Cycling

 
two people biking on a dirt road, mountains in the distance

NPS Photo / Kent Miller

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 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!



Starting Your Trip


Biking Part of One Day

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
    shuttle 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 shuttle bus later in the day.

    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 shuttle 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 shuttle.

Biking 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.


Spring Cycling

A great time to bike in Denali is before May 20, 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.


Bike-joring

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 shuttle 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.


Other Considerations

Cyclists need to keep in mind a few other special considerations.

  • Repairs
    There are no repair stations along the way - so please plan to fix your own flats and other common problems.
  • Water
    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.
  • Wildlife
    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!
  • Weather
    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.
 
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 slopes. 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.
 
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, 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 Edition

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:

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bicycles can be transported on the Savage River Shuttle and some shuttle buses. Space is limited. Check availability at the Wilderness Access Center in the park or on among the shuttle bus schedules on our site.
  • Bike racks are provided at campgrounds, rest areas and visitor centers. If you go day hiking from the 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.
  • 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.

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 9
Denali Park, AK 99755

Phone:

(907) 683-9532
General park information. The phone is answered 9 am - 4 pm daily, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. If you reach the voicemail, please leave a message with your number and we'll call you back as soon as we finish helping the visitor on the line ahead of you.

Contact Us