more lodges and restaurants are seen. The turnoff to the main park road is 120.7 miles (194.2 km) from Fairbanks.



The park visitor center is a half-mile along the entrance road. Campsites in the park are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, with sign-up forms available at the visitor center. For details, click on the park link at the bottom of the page.

Past the park road, another few miles of rustic motels, cabins, restaurants, RV parks, and assorted tourist traps assail the traveler. Because accommodations within the park are limited, you may choose to stay in one of these highway places.


Broad Pass & Salmon Country

After leaving the Denali area, the Parks Highway continues to climb, to the unsigned summit at Broad Pass, a beautiful mountain valley with fine vistas. The pass is on the divide between the Cook Inlet and Yukon River watersheds. Rest areas with picnic tables are located at East Fork (52 miles from the park road), where a half-mile loop road leads to the picnic area and overnight park ing lot, and at the Hurricane Gulch Bridge, 8 miles past East Fork. 



The highway then drops out of the Alaska Range, into the broad Matanuska/Susitna Valley. In this area are found the most impressive salmon runs accessible by car. When the salmon aren't in the streams, anglers set their hooks for rainbow trout.



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Copyright 2007, Hanspeter Hochuli, Ennetburgen, Switzerland
last updated:  15.04.2008