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Valdez to Denali...which way do you recommend?

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DFW, Texas
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Valdez to Denali...which way do you recommend?

I'm still planning our 2008 Summer vacation. My wife and I plan on visiting Valdez near the beginning of the trip (after flying in to Anchorage and spending a day driving the Turnagain Arm). Upon leaving Valdez, which route do you recommend to Denali... The Richardson Hwy up to Fairbanks or double-back toward Anchorage and head up the Parks Hwy? I have not seen much on this forum about the area between Glenallen and Fairbanks. Tell me why you prefer the route you recommend.


Healy, Alaska
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1. Re: Valdez to Denali...which way do you recommend?

Okay, since you are asking for my opinion - if you had the time, I would make it a loop trip - driving over road you haven't traveled over to me is always more exciting than driving the same route again. There isn't much on the Richardson, but I don't think you would be bored either. It would give you a real taste of the interior of Alaska as well. So yes, if you have time, head up the Rich from Valdez, spend a day in Fairbanks, head to Denali and so on. I hope that helps. :)

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2. Re: Valdez to Denali...which way do you recommend?

OK Tex, i grabbed a lot of ideas from my past posting because I love the idea of driving between Valdez and Fairbanks. This is partly cobbled into order but could use more work to read like a professional job - but it tells you the why.

Stop by the Worthington Glacier on the way to or from Valdez.

You will drive from Glennallen to Valdez along an official Scenic Highway of the US, you can go off to Chitna on a paved road and explore the Copper River area, and you can continue on to McCarthy and Kennecott over 60 miles of gravel road, park your car and take the foot bridge over to the historical area. Then simply driving the "old Highway" to Copper Center will take you through an Indian village and to the historic center at the old lodge.

The Copper Center Lodge is one of the last old Roadhouses in Alaska, and if you don't stay there it is certainly worth dropping in for a meal and the atmosphere.

Two ideas for things to do - flight seeing. I would chose Valdez to fly out of to be immediately in the mountains and over the glaciers and islands (if the weather goes along with your timing) and Glennallen to fly out of to go to McCarthy and old Kennecott copper mine, into the Wrangel=St Elias mountains and the national reserve there, where you can see a lot in a short time.

Take your time and enjoy the great scenery, the Richardson will show you four mountain ranges. You drive through the Alaska Range with the pipeline next to you and the special earthquake preparations between Upper and Lower Miller Creeks (where the road and the pipeline pass over a major fault), you will see the Wrangels as you drive south from Paxson to Glennallen

Heading north on the Richardson Highway, you will drive past Paxson Lake and into the Alaska Range, again with beautiful glaciers gracing the mountains that you do not see if you are going in the other direction. Farther north you pass Summit Lake and round a corner to face Rainbow Ridge. I hope the afternoon sun is on the ridge when you encounter that. The Miller Creeks follow along with the special supports for the pipeline where it crosses the Denali earthquake fault, well worth a stop and a look. Then you enter into the Delta region, go past Greely with our "anti-missile" missiles, and down the Tanana River Valley toward Fairbanks with the Alaska Range on your left (south).

Just another ho-hum day in paradise!

Thus Fairbanks and the Interior get more sunshine.

Roughly: Cantwell – Paxson, 80 miles (60 are gravel)

Paxson – Delta 80 or 90 miles, paved

Paxson – Miller Creeks (the earthquake zone) 50 miles

Denali – Fairbanks 150 paved miles

Fairbanks – Delta 100 miles

You should confirm these distances with your maps during planning the alternatives.

Paxson is about 176 miles from Fairbanks and it is quite easily driven even if you make many worthy stops along the way. I hope you buy a Milepost so you can read the descriptions in advance and choose the sights and stops you want to make along the way. This is one of my favorite drives, but then I am prejudiced a bit.

On the Richardson just 15-20 miles south of Paxson are two new lodges well worth considering to overnight, and others to the west of Paxson. Just a few hundred yards up the paved portion of the Denali Highway are the "Denali Highway Cabins"

If you are interested in high country tundra terrain, then a drive along the Denali Highway to Tangle Lakes is well worth it. If you go the full 20 paved miles to Tangle Lakes Lodge, you can stop for something to eat in the vicinity or the Tangle Lakes Lodge, which is nothing fancy but has served a lot of Alaskans on fishing and hunting trips. There are newer and fancier places that probably offer 'more modern' atmosphere to stop at as well. This little side trip will take you up into high, glacier formed territory and at 16.4 mile you enter the Tangle Lakes Archaeological District, with over 400 archaeological sites in the area (nothing for tourism that I am aware of, however).

