McCarthy Road; Glenn, Denali & Dalton Highways

McCarthy Road; Glenn, Denali & Dalton Highways

Unlike McCarthy Road, I thought the Denali Highway was way worse than I expected it to be.

A road on an open field.

I thought the verdant, lake-filled tundra surrounding parts of the Denali Highway made it feel as if dinosaurs had only recently departed.

Garrett Ziegler

Many people opt to take the Parks Highway from Anchorage or Fairbanks to Denali National Park, as this highway is paved and well-appointed. 

This highway also has a lot of traffic, which is why we instead chose the Denali Highway, which runs from Paxson to Cantwell. Mostly gravel, the Denali Highway offers a scenic 135-mile trip with jaw-dropping views of the Alaska Range. What it does not offer are gas stations, many places to eat and stay, or traffic.

As we drove, I felt it looked as if dinosaurs could, at any moment, step into the lush, lake-filled tundra.

We were also especially aware of the highway’s remoteness when we blew two tires at the exact same time.

What caused the flat tires is somewhat unclear. We did not drive over nails or tire spikes, nor were the tires slashed. Instead, as best as we can figure, we were going too fast on gravel, and sharp rocks damaged our rental car’s already weakened tires. Rain also made potholes difficult to spot, and wet conditions likely worsened potholes and washboards. Conditions of all the roads depend on weather and how recently DOT maintenance crews have been through. 

Luckily, our trusty “The Milepost” showed that we were about two miles from one of the highway’s few lodges, where we were able to get our tire situation sorted.

The lodge’s mechanic replaced one flat with our rental car’s spare. Unfortunately, he didn’t have another spare to replace the second flat and did not think a patch would prevent the tire from continuing to leak air. So we booked into the lodge for the night and contacted GoNorth, who sent a driver the next day with new tires, one to replace the second flat, and two for us to keep in the trunk, just in case.

GoNorth charged $300 each for the replacement tires, but the insurance package we purchased from the agency erased the cost.

Although we never got close to the speed limit, I think we should have been going even slower, given the rough road conditions filled with potholes. The lodge’s mechanic recommended a speed of no more than 15 mph in the most degraded sections of the highway to avoid flats.

For the remainder of our trip, we went far slower, edging around potholes with precision and care, and did not experience any further tire trouble.

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