Cycling

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A person rides a bike down a gravel road past a vast valley.
Be sure to wear a helmet and high-visibility clothing since you’re sharing the road with vehicles, pedestrians, and wildlife.

NPS Photo

 
 

Denali offers a few options for exploration by bicycle. The easiest include campground loops and the Roadside Bike Path. The Denali Park Road is the most challenging. Refer to this map to learn more about bicycling in the frontcountry, or view maps of the entire Park Road.

  • Campground loops are relatively flat and have less and slower traffic.

  • The Roadside Bike Path is paved, 1.7 miles (2.7 km) one-way, and loses 150 feet (45 m) of elevation as you leave the park toward the Nenana River Canyon commercial area. Be prepared to encounter pedestrians.

  • Cycling on the Denali Park Road itself requires special attention to wildlife behavior, especially grizzly and black bears, and your surroundings. The route is often dusty, there are no shoulders or bicycle lanes on any section of the Denali Park Road, sightlines are often poor, and cyclists will encounter frequent bus, private vehicle, RV, and heavy equipment traffic on both the paved and gravel sections of roadway. The route from the park entrance to Kantishna gains 10,928 feet (3,330 m) and loses 10,907 feet (3,324 m). All cyclists on this route will check in with a ranger (business hours) or logbook (off-business hours) at the Savage River.

Denali Safe Cycling Guidelines

No matter your chosen route, get a safety chat and earn your unique Denali cycling sticker from a ranger at the Denali Visitor Center (DVC), the Backcountry Information Center (BIC), the Savage Check Station or with your rental bike provider.

A high level of awareness and understanding wildlife protocol and wildlife behavior is critical to a safe experience. Cycling in grizzly bear country is inherently dangerous. Following some simple precautions can reduce risk of negative wildlife encounters and lead to a fun and rewarding cycling experience.

Cyclists and Bears

  • Cyclists traveling quietly and at high rates of speed are more likely to have surprise encounters with grizzly bears and elicit a chase response or worse.
  • Use your voice to make noise and reduce your speed when your field of view is limited to avoid surprising wildlife, particularly bears; topography, vegetation, and many blind corners will limit your ability to see nearby wildlife.
  • Consider when to cycle: bears are active at all hours but especially hard to see at night, dawn, and dusk.
  • You cannot cycle faster than a bear.
  • Become a student of bear behavior. If a bear is in the road or within 300 yards of the road, wait at a safe distance for a bus to transport you or for the bear to move away.
  • Carry bear spray and have it accessible on your body – not in your pack or pannier. Bring your own or rent from the Alaska Geographic Book Store near the Denali Visitor Center. You can also buy bear spray in the Nenana River Canyon commercial area.
  • Stay at least 300 yards away from bears and 25 yards from all other wildlife.
  • Report interactions with bears or any other wildlife to a ranger.

Cyclists and Traffic

  • Obey all traffic signs, signals, ranger instructions, and always wear your helmet.
  • Ride single file and stay to the right riding with the flow of traffic.
  • Be aware of vehicles approaching behind you.
  • As a best practice – especially in larger groups – slow to a stop and put a foot down to allow vehicles (especially buses and heavy equipment) to pass. This shows the driver that you are aware of them, and they can pass you safely and without a dust cloud.
  • Do not wear headphones – they reduce your ability to hear wildlife and other road users. Do not listen to music using speakers as doing so also limits your ability to hear wildlife and traffic.
  • Gravel sections may be compacted and fast, loose and slow, dusty, or muddy all in the same day.
  • Know your skill level and condition of equipment and use them to decide your route.

Learn how to cycle in bear habitat by reviewing these resources: Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s bear safety page, the Board of Review recommendations for mountain bike safety in bear country, and a publication from the Flathead National Forest in Montana.

You may encounter areas of wildlife closures due to dangerous wildlife or protected wildlife activities near the road. Some closures cross the road and prohibit bicycles. When you encounter a closure that prohibits bicycle travel, wait for the next Transit bus to take you to the end of the closure. Due to limited bike rack space, you may have to wait. Check with a ranger at the DVC, BIC, or Savage Check Station for the newest wildlife closure information.

