Alaska Great Northern Adventure Loop
There is no better way to thoroughly explore the vast wilderness of the Interior of Alaska than by bike. Starting in Anchorage, we will cover over a thousand miles, riding in a grand counterclockwise loop around this spectacular state and moving from lush farmlands to glacial mountain landscapes. We will enjoy views (and climbs!) of many mountain ranges, from the Chugach and Wrangell in the south to the White Mountains in the north, including the Alaska Range in the middle of the state and, of course, North America’s tallest peak, Denali.
We will reach as far north as Fairbanks, where we will pedal alongside creeks with historic ties to the 1902 Gold Rush. We will enjoy expansive scenery and camping at a combination of public and private campgrounds, both primitive and full service, in remote and beautiful areas, including two campgrounds in Denali National Park and one in Denali State Park. On occasion, when campgrounds are not available, we will stay indoors in basic cabins or motels and eat at roadhouses when groceries are not available.
After Denali, we head south toward Anchorage, exploring the quaint town of Talkeetna and enjoying some quiet lakeside camping, and then we’ll savor one final climb over Hatcher Pass in an area that historically provided the third-largest amount of gold in the state and where some gold mining continues today. To cap off the tour, we will connect up with a beautiful coastal bike trail that will lead us back to our starting point in Anchorage, having enjoyed an unparalleled exploration of the vast Interior of Alaska.
"A fantastic and challenging tour...Beautiful scenery."
Week 1. Anchorage to Gakona, Alaska
We'll meet in downtown Anchorage for an orientation meeting at a motel, conveniently located near the airport, a bike shop, and the Tony Knowles Coastal bike trail. Here, we will divide up the group gear and pore over the maps and cue sheets for our epic adventure. The bike trail will take us around the perimeter of the greater Anchorage area, and then to the Old Glenn Highway which leads us to Palmer, where we'll camp alongside the Matanuska River. We'll continue our journey on the Glenn Highway in the Matanuska River corridor, a popular route for trumpeter swans as well as cyclists. The corridor will take us through some of the most productive farmland in the state of Alaska, where farmers grow enormous vegetables during the brief summer months.
As we head east toward Glennallen we will enjoy more riverside camping, along with a series of climbs, including some short eight-percent grades. Near Chickaloon, there are bound to be stunning views of the 27-mile-long Matanuska Glacier, and we'll have the option to trek around on the glacier with Mica Guides.
Back on our bikes, we'll climb pass Sheep Mountain Lodge, locally famous for its homemade oatmeal-raisin cookies and cinnamon rolls. After a nice downhill, we will camp near a creek that drains from the Chugach Mountains that attracted gold prospectors to this area in the late 1800s. Should you want an excuse to climb off your bicycle and stretch your legs, there should be plenty of wild berries ripe for the picking. Make lots of noise if you do – this is bear country. By the time we cruise through Glennallen, and then northeast toward Gakona on the Tok Cutoff, the Wrangell Mountains will dominate the view.
Week 2. Gakona to Fairbanks, Alaska
With the Alaska Range on our left and the Wrangell Mountains to our right we'll feast on a smorgasbord of views as we head toward Tok and then on to Fairbanks. What could possibly make this week's ride more enjoyable? How about the opportunity to visit our country's largest national park? Early in the week, we are perfectly positioned to intersect with the northwest access road into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, with quick access to spectacular vistas. Factoid: Did you know that Wrangell-St. Elias is six times larger than Yellowstone?
Once we reach Tok, we will take a well-deserved rest day and take advantage of the services, such as a nice café or two, as we recharge, resupply (there's a well-stocked outfitter plus two grocery stores here!), and continue our journey deeper into the Interior of Alaska.
