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Denali Highway conditions 2011

Boston, Mass.
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Denali Highway conditions 2011

We are thinking of driving the Denali Highway in August from Paxson to Cantwell, then on to stay at Denali NP. We would stay one night at a cabin in the Tangle Lakes area near the Paxson side.

Do rental companies exclude the road? Is the unpaved road too rough for a minivan? I understand the road is like a washboard in some places, especially after a lot of rain. I expect to drive slowly, less than 30 mph. My current understanding of Denali Highway is that it's beautiful but conditions change from day to day. Is there hunting in August that would cause wildlife to be scarce near the road? Any thoughts about traveling the road are appreciated as posts I could find were from 2008 and before.

USA
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1. Re: Denali Highway conditions 2011

We've never seen much wildlife along the Denali Hwy, some caribou at a great distance, swans & other birds in the wetlands. It's not like Denali NP for wildlife but it is one of our favorite drives.

The road necessitates slow travel but is not a horrible road at all, although most rental companies disallow travel on it.

Toronto, Canada
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for Algonquin Provincial Park
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2. Re: Denali Highway conditions 2011

http://www.icdc.com/~neubauer/denali.htm

a link about someones trip.

Paxson, Alaska
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3. Re: Denali Highway conditions 2011

I'm not going to post about rental cars and driving the DHwy, 'cuz a number of the super-frequent posters here get their knickers in a twist whenever I do; rather I'll restrict myself to other of your questions.

The state has been taking significantly better care of the DHwy in the past six or so years than in the prior dozen; this has coincided with the onset of Princess Tours running their buses across the road anywhere from 6 to 14 times per week. Whether or not that is a causal factor is irrelevant.

I have a VW Golf. It has about the lowest road clearance of any vehicle outside a Grand Prix. I BABY that car. I also drive it across the DHwy without any care, or issues - none at all. And I never have had cause to regret driving it.

That a Golf can traverse the road, and that Princess will drive their $650,000 buses across it, tells you a whole lot more about the condition of the road than Hertz, or TA forum writers, can.

Caribou season opens about the first of August. Yes, there will be hunters along the road - few between Mon-Thur; reasonable # Fri-Sun. But truly, never many - a good chance you would see none of them; just their rigs parked at a significant number of favored locations. And it is the caribou herd that IS the animal glory of this road. At the time WHEN the herd ("Nelchina herd", approx 38,000 in 2011) is on site, it is a terrestrial animal spectacle that you cannot surpass anywhere else in road North America, with the exception of also seeing the same on the northernmost reaches of the Dalton. Denal Park does not have anything like that, although very understandably it also is wondrous to be able to see perhaps 5 or 6 grizzlies at one time - which is a possibility in the Park but not here.

So, IF the herd is by the road, and as migrants they will and do wander on it, the presence of hunters really and truly does not dissuade them.

Best time for other animals, as is true just about everywhere, is any time other than mid-day, when most visitors traverse the road. Fact of life. We have lots of moose - know where to look. We have otters, pikas, foxes, beavers. We have no traffic rules as in the Park - you drive, of course, and can stop and stay wherever you wish for as long as you wish. August is an okay time for birds; pretty good for waterfowl but not terrific for passerines or galliformes.

If the weather is great, the scenery is great. If the weather is foul, you'll not see much. Oh, I forgot: that is the case anywhere....except the former is so much more so on the DHwy ;)

Hope this helps.....

Audie Bakewell

Denali Highway Cabins

Paxson

Edited: 17 May 2011, 16:02
Bathurst, Canada
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4. Re: Denali Highway conditions 2011

Just a quick question: when is the best season/chances to see the Caribou herd on Denali Highway ?

Alaska
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5. Re: Denali Highway conditions 2011

Late August and September is when they're migrating through that area.

Boston, Mass.
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6. Re: Denali Highway conditions 2011

Thanks for your replies. Though it sounds beautiful, we're now coming up the Parks Highway and staying three nights in the Healy/Denali area. We may drive on the Denali Highway for several miles from the Paxson (west) side just to see part of it. It came down to driving a lot more or spending a few nights in one area. We have 12 days, 11 nights in Alaska but we could easily use more. The caribou migration must be a powerful experience of Alaska!

I have another question about where to stay our last night but will start a new topic thread.

DHL Ky
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7. Re: Denali Highway conditions 2011

Anybody been across recently? Heading out on a motorhome trip in early sept and would like to traverse from the East [Tok/Glenallen] to the Denali area if possible. Will be driving a rental RV [but that is another issue] and want to make sure I won't be taking any unreasonable risk. I know gravel roads are posted in the rules as off limits, but I can temper my driving accordingly. Any local advice??

Thanks

Anchorage, Alaska
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for Anchorage
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8. Re: Denali Highway conditions 2011

I've only driven this road a couple of times and have loved it both times. The only complaint I've had about this road is bugs/mosquitoes and I don't know if they've a bad (or good) time of year.

"... Do rental companies exclude the road?..."

- some do; check with your agency

"...Is the unpaved road too rough for a minivan?..."

- that would depend on you drive

I think A.Bakewell has addressed the highway very accurately. It's pretty much how I've experienced it when I've been on it.

Good luck,

Scott

Paxson, Alaska
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316 posts
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9. Re: Denali Highway conditions 2011

As of late August the road remains as we described earlier: it is in better shape this summer than in any of the 15 years I have been here; an even older-timer (40 yrs) says the same about it relative to his time here.

Honestly, people: stop cting books written by 3rd- or 4th- or 99th-person hacks, who themselves are just cribbing from other writers. Driving the Denali Highway is as fearsome an experience as driving down that suburban road in YOUR town, or that main city boulevard in YOUR city.

Just don't attempt it in, say, January.....

Audubon Bakewell

Denali Highway Cabins

Paxson

Edited: 24 August 2011, 18:03
USA
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10. Re: Denali Highway conditions 2011

We slow down & sorta pullover when a speeding vehicle or Princess bus comes at us but other than that we consider the Denali highway a piece-of-cake & one of our favorite trips, especially for seeing birds earlier in the season.