Cycling is a great way to see Denali National Park and get some exercise at the same time. Visitors are allowed to bike all 92 miles of the Park Road.
The road is paved to mile 15 (Savage River) and is graded gravel beyond. Much of the roadway beyond mile 31 is narrow and there are no shoulders. Travel restrictions for motor vehicles begin at mile 15, so traffic volume will ease up after this point.
First Things First: Get a Bike (and Wear a Helmet)
Unless you live in Alaska, odds are good you traveled here without a bike. In summer (mid-May through mid-September), many businesses outside of the park rent bikes. The National Park Service cannot recommend any particular company, however, so we suggest you start looking at your options through the local Chamber of Commerce. Don't forget to bring or rent a helmet, too!
For a day trip, consider some of these options:
Start biking from the park entrance.
This is on pavement, and you'll start climbing some substantial hills between Mile 1.5 and Mile 9.
Start at Savage River (Mile 15).
You can either drive to Savage River or use the free Savage River Shuttle to get there. From Savage River, you can cycle farther into the park, which involves a steady three-mile climb up Primrose Ridge, and then some up and downhill biking to Sanctuary River (Mile 22).
You could also bike back to the entrance, which means a few miles of up and downhill biking, and then a lot of downhill from Mile 9 to Mile 1.5. Once you reach the entrance, you could then use the free Savage River Shuttle to return to your car at Mile 15, if you drove out there to begin.
Start by riding a bus into the park
This involves more planning, but lets you see more of the park. You'll buy tickets for a transit bus, ride the bus into the park, and get off at whatever point you choose to start cycling. You can either bike back to the park entrance, or bike part of the road and then board a different transit bus later in the day.
Please note that bikes such as fat tire, recumbent, tandem or motorized will not fit in the standard-size racks on Denali transit buses. "Standard size" in this case means up to a 29” tire, with a max tire width (without deflating) of 2.3." Be sure to bring your own pump in case you need to slightly deflate your tire to squeeze it into the rack. Accommodations for larger dimensions are sometimes available on a camper bus. For additional information about accommodations for fat tire bicycles, et al., please call 1-800-622-7275.
This allows you to tailor just what part(s) of the park road you ride, although it involves the expense of the bus tickets. Buses are limited to two bikes per bus, and not every transit bus is able to carry bikes. If you choose to reserve a bus in advance, you should call 1-800-622-7275 and specify that you wish to bring bikes on your bus.
Multiple Days—Bike Camping!
If you wish to camp overnight in the park during your cycling trip, you need a backcountry permit and will need to follow some slightly different rules - please refer to our backcountry camping and cycling page for more information. You can also consider staying in different park campgrounds, and bike between them. Note, however, that there's a big gap between the two western-most campgrounds, Igloo Creek (Mile 35) and Wonder Lake (Mile 85).
On the unpaved portion of the park road, motorists generally show courtesy to cyclists and do their best to avoid "dusting" them by driving very slowly. You can return the favor by slowing down or stopping when you meet a bus on a narrow section of road. This makes it much easier for buses and other vehicles to pass you on the sometimes quite narrow road.
A great time to bike in Denali is before May 20, which when buses start operating in the park.
Road crews begin plowing the road in late March, ultimately opening it to mile 30, Teklanika River. However, spring snow and wintry conditions can hamper their progress, and it is difficult to predict each year just when the road will open. We encourage you to call or email before visiting in the spring, or follow our spring road opening blog.
Once the road has opened, however, the public is welcome to drive into the park (either to Mile 15 or Mile 30, depending on conditions). You can begin a bike trip from wherever you can park your car. Day trips into the park require nothing more than the usual park entrance fee. Overnight cycling trips are possible, too, with a free backcountry permit.
Many Alaskans are familiar with ski-joring, where a cross-country skiier is pulled by one or more dogs. Bike-joring is a similar activity, where a cyclist has one or more dogs attached by leash (and ideally pulling the same direction as the cyclist wants to go!).
Bike-joring on the park road is permitted, so long as your dog is leashed to you at all times. As in ski-joring or walking your dog, the leash may be no longer than six feet. If you have never bike-jored, please do not make Denali your first try at this activity. Wildlife can be found almost anywhere along the road, and a squirrel darting in front of an untrained dog tethered to a bike will probably result in a crash. Bike-joring is probably most comfortable in spring, before most buses begin operating.
