A trip to Alaska would not be complete without paying a visit to Denali National Park, located approximately 240 miles north of Anchorage. It offers incredible vast views of the Alaska tundra, potential for a variety of wildlife sightings, and America’s tallest mountain – Mt. McKinley/Denali.
But this journey doesn’t come easy, as Denali is approximately 4 1/2 hours north of Anchorage.
You may find yourself wanting to break up the trip some, or perhaps just want to take advantage of everything Alaska has to offer.
While scenic driving is a great way to see the land of the Last Frontier, there are also many stops along the way that offer an opportunity to really immerse yourself in Alaska’s beauty and provide you with experiences that you will cherish for a lifetime.
Below you will find information as to what makes these stops worth adding to your route, and when they come from a local photographer, there’s got to be reason!
* Indicates a required parking fee of $5, annual park pass may be valid in some areas.
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
Located right in the heart of Anchorage, this epic trail runs 11 miles along the coast, through the forest and into downtown. It offers views of the Knik Arm, the Chugach mountains, Mount Susitna (Sleeping Lady), Fire Island, and even Denali can be seen on a clear day!
The trail is fully paved and designed for non-motorized use – meaning you can walk, bike or even skate along one the of the most scenic paths in the nation. There are many locations in which you can access the trail, and some of the best overlooks/parks are found below.
This quaint and cozy little park provides quick and easy access to the coastal trail as well as a stroll around the lagoon with views of the Chugach Mountains.
This is a popular location for bird watchers as many different species frequent the area, especially around sunset. During winter, this becomes a popular ice-skating location that is maintained by the municipality.
This is a perfect location to learn facts and information around the Great Alaska earthquake of 1964. It is approximately a 1/8 mile walk from the parking lot to the area in which you will find multiple signs and visual depictions of this event.
Downtown Anchorage Viewpoint
This is a pullout directly following Earthquake Park (heading west) which grants incredible views of the Anchorage skyline with the Chugach mountains as the backdrop.
You may have seen this viewpoint of Anchorage before and wondered how to get there – well this is the place you should go if you want to see Anchorage with mountains as the backdrop.
A great stop for getting a feel for what an Alaska “beach” is like. Nestled perfectly along the shoreline, you can easily admire or even walk along the coast, admiring views of Sleeping Lady, Anchorage or even Denali on a clear day.
“Greetings from Alaska” Mural
This is an awesome and quick photo stop that can be made on your way in/out of Anchorage. Painted on the side of a building is the perfect “postcard picture,” where you can quickly snap a selfie or group shot standing in front of a colorful Alaska mural.
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The mural is positioned on the backside of a one-way street so you will only find it if you know exactly where to go, which can be found below:
- Address: 610 East 5th St Anchorage AK 99501
On your way from Anchorage to Denali, a 4-mile detour off the Glenn Highway will take you to one of the most photographed and popular fishing spots in the Anchorage area.
Eklutna tailrace sits where an artificial eddy of water connects to the glacier fed Knik River, resulting in the stunning turquoise waters. This area is easily accessible and offers many trails, one of which is over the bridge giving you a stunning view of Pioneer Peak and a possible reflection in the water.
Walking closer to the river’s edge, you will find many vintage vehicles buried in the ground, left behind from demolitions or after being decommissioned. In the summer, the tailrace is also a very popular fishing location, as salmon begin swimming upstream to their breeding grounds.
If you are looking for a quick, easy stop that provides one of the most iconic photo ops, this place is for you!
- Address: 13145 S Old Glenn Highway Palmer AK 99645
Eagle River Nature Center*
On your way from Anchorage to Denali you can take this detour, about 14 miles off the main highway, but you will be rewarded with majestic views of the mountains as you approach your destination.
The Eagle River Nature Center offers an abundance of trails, where you will truly feel a sense of peace as you walk amongst the towering trees, open mountain views and glistening river.
Just a short hike down will take you to the Rodak Nature Trail which is a ¾ mile loop through a couple different boardwalks, both offering incredible views.
Another popular trail is Albert Loop, which is approximately 3 miles long and runs through more of the wilderness. The trails are available 24/7/365, however may have seasonal closures due to wildlife activity.