Never feed wildlife. This includes arctic ground squirrels, Canada jays, and short-billed gulls. Food and scented items must not be left unattended at any time unless stored in a bear resistant food container.

Cycling the Denali Park Road

The first 15 miles of the Park Road has frequent traffic and is paved to the Savage River rest area. From mile 15 to 92, the road is graded gravel and restricted to buses, heavy equipment, and permitted vehicles. There is no shoulder or bicycle lane on any section of the road. For a better idea of the character of the Park Road, watch our Rules of the Road video. Check in with a ranger at the Savage Check Station for the newest information and to earn a Denali cycling sticker.

 
Two cyclists biking uphill on a road that changes from pavement to gravel
Transitioning from pavement to gravel west of the Savage River.

NPS Photo / Emily Mesner

Trip Planning

Leave No Trace begins with planning and preparing. Treat your trip as a remote backcountry trip: there is limited water infrastructure, variable weather, and no repair services or materials.
 
A bike rack mounted to the front of a green bus carrying two bikes. The bikes are loaded with camping gear.
Bus bike racks can carry two bikes each.

NPS Photo / Nina Weisman

  • Bicycles on Buses
    Bicycles can be transported on the Savage River Shuttle (free) and on transit buses, but bike rack space is limited to two bicycles per bus, plan ahead and reserve early. Transit buses require a ticket to board unless you have a life or limb emergency, or you need to be transported around a wildlife closure. Discounted one-way tickets can be purchased at the Denali Bus Depot or the Riley Creek Mercantile.

    Bus bike racks can accommodate up to a 29" tire with a maximum 2.3" width. Determine your bike’s tire width before planning your trip. Fat tire, recumbent, tandem or electric bikes will not fit in bus bike racks. Accommodations for larger tire dimensions are sometimes available on a camper bus. Refer to the transportation provider website for more information.

 
  • Bicycle storage racks
    Bicycle storage racks are provided at campgrounds, rest areas, and visitor centers. If you go day hiking from the Park Road, carry your bicycle 25 yards from the roadway and hide it from view. If you're leaving it overnight, refer to our bicycle camping information below.

  • Water
    In summer, potable water is available at the Teklanika Campground (Mile 29). Otherwise, be prepared to carry sufficient water west of that point or treat water from streams or rivers.

  • Weather
    Sun, rain, hail, wind and even snow are all possible in the summer. Warm, sunny conditions usually mean the Park Road will be dusty, while rain or snow means the road surface will be slick and muddy. Bring a neck gaiter to help with the dust and bring plenty of layers including warm handwear.

  • Entrance Fees
    Day and overnight trips into the park require a park entrance fee.  You can pay this online prior to your arrival, in conjunction with your bus ticket, or stop by the Denali Visitor Center.

  • Road construction
    Road construction is common. Check at the Denali Visitor Center, Backcountry Information Center, or the Denali Bus Depot for information about closures and scheduled delays. Details about road construction are typically not available until the start of the summer season.

  • Spring and Fall
    The Park Road is open to all non-commercial vehicle traffic to the Teklanika Rest Area (Mile 30) outside of the summer season, weather permitting. Vehicle traffic is limited during this time.

    It is difficult to predict each year just when the road will open in spring or close in the fall. Call or email before your visit. Be especially aware of bears—in spring, bears are waking up and the road presents an easy travel route. In fall, the road is easy access to nearby foraging. Become a student of bear behavior and come prepared.

  • Cycling in Kantishna
    Some routes in Kantishna cross private land and some are on federal land where biking is prohibited. When in doubt, stay on the Park Road.

 

Electric Bikes (E-Bikes)

The only e-bikes allowed in Denali are two- or three-wheeled cycles with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 horsepower). E-bikes are allowed in Denali on public park roads (e.g. the Denali Park Road and campground loops), parking areas, and the Roadside Bike Path. When in use, speed limits and traffic control signs apply to all e-bikes. When using an e-bike on the Roadside Bike Path, you must pedal and cannot solely use the bike motor.