From history, archaeology and travels in Europe I have always pictured this terrain as typical of Europe as the glaciers were retreating and our ancestors were chucking spears at mastodon and deer. Looking out at the colorful tundra with the mountains and glaciers, lakes and rolling landscape in front of you, it is easy to imagine the days when these great beasts roamed very similar areas along with our ancestors. Then you are rewarded with the beauty of the drive back to Paxson as you head east, back to the main highway.

From Paxson to Glennallen you may well experience what permafrost does to highways. Take it easy and enjoy it.

Fairbanks has been listed in different parts of this forum, but I recommend a car rental and day trip from the University Museum to Musk ox Farm (Large Animal farm today), out along Farmers Loop past the permafrost houses and sunken radio station, along Goldstream Road to Fox, perhaps a stop at the Turtle Club, and check out possibilities at Gold Dredge #8, gold panning on your own, Chatinika Gold Camp and the abandoned gold dredge across the street, Eldorado Gold mine & train, and then return to Fairbanks along the Steese Highway and stop to look over the detailed pipeline display on the roadside. This summer you will find a surprisingly large permafrost ice lens exposed on the cliff a few hundred feet north of the pipeline display, something few people get to see. To relax or to watch the northern lights there are the Chena Hot Springs. Often unmentioned is the Palace Saloon in Pioneer's Park with the old cabins from the city, and the Ester Gold fields with the Malamute Saloon. For Chena Lakes, just head down the Richardson Highway toward Delta and keep your eyes opened for the signs. I recommend stopping at the local visitor's center and gathering current information there that will be appropriate for the season.

Denali is a great place with the concentration of animals. You will not see so many animals in other locations. Fairbanks is great for the riverboat tour, the Pioneer Park with the old, original cabins, and the hot springs offers a hot soak, a beautiful drive and great hikes along with likely moose close by. In addition you have the gold mines gold tours and opportunity to pan for gold on your own, look at permafrost and visit the University Museum and the Musk Ox / Big Animal farm behind the university.


DFW, Texas
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3. Re: Valdez to Denali...which way do you recommend?

coalminer / 71, thanks for the reply. We will stick with our original plan of taking the Richardson up and around to Denali. 71, you have told me just about everything to do and see between Valdez and Fairbanks in one post...thanks! I appreciate you telling me about the side trips off the highway.

Our current itinerary is as follows for 2008:

6/6 - Fly in late to Anchorage

6/7 - Drive the Turnagain Arm, turning around at Portage Glacier (take 1 hr tour to glacier)

6/8 - Drive to Valdez, sightseeing along the way (Matanuska Glacier)

6/9 - Day trip on Prince William Sound (Stan Stephens Cruises)

6/10 - Another day in and around Valdez (visitor center, Worthington & Valdez Glaciers, Thompson Pass, short hike)

6/11 - Valdez to Delta Junction, sightseeing along the way (check out drive to Chitina and paved part of Denali Hwy out of Paxson)

6/12 - Drive to Denali, sightseeing along the way (Fairbanks)

6/13 - Denali NP...shuttle bus to Wonder Lake

6/14 - Another day at Denali, hiking around entrance area

6/15 - Denali to Talkeetna...jet boat trip in afternoon

6/16 - Talkeetna to Seward, sightseeing along the Seward Hwy and checking out the Cooper Landing area

6/17 - Day cruise (small boat with Saltwater Lodge or Captains Cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours...not sure yet...need feedback)

6/18 - Day trip to Homer (get up early), spending the night again in Seward

6/19 - Seward...Exit Glacier, Alaska Sealife Center, town

6/20 - Seward to Anchorage for late plane home to Texas...take 3 hour float trip on Kenai River in morning if possible

If there are any holes in our itinerary, please let me know. Recommendations on things to do and see are always appreciated.

Thanks again

4. Re: Valdez to Denali...which way do you recommend?

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