The Denali Highway: 135 Miles of Unpaved Beautiful Wilderness

Meier’s Lake Roadhouse at the east end of the Denali Highway

No internet or phone service since Haines. Generally great weather. Occasionally it rained. Generally warmer (in the 60’s) than home in Colorado.

Wikipedia:

“The highway is now little used and poorly maintained, and closed to all traffic from October to mid-May each year. Only the easternmost 21.3 miles and westernmost 2.6 miles are paved; whether the remainder should be paved as well is a continual source of debate. Washboarding and extreme dust are common, the recommended speed limit is 30 mph

Winter travel on the Denali Highway is exclusively by snowmobile and dogsled. Automobile travelers are severely discouraged from attempting to traverse the road in winter; as recently as 1996 three persons died from exposure when snows blocked their progress. The road is cleared by DOT late in April and generally is passable by non-4WD from then until the first snows close it, usually late September on the eastern, tundra end and late October-early November on the lower, boreal forest western end.”

The description on the internet of the Denali Highway is scary, but the roads were actually better than the county roads to our cabin in Colorado!

Ray, bemused by the 1970’s era gas pumps which work better in the extremely cold winter temperatures
Strawberry rhubarb and berry pie with homemade vanilla ice cream
For $330 I could have purchased an authentic beaver hat. Warm! and I look like a rock star, don’t I?
The Trans Alaska Pipeline. A scar upon the land.
Maclaren Mountains as we climb to the pass.
Maclaren summit Second highest in Alaska
Camping next to Clear Creek
Some fishin’ but no catchin’ on Clear Creek.

Breakfast and Pie at the Alpine Lodge:

The Alpine Lodge

“We are a wilderness lodge in remote Alaska. We are open year round, every day. Alpine Creek Lodge is on the Denali Highway, so travelers can get there in the summer via a gravel road. 68 miles West of Paxson Alaska, and 67 miles East of Cantwell, Alaska. In the summer, we offer hiking tours, photography tours, wildlife viewing tours, gold panning tours, fishing tours and much more! Fully guided, or you can do it yourself! In the winter, the road is not plowed from October 15th to May 15th. During this period, snow machine, dog mushing, skiing, etc are the only way to get to us. Drop off and pick up are available in Cantwell, Alaska via snow machine or tracked vehicle. We are on the South side of the Alaska Range, in the Clearwater Mountains, and this is where you will find real Alaska!”

While we visited the Alpine Lodge, we spoke with the owner and hunters staying there who were harvesting excess grizzly bear (supervised by Alaska game and fish). Grizzlies had almost eliminated the moose population and cameras mounted on grizzlies had evidenced killing sprees of moose calves, fox, Trumpeter Swans, Ptarmigan, beavers and other game animals. The grizzlies killed without eating, then moved on to the next opportunity.

In the winter, the Alpine Lodge gets fresh food and supplies every couple weeks from Cantwell (67 miles to the west). They have a Jeep fitted with tracks (a $10,000 accessory) allowing then to travel the Denali Highway over the snow where otherwise only dog sled mushers or snow machines can go.

Chrissy served up omelettes, spam, hash browns and apple and berry pie!
Ray decorating his omelette with Sri Racha
Oh yes, did I mention there was pie? Best in Alaska so far!
Trumpeter Swan, one of many we saw along the Denali Highway
Campsite on Seattle Creek “Just singin’ in the rain”
Getting close to the end of the Denali Highway
Our first sight of Denali, the mountain, wreathes in clouds
Denali National Park

Next – Denali National Park

The Alaska Highway: From Haines to Tok 🦅

After disembarking from the Alaska Ferry and securing our campsite, we walked 50 yards to the Lighthouse Restaurant, where we met our wonderful waitress, Tiffany. This funny young lady recommended our best two meals thus far: A smoked salmon hoagie one night and incredibly wonderful salmon fish and chips washed down with an Alaska Brewing Company Amber Beer the next.

Haines is the “other” southeast town besides Skagway, having a connection to the road system. All other towns are serviced by ferry. Haines does limit cruise ships to a couple per week, so it’s much less cheesy than Ketchikan or Skagway.

Main Street Haines, Alaska Great views!
Tiffany, our waitress and entertainer
Shirley plays it straight

Breakfasting at the Rusty Compass Café, Lee Robinson (son of Shirley’s friend Didi Robinson) served up one of the best caramel rolls we have ever eaten. Thick gooey caramel sauce, savory bread dough and a touch of cinnamon. After visiting a few museums and gift shops in town and purchasing my Alaska Fishing License (more on this later) we headed out of town to explore two nearby state parks Chilkoot and Chilkat, in opposite directions.

Haines Packing Company

On the way to Chilkat we stopped at the Haines Packing Company (in operation since 1917), hoping to find local smoked salmon. To Ray and Shirley’s surprise, the woman helping us turned out to be Hawaiian from the big Island. What a sweetheart! Jolene taught us which salmon was the tastiest, fattiest and yummiest (King and Coho). We bought frozen King Salmon steaks for later grilling (we are too early for fresh salmon as the runs are typically June-September), Smoked Coho fillets and jarred Sockeye for gifts (we will see if any makes it home).

