The drive to McCarthy and Kennicott isn’t your run-of-the-mill road trip.
It’s 7-8 hours from Anchorage, with the last 61 miles-between Chitina and the Kennicott River-on a historic, gravel road.
It usually takes 2 – 2 ½ hours to drive the McCarthy Road.
The speed limit for the McCarthy Road is 35mph. If you stay under the speed limit, the risk of a flat tire or car damage is minimal.
The road is wide enough for two lanes in most places and the State has brushed most of the road to increase visibility. However, the road is still narrow in some places, so you should to watch out for other traffic.
The number of flat tires on the McCarthy road has decreased drastically in the last few years, but it is still a good idea to carry a good spare tire. There is a tire repair shop at the end of the road during the summer months if you do have a problem
Road Conditions and Services
Of the 135 miles of the road, the first 21 miles on the eastern end, and first 2 miles on the western end, are paved. The rest of the road is gravel, not dirt, hence there effectively are no stretches of mud but there can be sharp rocks.
Because of potential sharp rocks, you SHOULD LIMIT YOUR SPEED TO 35MPH! In places, a lower speed is prudent. Do not take the “highway” in the name literally. At times you may think the road surface is great, but conditions can change in an instant. Again, please do not drive over 35 and do not allow someone to drive who cannot heed to this limit. Why rush? Spend your time enjoying the scenery rather than changing tires. If you think this speed is unbearably slow, or you find a dusty, bumpy road to be annoying, this is not the road for you. Those used to driving rural farm roads in the US will find the highway a pleasant journey.
Guidebooks, some websites and many online travel forums often have out-of-date information on the conditions of the road, or may enjoy being melodramatic and giving a scare to other travelers. Since 2006, the Department of Transportation has invested lots of time and money annually on the maintenance of the road. Just remember: Princess Cruises runs between 10 to 15 tour buses every week across the Denali Highway and they wouldn’t routinely endanger their luxury buses on a dangerous, ill-maintained road.
This route is NOT mountainous driving. Travelers can expect easy, gentle inclines with safe visibility.
The road is cleared of snow from approximately mid-May to the beginning of October. If you are traveling in the shoulder seasons of late May or late September, please call us or the Department of Transportation (toll-free in Alaska: 511 or outside Alaska: 866-282-7577) to verify the road is still passable. All other times of the year, only snowmachines and dogsleds access this beautiful route!
If you have any tire problems along the way, tire repair services are located every 20 to 40 miles along the route at various roadhouses.