The Denali Highway, Alaska

Cantwell to Clearwater Mountain Lodge

It was a pretty cold and rainy day. We arrived from Denali National Park the day before and we were thoroughly drenched. The cabin and heater was nice and dried a lot of our stuff including the tent.

We prepared for an equally wet and cold day. First, we stopped at JPs a little cafe shop that serves coffee and meat pies (which I realized are empanadas). They were delicious so we ordered 2 to go for lunch.

While there an older couple ordered “breakfast.” Now on the blackboard it said meat pies- $8 and it had 3 choices underneath. One was breakfast. The couple thought they were actually going to get all the ingredients separate- like eggs and sausages not in the pie. They ate it anyways and seemed to like it, but they were very confused with the order.

The first 3 miles are paved, but then it turns rocky and dirt. From Cantwell, the road to Paxson is generally uphill.

There is another bicycle blogger who did this route some years ago, but from Paxson. I don’t mean to disrespect him, but I think we are more badass. We had uphill, rain, and cold weather.

There is a company that rents out Jeeps to ride the highway due to it mainly being dirt and gravel. Several passed us in a caravan formation. The first Jeep stopped and said,

“You know they are grating the road right?”

“No, but thank you. ”

“I don’t know what you will do. Maybe ride in our tracks?”

“We did the Dalton Highway, we will be fine.”

I didnt mean to be so snarky, but this man driving a jeep is telling me how to bike, one, and two, I dont know what he expected us to do, stop and turn around?

About 2 miles from our lunch point (Brushkana Campground, 30 miles in), it downpoured. We got to the picnic shelter shivering and drenched. Dad removed his shirt and was able to wring it out. Dad gave me one of those plastic emergency blankets to keep warm in.

We ate our pies waiting for it to lessen, which it did, but we were still cold.

We managed to dry some as we made it up a hill to where a Princess Cruise bus was parked. The driver came out and asked us to make a little prese tstion for the 44 people.

It was a strange request, but we did it and the majority of the bus seemed interested.

The common question for Dad is how can he do something like this- is he retired? I also get the same question, but no one assumes I am retired. So that is my response now. It gets laughs.

Some passengers gave us apples and snacks when we left lol.

After 10 minutes we left and soon ran into a guy picking blueberries. It is the season so along the highway there are so many people picking them. He told us of another spot that would be easier for us to try some.

We parted ways and again, about 2 miles before the Clearwater Mountain Lodge, it downpoured again.

I was dripping as I enterred the lobby.

It is a famoly run business and theodge itself does feel like home. We were able to get the last room in the main lodge and join for the family style dinner. ($129 for the room and $25 for the dinner). The dinner was delicious and we ate as much as we wanted, which was great for a cyclist’s stomach. Free coffee, tea, and hot chocolate all the time.

In total, there was a grouo from Oaklahoma, Italy, and Houston. It was a full house!

Clearwater to Maclaren River Lodge

Breakfast started at 8 am and there was so much food! We definitley ate our fill.

The sun was shinning and I was ready to go. The forecast was rain so I was worried we were going to get drenched again.

The ride was pretty flat, some ups and downs, but it was extremely bumpy with rocks and these waves (car vibrations make these waves in the ground). I felt like a bobble head the whole time. Finally we got to Alpine Lodge for lunch. Like Clearwater it is more a family business and was cozy with 2 cute dogs.

The rest of the ride was still dirt until around mile marker 47 for about 6 miles then we had sort of asphalt. We did get spat one for a few minutes, but most of the ride was between sun and clouds, so a lot betted day than before.

On the ride we saw a fox with a rabbit in its mouth and a porcupine. There was also a squirrel that ran in front of me to cross the road and then sreeched at me because he almost got hit. Silly squirrel.

We got to Maclaren River Lodge, which is near the glacier of the same name. The lodge is more of a tourist business than family run, but the cabin we got was warm and clean. Though Dad’s bed was so bad he had to blow up his air mattress and sleep ontop. They gave us towels and shampoo, which was nice.

Dinner was good, but we still had to order extra fries- loaded fries, to be full.

Maclaren to Paxson Lake BLM Campground

We ordered the biggest breakfast they had, which was pretty huge. I actually couldn’t finish it, but did a good job!

We thought the rain wouldnt be so bad, but it was. We made it 20 miles to Tangle Lake Lodge and had lunch there. Or rather breakfast for lunch. The owner made us blueberry pancakes with eggs. But the blueberries were local, like from across the road.

Which….we saw that guy from 2 days prior who was picking blueberries.

Because it was raining, we stopped 2 miles later at Tangle Lake Inn for tea/hot chocolate and fruits of the forest pie.

There is one climb, Maclearan Summit. The second biggest pass in Alaska, behind Atigun Pass on the Dalton Highway. Good to Alaskan signs, the summit pass signs was not at the top. Actually, the pass sign for Atigun was at the bottom!

Finally, we shipped off. We stopped at a rest stop to recover from the 2 big climbs as well as a break from the endless wind and the rain. We did meet another pair of bicyclists, but they juat started out and where going the other direction.

At the rest stop we ran into a group about to go hunting and they were quite impressed with us. The grandpa was still several sentences behind with shock haha.

We finally made it to some down hill and out of the Denali highway! We bike about 15 more miles to the Paxson Lake BLM Campground (Bureau of land management).

The annoying part is that it is a mile or 2 down hill so the next day we had to go up it. Plus gravel.

Per norm, it started raining 2 miles before the campground and then stopped in time for us to pitch the tent, get ready, eat dinner, and be inside the tent. As soon as we were in our sleeping bags- rain.

Trying to hang dry our clothes inside the tent

Tis Alaska’s Fall

For your amusement: who says biking can’t be fashionable?

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2 thoughts on “The Denali Highway, Alaska

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