Pets are not allowed on park buses; if you intend to bike-jor in the summer, you will not be able to use the transit buses to move around the park with your pet. Learn more about visiting Denali with a pet.
Biking in the Kantishna Area
Some former mining routes originate in the Kantishna area, at the western end of the park road. Most routes cross private lands. Because of the need to get permission from the landowner before using these routes, you may be able to use only a portion of them. You are responsible for not trespassing on private property. When in doubt, keep to the park road to make sure you do not trespass.
Denali Park Road Elevation Profile
The Denali Park Road was built in the 1920s and 1930s and is meant to be scenic - so it goes up some pretty improbably steep grades. The surface of the gravel portion is well-compacted, but you will sometimes find loose or soft sections, so be careful whenever you're riding downhill.
If you biked the entire road east to west (i.e., park entrance to Kantishna), you would gain 10,928' and lose 10,907'. The elevation contour below gives you an idea of some of the highest spots on the road.
The elevation profile, above, is meant to help indicate the flow of the park road. Looking east to west (left to right in the profile), certain major climbs exist, particularly:
Park Entrance to Mile 9 - about 1,500' elevation gain over 9 miles
Just after Sanctuary River to Sable Pass - about about 1,500' gain over 14 miles
Polychrome - about 500' gain over 3 miles
Toklat River to Highway Pass - about 1,000' gain over 6 miles.
Rules of the Road: Cycling
Bicycling is a great way to enjoy the Denali Park Road. This road can be a little tricky though, so it's important to know a few key rules of the road:
Where to ride
Cyclists may ride on park roads, parking areas, campground loops and the designated Bike Trail between the Nenana River and the Denali Visitor Center. Bicycles are prohibited on all other trails.
Travel single file
Stay attuned to road surface, traffic, and weather conditions as you're riding. Change comes quickly and constantly here. Travel single file, keep to the right, and comply with traffic regulations.
Obey the speed limit
Take it easy when riding down hills. The road features many steep sections with blind corners, and cyclists have been known to accidentally veer into oncoming bus traffic (or large animals, like grizzly bears) when traveling too fast down hill. Such a situation puts both the cyclist, and the bus passengers, in danger.
Remember traffic basics
Motorists generally show courtesy to cyclists by slowing to "no-dust" speeds and passing only when it is safe to do so. Return the favor. Slow down, move to the right, or stop when you encounter vehicles.
Keep wildlife safe
Wild animals are curious and opportunistic. Food and scented items must not be left unattended at any time. Use a food storage locker provided at campgrounds and other locations, or use a bear-resistant food container provided free with a backcountry camping permit
Do not ride impaired
It should go without saying, but cyclists may not ride when intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
Bike racks are provided at campgrounds, rest areas and visitor centers. If you go day hiking from the Denali Park Road, carry your bike 25 yards from the roadway and hide it from view. If you're leaving it overnight, tag it with contact information. Ask a park ranger for details.
Other Biking Considerations
Cyclists need to keep in mind a few other special considerations.
There are no repair stations along the way - so please plan to fix your own flats and other common problems.
In summer, Eielson Visitor Center at mile 66 is the only place to refill your water - so make sure you carry sufficient water or have a filter / potable aqua tablets for water from streams and rivers.
Obey any wildlife closures. These generally mean you can bike or hike on the road, but cannot step off the road in that area; at times, however, even biking is prohibited in a closed area (e.g., if a bear is eating a dead animal next to the road). Treat wildlife the same as if you were on foot - you cannot run faster than a bear, and you cannot cycle faster than a bear. Bears can sprint up to 35 mph!
Plan for many types of weather at any time in the park. Sun, rain, hail, wind and even snow are all possible in the summer. Hypothermia is a major concern in Denali. There are a lot of downhill sections to the road, which can be incredibly chilly! Dress in layers and assume you'll encounter chilly conditions.
(907) 683-9532 A ranger is available 9 am—4 pm daily (except on major holidays). If you get to the voicemail, please leave a message and we'll call you back as soon as we finish with the previous caller.