The George Parks Highway Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2009)
- Intrinsic QualitiesNatural
- Length116 miles
The Parks Highway Scenic Byway connects Alaska's two largest cities - Anchorage and Fairbanks and travels through spectacular wilderness into the heart of Alaska.
Story of the Byway
In 1971, when it was first completed, the Parks Highway was first called the Anchorage - Fairbanks Highway but was renamed for George A. Parks, territorial governor of Alaska (1925 to 1933). The highway offers many opportunities to see North America's tallest peak, Mount McKinley. It also provides access to Denali National Park and Preserve. Generations of Athabascans lived and traveled through what is now the National Park. The first permanent non-Native settlement was Kantishna established in 1905 during a gold rush. Naturalist Charles Sheldon and guide Harry Karstens set up the boundaries for a national park. In 1917, It was established as Mount McKinley National Park and in 1976 was designated as an international biosphere. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act enlarged the park to 6 million acres and was renamed the Denali National Park and Preserve. In 2015, President Obama renamed Mt. McKinley to Denali, its Athabascan given name meaning “the Tall One”. The Park and Preserve is slightly larger than the state of Massachusetts. The terrain in the Denali National Park and Preserve includes glaciers, glacial valleys, boreal forest and Arctic tundra. There are more than 650 species of flowering plants, shrubs, lichen, and moss and coniferous trees (birch and aspen) in the lowlands. It is home to 37 species of mammals- lynx, marmots, Arctic ground squirrels, moose, caribou, wolf, Dall sheep, black bears, and brown (grizzly) bears among others. It is also home to 130 different bird species, the most impressive is the golden eagle. Activities along the Parks Highway include hiking, biking, camping, rafting, fishing, wildlife viewing. Take a bus tour through the park. Reservations are required for tours and camping. The annual Denali Park Road Lottery in September allows visitors to drive their private vehicle on the Denali Park Road on select days.
The route starts from the south end in the Denali Park, near Anchorage, on Highway 3 and travels northeasterly through the Denali Park and Preserve and to the community of Healy. Highway 3 continues into Fairbanks.
Points of Interest
Denali National Park and Preserve
48 miles of trails.
Location of the Alaska Veterans Memorial
Hurricane Gulch Bridge
Great photo ops and berry picking on the way
Little Coal Creek Trail
27 miles of trail for the adventurous
Mount McKinley (Denali) /Broad Pass and Alaska Range
The 2,400-foot pass has diverse growth and great photo ops of the Alaska Range
Whitewater rafting in the turbulent river
Learn about Alaska’s largest coal-mining operation.
Denali to Fairbanks- An Alaska Experience
Start at the Chulitna River Bridge at the south end of Denali National Park on Highway 3. Enjoy the views of Mount McKinley, now renamed Denali. Byers Lake, the Alaska Veterans Memorial, and Denali State Park will appear shortly. If you feel adventurous, stop at the Little Coal Creek Trailhead for a hiking experienced. Keep driving through Denali National Park and stop at the Hurricane Gulch Bridge for a photo op. There’s a parking lot to the north to pull into after crossing the bridge.
Continue to the communities of Cantwell, McKinley, and Healy. Stop in Healy and take a virtual tour of a coal mine. Continue to Anderson, Nenana, and into Fairbanks. Get a room for the night and enjoy an evening meal at the selections of diners and restaurants in town or maybe float down the Cheyna River before calling it a day. Fairbanks is known for its view of the Northern Lights. Best to get out of town a bit to truly see the lights away from the glow of the city. Enjoy the Alaska sunsets and sunrises that seem to last forever.
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