Camping on the Parks Highway
Actually, the highway is called the George Parks Highway, but it is more commonly known as just the Parks Highway, or Alaska Route 3. This 327 mile highway runs from a junction with the Glenn Highway about 35 miles north of Anchorage to Fairbanks. It has been designated a National Scenic Byway and it is also considered an Alaska Scenic Byway from about Mile 132 to Fairbanks.
This highway runs right through the Denali State Park and on the edge of the Denali National Park and Preserve. Mount McKinley, which is locally called Denali (elevation 20,320 feet), is viewable from several points along this highway. It is typically about a 6 hour drive, unless you stop and see the sights like we always do. There are several stops and side trips along the way that will draw your interest for sure.
In this article, I will be pointing out the campgrounds and RV Parks that include tent camping, mostly because a large multitude of the campgrounds are privately run on this highway. Otherwise, I will not post the private businesses. For a complete, mile-by-mile, listing of this highway and all of the RV parks and much more, I highly recommend The Milepost (www.themilepost.com). I will include some points of interest near each camping site whenever possible too. I will start this list at the Glenn-Parks Junction and continue up the Parks Highway to Homer.
For the ease of writing, I will only post the mileposts heading North (N). I will also put a (+) sign if it is within the mile marker; for instance, if the location is at mile 44.4, I will put 44+. You can assume that all campsites have a fire-pit, toilet, and table; unless I claim that it is primitive. Please watch for bears in the campgrounds and moose along the highway. So come along and go camping with me!
Mile N 0 – Starts at mile 0 in Anchorage.
Mile N 35 – Glenn-Parks Interchange: The sign heading north indicates that the Glenn Highway ends and the Parks Highway begins. Thus begins Alaska Route 3.
Mile N 36+ – Exit to Trunk Road: This newly completed road will take you to not only the hospital but also the Mat-Su Visitor Center and Veterans Monument. It will also eventually take you to Finger Lake State Recreation Site.
If you travel down Trunk Road to Bogard Road and go through the roundabout heading west down Bogard (left); you will find the Finger Lake State Recreation Site at mile 6.6 Bogard Road. This park has 39 campsites with wheelchair-accessible toilets, water, and boat launch.
Mile N 42.2 – Junction with Main Street/Wasilla Fishhook Road & Knik-Goose Bay Road: This confusing intersection throws many travelers. Heading North, is Main Street which turns into Wasilla Fishhook Road within a few blocks (at Bogard Intersection). Wasilla Fishhook heads toward the hills and junctions with Palmer Fishhook Road, which heads northeast to Hatcher Pass Road and Independence Mine State Historical Park or south towards Palmer (see more about Hatcher Pass at Camping on the Glenn Highway [coming soon]). If you take Knik-Goose Bay Road, instead of Main Street, you will head towards Point Mackenzie and it’s a nice side trip.
About 2 miles in, you will find the main entrance for the Iditarod Trail sled Dog Race™ Headquarters and visitor center. Just after that turnoff is Endeavor Street and about ½ a mile down that road is Lake Lucille Park (managed by the Mat-Su borough) campground and day use area. This campground has 59 sites, picnic pavilions, water, restrooms, playground, and trails at Lake Lucille.
At about 13 miles in, you will come across Knik Historic District which has a private campground on Knik Lake. (I have heard recently that this campground is for sale, so am not sure if it will be open for a little while.)
At just over 17 miles in you will find a junction with Point Mackenzie road. Follow this road for about 7 ½ miles and you will come to a “T” junction. If you turn left, you will head out to Point Mackenzie; if you turn right, you will head towards Susitna Flats State Game Refuge. We will head right from here and follow the road around the bend to the left.
At about 10 miles in, you will come to a fork in the road (after passing some railroad construction); take the road to the right. Then about 3 more miles in, you will come to the Little Susitna River Public-use Facility. You will find 40 campsites, outhouses, boat ramps, water, and great fishing. Please watch for bears and bring extra mosquito repellent.
Return to the Parks Highway at Mile 42.2 and continue north.
Mile N 52+ – Junction with Big Lake Road: Taking Big Lake Road will bring you into a resort destination for most Alaskans. In the winter, the lake has roads graded into it and they usually have snowmachine races and such. In the summer, you will find boaters and ATVs. There are three state recreation sites in the area that include swimming, camping, boating, fishing and much more.