In addition to the solitude and tranquility that the trails themselves offer, the Visitor’s Center is also worth paying a visit to, as it has many artifacts and information about the area.
It does run on a seasonal schedule as well, which can be located on their website.
- Address: 32750 Eagle River Rd Eagle River AK 99577
- Phone: (907) 694-2108
- Website: ernc.org
- Social Media: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube
South Fork/Barbara Falls
Why stick to the rivers and lakes that you’re used to, when you can go chase waterfalls?
At just about 1.5 miles round trip, this is a relatively easy and short hike to one of the best waterfalls along this route. Some may refer to this trail as South Fork Falls, while others call it Barbara Falls.
Initially you will park in a residential area, and walk through the path that has a gate across it.
This area is owned privately, but also allows public access.
Following this path all the way will take you to an overlook where you will see the gushing waters cascading over the bedrock and into the gorge below.
If you are feeling more adventurous, you can take a different trail that leads right to the base of the falls, however it will require more agility and maneuvering. This trail can be easily missed if you do not know what you are looking for, so be on the lookout for the only crossing bridge.
If you are approaching the bridge from the parking lot, this trail will be at the very front of the bridge, and it leads to the right.
This detour would add approximately another ½ mile each way, but totally worth it if you’re willing to get a little muddy and/or wet!
If visiting during winter, these falls will begin to freeze over and create some very magical ice formations. Micro spikes are highly suggested if venturing this trail during winter.
- Address: 21711 Ken Logan Cir Eagle River AK 99577
This trail is about 2 miles round trip and also offers the ability to view the falls from either an overlook or you may opt to journey down to the base of the falls via switchback.
This hike is more suitable for moderate hikers as the elevation varies in many places and the hike down to the falls is a bit more strenuous. It will also only take you to the river’s bend, so it is actually easier to see the falls from the overlook above.
One of the most beautiful things that Alaska has to offer are its glaciers, and when they feed into a body of water you get one of the most spectacular shades of turquoise you will ever see.
Eklutna Lake is located about 15 miles off the highway, but also offers incredible views leading in.
It is a popular location for camping, kayaking, 4-wheeling and hiking. If you do not have the time/energy to partake in any of these activities, you can easily take in the views of the lake itself, just by following the road until it dead ends in the parking lot.
- Address: Eklutna Lake Anchorage AK
This is a great option if you are pressed for time or looking for a short, casual stop while on your drive from Anchorage to Denali.
It is directly off the main highway and provides access to a park setting – including picnic tables, grills and bathrooms. The name also speaks for itself, as a clear day will provide a reflection that mimics that of… a mirror, of course.
Mirror Lake offers incredible beauty any time of the year – our favorite is probably fall!
- Address: MP 23.6 Glenn Highway Chugiak AK 99567
- Phone: (907) 343-4355
Also living up to its name, this is a must-see for a short stroll and incredible, reflecting views.
It is also located directly off the highway and is easily accessible. The trail is relatively flat and even, well maintained and handicap friendly.
It offers a variety of viewing platforms taking you through the woods, a marsh and of course around a beautiful lake that offers an almost guaranteed reflection every time.
The view shown in the picture above is found on the opposite side of the lake, adding all the more reason to walk around the entire thing.
- Address: Reflections Lake
This detour in particular will be a bit more time consuming, but is truly worth the trip when you are looking for a beautiful scenic drive and a chance to learn more about the mining history of Alaska.
Hatcher Pass is located between the towns of Palmer and Willow and is about 20 miles off the main highway (AK-3).
From there you can begin your journey up the pass, admiring the bright green foliage with the Little Susitna River flowing alongside you. Eventually, you will be greeted by the iconic bright red cabins nestled on the side of the mountain overlooking the rest of the valley.
If interested, these cabins can also be rented (they are very popular and require reservations made in advance – more information can be found below).
Right before passing the cabins, you will notice another gravel road leading up the mountain. This road gives you the opportunity to drive the entire pass, which is approximately another 25 miles, ending in the town of Willow.
This is a great way to get some scenic driving in while still making your way towards your ultimate destination of Denali, however there is still more to see at Hatcher Pass itself.