Denali Park Road Elevation Profile

The Denali Park Road was designed to take advantage of scenic vistas. If you cycled 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 illustrates the character of the road.

 
an elevation profile showing the high and low points of the denali park road
An elevation profile of the Denali Park Road for cyclists.

NPS Image

 

The elevation profile, above, illustrates some of the challenge of biking the Park Road. From east to west (left to right in the profile), significant climbs include:

  • Park Entrance to Mile 9 – about 1,500' elevation gain over 9 miles
  • Just after the 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.
 

Bicycle Camping

 
person biking with a large plastic canister attached to the bike
Camping in the backcountry requires a Bear Resistant Food Container (BRFC) like the one strapped on the front of this bicycle. There are other considerations as well including camping 1/2 mile and out of sight of the Park Road.

NPS Photo / Dave Alexander

Bicycle camping, or bikepacking, on the Park Road can be a memorable experience, but takes careful planning and some extra consideration. Be conservative when you estimate how many miles you can cycle each day using the elevation profile. Tickets are required to ride the transit buses unless it is truly a life or limb emergency. If you want the option to shorten your trip, you can purchase a discounted, one-way bus ticket prior to your departure.

Bicycle Camping

Campgrounds

Campgrounds are convenient for bikepacking because they have bear resistant food storage and are right next to the Park Road. There are five campgrounds currently available: Riley Creek (Mile 0.25), Savage River (Mile 14), Sanctuary River (Mile 22), Teklanika River (Mile 29), and Igloo (Mile 34).

You can reserve campgrounds in advance as early as December 1 of the year before your visit. Overnight vehicle parking is only allowed in designated areas in the frontcountry (map below).

Backcountry Camping

To camp anywhere other than the listed campgrounds, you must obtain a backcountry permit at the Backcountry Information Center. This process takes about an hour and permits are free.

You must carry an approved Bear Resistant Food Container—which can be awkward to mount on a bicycle. We recommend having a backpack (it can be challenging to bushwhack while carrying panniers) and appropriate footwear for traveling across trail-less terrain. You must camp at least ½ mile (0.8 km) from the road with your tent out of view of the road. You may have to travel further than ½ mile in many backcountry areas to get out of view of the road.

If you stash your bicycle, it must be at least 25 yards (23 m) from the road and out of sight. They must be marked with your name, backcountry permit number and date that it will be picked up (bicycle tags are available with your backcountry permit), so rangers know the bicycles were not abandoned. It is not uncommon for bicycles to be damaged by wildlife. Animals may be attracted to the salty sweat that accumulates on bicycles, mostly on the seats and handlebars. Denali National Park and Preserve assumes no responsibility for any damages accrued to bicycles by wildlife or other park visitors.

If you wish to have your bicycle locked overnight, there are bicycle storage racks at campgrounds, visitor centers, and the Toklat Rest Area (Mile 52.)

There is no camping allowed at visitor centers and other developed areas, including the Eielson Visitor Center and Toklat Rest Area.

Parking

Overnight parking is allowed in the Riley Creek Day Use Area, the small area next to the Backcountry Information Center, and at the Denali Visitor Center. Overnight parking is not allowed in the campgrounds (including Teklanika) or other developed areas such as Mountain Vista, Savage River or Teklanika Rest Area (unless it is the shoulder season and buses are not running). For the most updated information, ask at the Denali Visitor Center, Backcountry Information Center, Denali Bus Depot, or Riley Creek Mercantile.

 
map of entrance to denali with parking areas highlighted by riley creek, backcountry center, and visitor center
Pink highlighted areas indicate summertime overnight parking locations at the Denali Visitor Center, Backcountry Information Center, and between Riley Creek Campground and the day use / picnic area.

Last updated: July 18, 2022

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 9
Denali Park , AK 99755

Phone:

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.

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