At a little over 3 miles in, there is a junction with Beaver Lake Road. You can take this road to visit Martin Buser’s Kennels and Rocky Lake. Follow the signs to Rocky Lake State Recreation Site with 12 campsites on a gravel loop road with outhouses, water pump, and boat launch. (Lake is closed to jet skis, jet boats, and airboats)
At about 3 ½ miles on Big Lake Road, you will come to a “Y”, which is a junction with North Shore Drive. Take a right (North Shore Drive) and follow it for 1 ½ miles to the end at Big Lake North State Recreation Site with 60 overnight parking spaces and some walk-in tent sites. They have outhouses, shelters, water, and boat launch.
Stay on Big Lake Road to a bit over 5 miles and you will find the Big Lake South State Recreation Site. This park has a bumpy, graveled parking area with an overnight area that includes 20 campsites, outhouses, water, fishing, and boat ramp.
Back to the Parks Highway
Mile N 57+ – Little Susitna River Campground: (Houston city operated) Take a right like your heading towards the public safety building and you will find the campground around to the right. This nice sized campground has 86 sites with a playground, restrooms, water pump, and picnic pavilion.
Mile N 66+ – Nancy Lake State Recreation Site: Turn west and then left (south) on Buckingham Palace Road and then go about a 1/3 of a mile to Nancy Lake State Recreation Site. This campground has 30 campsites with toilets and public access to Nancy Lake.
Mile N 67+ – Junction with Nancy Lake Parkway (South Rolly Lake Campground): This very small side road heads into the Nancy Lake State Recreation Area with lots of canoeing and public-use cabins (www.dnr.state.ak.us). There are lots of trailheads down this road that ends at South Rolly Lake Campground. This campground is heavily wooded and has 98 campsites with toilets, water, canoe rental, boat launch and fishing for trout.
Back to the Parks Highway
Mile N 70+ – Junction with Willow Creek Parkway (Willow Creek State Recreation Area): Take the Willow Creek Parkway to head to the Deshka Landing boat launch. To go to the campground at Willow Creek State Recreation Area, follow Willow Creek Parkway for nearly 4 miles. This campground has paved parking for side-by-side camping with tables, water, toilets, and really great fishing. They also have interpretive signs, walking paths, and campground host.
Back to the Parks Highway
Mile N 82+ – Susitna Landing Access Facility: This campground and boat launch is run by a concessionaire on ADF&G land. There are fees charged for camping and it has an RV Park, playground, boat launch, cabin rentals, restrooms, showers, and bank fishing.
Mile N 84+ – Caswell Creek: Take Susitna Shores to a public access for fishing at Caswell Creek. It has some extremely primitive campsites and there are a few portable bathroom stalls at the entrance. The fishing is down a steep cliff. Bring a case of mosquito repellent.
Mile N 86 – Sheep Creek Slough: Public fishing access with a graveled parking area, toilets, and a wheelchair-accessible trail. There is no fee and it is primitive camping (last checked). A really great fishing spot.
Mile N 88 – Sheep Creek Lodge: this lodge has cabins and camping. This lodge also has a restaurant and you must see the large burls on the porch. (Last seen, the Lodge was closed and for sale.)
Mile N 96+ – Montana Creek Campground: Campground is on the east side of the highway, while the Montana Creek State Recreation Site is on the west side of the highway. Both sides have camping. On the east side, you will find a general store, short-term parking for fishermen, and firewood. On the west side, the camping is a bit more primitive. There is a pedestrian tunnel under the highway and a pedestrian bridge. There is also a public access trail to the mouth of the Montana Creek on the Susitna River. Great fishing opportunities here.
Mile N 96+ – Chetta’s Corner: Listed as unsupervised camping. Rules and rates are posted.
Mile 111+ – Junction Talkeetna Spur Road: The Talkeetna Spur Road heads north to the community of Talkeetna (population: 848). This area is truly Alaskan and it is a must see for anyone visiting! I highly recommend more than a quick passing through. There are two camping options.