The main parking lot past the cabins gives you access to the historical Independence Mine State Park, which dates back to mining activity from at least 1897. Here, you can walk around and explore the old mining camps, which also includes one of the original homesteads. This abandoned mine is worth seeing if you have the time.
Guided tours are also available if you are interested in learning more about the Gold Rush that took place in this area.
Hatcher Pass offers unique flora, fauna and recreation that makes it one of the “hidden gems” when visiting Alaska.
There are many hiking opportunities, scenic viewpoints and on summer days you can more than likely find paragliders sailing through the skies, taking in all the incredible views.
Looking for a unique hike in this area? Check out these two hidden gems:
- April Bowl Trail | A Hidden Alaskan Hike With An Epic View
- A Largely Secret & Easy Alaskan Hike – Willow Paradise Trail
Keep in mind that this route is a detour off of the Parks Hwy, the road that will take you from Anchorage to Denali. Instead, you will go over Hatcher Pass, explore the area, then continue your way to Willow – here is where you will connect back up to the Parks Hwy and continue your drive north to Denali.
If you were to make this detour over Hatcher Pass, without stopping to explore, you would only add about 40 minutes to your drive time but get to see the famous Hatcher Pass.
- Address: 30301 N Willow Fishhook Rd Willow AK 99688 ~41.1 Mile
- Phone: (907) 745-3975
- Website: hatcherpasslodge.com (cabin rentals)
There is a lot of history to Alaska, and Talkeetna is a great place to soak it all in. Situated 14 miles off the main road – this cute, cozy and welcoming community will allow you to experience Alaska like it was “in the old days.” You can easily walk the entire town by foot, paying a visit to one of the many souvenir shops, restaurants or famous storefronts, such as Nagley’s General Store.
Make sure to follow the road until it ends at Riverfront Park, where on a clear day you can enjoy great views of Denali and the whole Alaska range! If you are looking to spend more time in Talkeetna, there are also a large number of local trails and tour services ranging from zip-lining to flight-seeing.
Denali Viewpoints – South & North
When traveling by road from Anchorage to Denali, the south viewpoint is hands down one of the best views you will get of Denali and the Alaska range.
It is just a short detour into the parking lot, where you can then gaze out to magnificent views of Mt. McKinley/Denali, and America’s tallest mountain.
At this point, you are only about 40 miles away from the mountain itself and if weather decides not to cooperate as you get closer, you will not find a better view. This stop is highly recommended and you will not regret it!
Located about 30 miles northbound towards Denali is another viewpoint. If you happened to have missed the south view or just want to have another look, this is also an easy stop to make where you can observe the mountain from a slightly different angle.
Denali National Park
With 6 million acres of wilderness, some might refer to Denali as “Alaska in all its Glory.” From the expansive tundra views to the icy glaciers and rocky cliffsides, your senses are sure to feel exhilarated as you explore this vast and remote land of the North.
There are many ways in which you can traverse the park, however there are restrictions in place that will prevent you from getting very far in your own vehicle.
For this reason, the park offers a daily tour/transit pass that will take you to every overlook, stopping for any wildlife sighting along the way. It is not uncommon to cross paths with at least one bear, moose, caribou or Dall sheep during the course of your journey.
Additionally, you may opt for a flightseeing tour or explore one of the many hiking trails.
Now that you have reached your destination, it’s time to relax and soak in your surroundings. You’re in Alaska after all!
- Address: Mile 237 Hwy 3 Denali Park AK 99755
- Phone: (907) 683-8241
- Website: denaliparkvillage.com
Have you made the drive from Anchorage to Denali? Let us know if you made it to any of these beautiful stops! Do you know of a hidden gem that should be on our list? Please let us know!
My name is Michelle Hanson and I am a nature/travel photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska. I first discovered this great land during my time working on cruise ships, and knew it was a place that I needed to return to. I have been here since July 2021 and have already spent countless days on the road, exploring as much as possible. Through the course of these travels, I have built an extensive photo collection which I use to showcase nature’s beauty and inspire others to come experience Alaska for themselves. It is a powerful place that will steal your heart and speak to your soul. Feel free to follow along @mhphotoco, and thanks for reading!