Jolene, from Hawaii, serving up tasty local salmon

After exploring Chilkat State Park, we opted for a scenic dinner on the River.

Dinner on the Chilkat River
An early spring this year brings out copious amounts of Sitka Spruce tree pollen, collecting in the river
Footbridge to a cabin across the Chilkat River

Driving back through Haines we stayed at Chillkoot Lake State Park in campsites overlooking Chilkoot Lake. So far, Alaska campgrounds have not been crowded at all.

Chilkoot Lake
My artsy? photo of Chilkoot Lake
A Bald Eagle stops by our campsite

On our way north, we stopped at the Jilkaat Kwan Heritage Center (A Tlingit native culture center). A nice young Tlingit woman gave us an informal tour and shared native methods for processing traditional foods such as hooligan fish (similar to smelt), jarred moose meat, soapberry and seal oil. When attending college in Oregon, her family regularly sent her “care packages” of moose and seal oil. She likes seal oil on her potatoes!!

Yukon Territory

40 miles North of Haines, we crossed the border into the Canadian Province of Yukon Territory. We swiftly climbed above tree line into tundra and crossed Chilkat Pass.

The Yukon – friendly border agents!
The Tiger scouts the way forward over Chilkat Pass
Lovely vistas

A short hike to Million Dollar Falls on the Tokhanne River

Sally at the falls

The country here is unlike anything we have seen – Muskeg (soggy, springy, like a trampoline) bogs with a permafrost layer a few feet below the surface), stunted black spruce trees, 10-15 feet high, but looking in the photo like tiny plants

Muskeg with Black Spruce
A hiking trail over the muskeg to a pretty lake. Thoughtful, as locals say you can’t sink to your armpits .

Tonight we camped at Discovery Yukon Lodgings, in Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory (YT). The showers cost $1 Canadian (a”Loonie”, as it has a picture of a loon bird on each coin). I had the cheapest shower – one loonie (1.5 minutes) where the others used three (6 minutes). I have found a compensation to having no hair!

Back into Alaska

After 200 lovely, friendly miles in the Yukon Territory we crossed the border back into Alaska near Beaver Creek YT

Passing through Tok, Alaska, we stopped at Donnelly Creek Campground for the night after picking up dinner from a Thai food truck. Tasty! Interestingly, Thai food can be found across Alaska and the Yukon – a culinary favorite!!

Pad Thai, Tom Kha Gai and spring rolls
Comfortable campsite
Sally reads murder mysteries in bed
Morning view from our camp

Next post: The beautiful Denali Highway!

North to Alaska 🐾

From Colorado to Bellingham, Washington

Along with our good friends Ray and Shirley Yang, Sally and I are embarking on a land and sea voyage to Alaska.

Starting separately, we will meet Shirley and Ray for dinner with friends in Spokane Washington, then later again on May 17th at the Bellingham, Washington Alaska Ferry Terminal to load our campers on the ferry for the second leg of our journey.

After three days of coastal marine sightseeing, we will disembark in Haines, Alaska where we will connect to the Alaska Highway and begin our driving tour of Alaska and the Yukon.

Please visit http://davidwwillett.blog to sign up for email notifications as I post updates.


Leaving Fort Collins, we camped the first night on Bear Lake.

Bear Lake is a natural freshwater lake on the Utah-Idaho border in the Western United States. About 109 square miles (280 km2) in size, it is split about equally between the two states.

The south end of the lake, in the area of modern-day Laketown, was the location of a rendezvous in the summer of 1827 and 1828. Mountain men, including Jedediah Smith and Jim Bridger, gathered at this location, along with trade goods suppliers, and American Indians from several different tribes. The mountain men and Indians sold their furs in exchange for various store goods and supplies, and several weeks were spent reveling in assorted amusements and liquor.

Sunset on Bear Lake

We spent the second night at Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park, Utah.

The state park is the site of North America’s highest single-structured sand dune which is approximately 470 feet (140 m) high.[A] The park encompasses 4,800 acres and features the Bruneau Dunes Observatory, where visitors can use a telescope for stargazing.

Bruneau Sand Dune

On our way to our friends, the Millers in Spokane, we drove through the lovely Northern Idaho and Western Washington countryside.

Mother’s Day dinner, remote campsite, Northern Idaho

Fragrant Canola in bloom, Fenn, Idaho

Miller family hike, Palisades Park, Spokane amid blooming Camas

Lovely ladies!

Millers, Yangs and Willett’s, Cedars Floating Restaurant, Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Sally and grandson Drake

After a stop with daughter Julie and family in Seattle, we meet the Yangs at the Alaska Ferry terminal in Bellingham on May 20th.

Packrats Eat My Wiring

Truck parked at my cabin. Packrats ate the spark plug wires on my old, faithful ‘92 Chevy truck. Will try to install new wires tomorrow. Nice to get away from the news media for awhile and do something simple……

Packrats ate my wiring!

Successful repair. Replaced 3 spark plug wires plus coil wire. Two were completely chewed through, so had to guess, guessed wrong, but switched them and it worked! 🐭

Have not done this in a while…