Head to the end of Main Street and you will find tent camping at the Talkeetna River Park. Another option would be to head to the private campground called the Talkeetna RV Park and Campground found at the public boat launch by turning off at the airport and following the signs.
Back to the Parks Highway
Mile N 104+ – Susitna River Bridge: There is a western access to gravel bars on the north side of the bridge. I have seen people primitive camping in this area. There are no facilities whatsoever.
Mile N 114+ – Trapper Creek Inn & RV Park: I mention this RV Park because there are not many camping grounds nearby for Trapper Creek. It is a one stop shop with many conveniences. You can also camp there, so that is a plus.
Mile N 114+ – Junction with Petersville Road: Petersville Road heads nearly 19 miles into the wilderness and is a major recreational destination for Alaskans. It was built as a mining road with a lot of history attached. There are no major campgrounds but lots of cabins, lodges, and some primitive camping.
At just over 18 miles in, you will come to a fork in the road, the right fork heads to the Forks Roadhouse. The left fork heads to Peters Creek which has some informal camping available with no facilities. There is a bridge that crosses the creek but is restricted to the types of vehicles that can cross. It is a beautiful area with some nice fishing capabilities.
Back to the Parks Highway
Mile N 115+ – Trapper Creek Trading Post: On the east side of the highway, you will find this trading post that also provides cabins and a campground. There are other amenities available too.
Mile N 134+ – Denali Viewpoint South (Denali State Park): This small area is heavily trafficked with mostly day use capabilities. It gets a lot of traffic and is right on the highway. However, it has some of the best views of Denali. There are 9 campsites with toilets, water pump, and the parking area can accommodate large vehicles. There is also a scenic viewpoint, viewing scopes, and an 800 foot long uphill trail to overlook.
Mile N 137+ – Lower Troublesome Creek campground and trailhead: You will find 10 campsites in the trees with 32 overnight parking spaces, picnic sites, toilets, water, and trailhead. There is a 0.6 mile trail to the Chulitna River from this area.
Mile 147 – Byers Lake Campground (Denali State Park): This campground features a nice day use parking area with picnic tables and cabins that are available to rent from www.dnr.state.ak.us. There are 73 sites with a dump station, wheelchair accessible toilets, water, and many trails. There is a trail that also connects you to the Veterans Memorial, which is the very next turnoff after Byers Lake Campground. This area is a must see and has an interpretive kiosk, viewing scopes, visitor information center, and is a very popular picnic spot.
Mile N 162+ – Denali View North Campground: This Park has some day use parking and 20 side-by-side spaces for overnight parking with picnic tables, firepits, interpretive kiosks, spotting scope, nature trail and it overlooks the Chulitna River and views of Denali.
Mile N 194+ – Primitive camping and parking: Watch for spots to have primitive campsites on the side of the road. There is informal parking next to the Middle Fork Chulitna River. Watch for Caribou in this area. I have seen the Caribou in the brush starting from mile 194 to mile 210, and then on up into The Denali Highway.
Mile N 210 – Junction the Denali Highway: Please see my upcoming article on this Highway. Another must see for tourists with many camping capabilities.
Mile N 231 – Denali Grizzly Bear Resort: The only AAA-approved campground in the Denali area. They have many accommodations available and they have riverside tent areas. Visit www.denaligrizzlybear.com for more information.
Mile N 237+ – Junction with Park Road/Denali National Park and Preserve: This is the entrance to the Park Road and a great spot for pictures. There is a visitor center, shuttle services, and so much more. I highly recommend this area to all tourists and locals who want to camp and have a lot of activities available. I also recommend that you visit http://www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm to make reservations, get maps, and any other details that might be needed for a successful trip into the Denali area. There are a lot of rules and regulations so be sure to check out all of the links. Also, be very careful about the bears!
Since this park has many different rules that are very different from normal camping rules, I am just going to describe the locations of the 6 campgrounds. You can do primitive camping and backpacking in the back country, but you need permits and there are some extensive rules and you must watch the backcountry simulator program first. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of wolves, bears, and such out there and they want the least impact on the park possible. Stop by the Wilderness Access Center at about 0.2 mile on the Park Road.