We will depart Tok on a dedicated bike path that parallels the Alaska Highway for quite a few miles. After the bike path ends, we have just three days of travel on the Alaska Highway and then the Richardson Highway before we reach Fairbanks, Alaska's second-largest city. Fairbanks will serve as our home base for three nights, enjoying comfortable apartment-like accommodations as we explore the far north. First, we will embrace a challenging out-and-back ride northeast of town, over a mountain pass with wonderful views of the White Mountains, to the now-abandoned gold mining town of Chatanika. Nearby is a modern-day rocket launch facility that is operated by the University of Alaska for scientific investigations of the Northern Lights. We will be able to examine the large rocket by the entrance gate, and may have an opportunity to take a peek inside, depending upon the current activities of the facility.
We'll use our layover day to explore many unique features of the area, such as a gold dredge and riverboat with historic ties to the 1902 Gold Rush. There will also be an opportunity to examine the Alaska pipeline and see the role that Fairbanks plays today in arctic resource exploration and maybe even visit the world-renowned Museum of the North on the campus of the University of Alaska. Our Fairbanks accommodations will have full kitchens so we can splurge during meal preparation here, compared to the simpler meals that we'll enjoy during the rest of the trip, using the backpacking-style stoves that we carry on our bikes as part of our group gear.
Week 3. Fairbanks to Denali Park, Alaska
From Fairbanks, we'll ride south along the Parks Highway, with spectacular views of the mountains of the Alaska Range, as we approach Denali National Park after just two days of riding. We will camp inside of the park for three nights, first at Riley Creek campground near the park entrance, and then bike 15 miles deeper into the park to the Savage River campground, perfectly situated with great views of North America's tallest peak. With a little luck and good visibility, we should see 20,308 ft tall Denali. This is an exciting and unique park. We will be sharing the park (including our campsites) with wildlife such as moose, caribou, bighorn sheep, and bears, so be ready to capture some memorable images. We will take a layover day at Savage River and there will be a choice of activities, including nearby hiking, or an option to take a bus further along the park road for safe wildlife viewing to the Eielson Visitor Center. At Eielson there are likely to be unforgettable mountain views and probably some time for a hike before returning by bus to Savage River. Alternatively, you may choose to do an out-and-back ride along the park road for your own personal experience.
Week 4. Denali Park to Anchorage, Alaska
To increase the likelihood of seeing "The Great One," we will spend several additional days in this spectacular area, continuing our ride south on the Parks Highway and then turning back north on a spur road to the unique town of Talkeetna. Soon after exiting the national park, we will enter Denali State Park, which sports a new hilltop campground with yet another vantage point to view the majesty of Denali. We will turn off of the main highway onto a beautiful 15-mile-long bike path that leads us directly to Talkeetna, where on a clear day there is an unimpeded view of Denali from the downtown Riverfront Park.
Talkeetna is an artsy and outdoorsy small town, and serves as the logistical staging place for climbing teams attempting to summit Denali. Small planes take off from the airstrip just off of Main Street on their way to Denali basecamps. We will spend two nights at a small motel in Talkeetna, allowing for a layover day, but you'll be able to choose how restful or active it will be. There are nearby hiking trails, small shops, artist galleries, and a bike shop for any needed repairs or supplies, to prepare us and our bikes for the final several days of our trip.
From Talkeetna, we will head south on the highway toward quiet Willow Lake, and even quieter Shirley Lake (they have motor boat restrictions), where we will enjoy lakeside camping. After Shirley Lake, we will head to Palmer via a low-traffic route over Hatcher Pass, entirely avoiding the busy Wasilla area. This historic route, used in the past by gold prospectors, is primarily paved, but has a section with a crushed stone/gravel surface that is nicely maintained during the summer, making it suitable for loaded touring bikes.
After a lovely night of creekside camping in Palmer, we'll mount our bikes for a final riding day and rejoin the Old Glenn Highway and the beautiful coastal bike path which leads us directly back to our starting point hotel in downtown Anchorage, where we will spend the night. We will clean up our bikes and ourselves, and then have a final celebration dinner where we can reflect on our great accomplishment of exploring the vast Interior of Alaska by bike, with incredible experiences and memories of stunning vistas that will last forever.