At about a 1/3 of a mile in, you will find the largest campground in the park. Riley Creek Campground has 147 spaces that are located along 3 gravel loops. They feature a Mercantile, shuttles, laundry and shower facilities, and many other amenities. This campground pretty much has it all but the spaces are limited (even at 147) and you would do well to reserve your spaces ahead of time. This campground is open year round but has no running water in the winter.
If you travel in to mile 12.8, you will find the Savage River Campground with 33 campsites that includes 3 group tent sites. There is a trail, restrooms, and firepits. You must have a permit or shuttle bus ticket to go beyond the Savage River check station.
At mile 22 you will see the Sanctuary River Campground that accommodates tents only. You can access this campground via shuttle bus only and no reservations in advance allowed. There is also a Sanctuary River ranger station.
At mile 29.1 you will find the Teklanika River Campground which is at an elevation of 2,580 feet. There is Tent camping, RV’s, and 5th wheels allowed but no trailers or towed vehicles. There is a water filling station. You must have a camping reservation and it’s a good idea to watch for bears in the area.
Igloo Creek Campground is found at mile 34.2 and it is tent camping only. They have vault toilets, and the only water is from the creek. You must reserve these spots and there are grizzlies in the area.
The final campground is at mile 84.6 and it is called Wonder Lake Campground, which is at an elevation of 2,090 feet. There are tents only allowed here and access is shuttle bus only. You can see Mount McKinley (Denali) from here and lots of Denali calendars feature it’s reflection in Wonder Lake.
I feel it important to note that at the end of Park Road are several lodges, resorts, and camps. Please make reservations in advance.
Back to the Parks Highway
**Caution** Please drive carefully and slowly through the next 10 miles due to people crossing the street.
Mile 240+ – Denali Riverside RV Park: this is a private park but it has some great views of the river that is nearby and it is only a few miles from the park entrance. You will find 90 sites; some with RV pull-throughs and some are dry and tent camping. There are handicapped-accessible bathrooms, TV, pay showers, laundry, gift shop, tours, and more.
Mile 247 – Junction with Otto Lake Road (Denali Outdoor Center): If you travel a ½ mile down this road you will find the Denali Outdoor Center which has some cabins and a campground. They also offer many tourist packages that include kayaking and equipment rentals. It is about 10 minutes to the Park Entrance from here.
Mile 248+ – McKinley RV & Campground: This area has tent and RV sites that are wooded right off the highway. There is free Wi-Fi, shuttle to Denali Park, a grocery store, gas station, deli, ATM, and Brewery/Restaurant. You will find a lot of amenities at this this campground for sure.
Mile 276 – Tatlanika Trading Co. and RV Park: This gorgeous site is right on the Nenana River and has tent sites and RV parking with services. They also have a dump station, clean restrooms, showers, laundry, and water. There are also trails and they are only 39 miles from the Denali Park. You can also view their educational and historical displays.
Mile 283+ – Junction with Clear Air Force Station and Anderson: This is a ballistic missile early warning site (Military installation) and also the small town of Anderson (pop: 536) is nearby. You cannot enter the military base but you can turn right and travel 1.2 miles into Anderson which has a small amount of services.
At the end of the road (a bit over 6 miles in), is the Anderson Riverside City Park. This park is a bit simplistic but it has 40 sites on the Nenana River and lots of room to run. The last time I came to this site for a picnic the place seemed a bit rundown but that was about 5 years ago. I hope that they have started maintaining it better.
Back to the Parks Highway
Mile 304+ – Entering Nenana (Nenana RV Park & Campground): Take the junction to the right to enter Nenana (pop: 553) at A Street and then take a right on 4th. You will then find the Nenana RV Park & Campground. This is the only campground in the area although I am not sure of the amenities that they provide. I will update you the next time I travel through the area. This city sits on the confluence of the Tanana and the Nenana Rivers and is home to the Nenana Ice Classic.
**Fairbanks arrival and junction with the Richardson Highway (Alaska Route 2 South) and Steese Highway (Alaska Route 2 North). I will write about Fairbanks campgrounds in another article.
I will leave you here and continue with writing about the camping opportunities of the different highways within Alaska. I hope this has helped you and please let me know if you have any questions about camping on the Parks Highway or anywhere else in Alaska.