McCarthy Road; Glenn, Denali and Dalton Highways

Unlike McCarthy Road, I thought Denali Highway was much worse than I expected.

I thought the verdant, lake-filled tundra surrounding parts of the Denali Highway made it look like the dinosaurs had only recently left.

Garrett Ziegler

Many people choose to take the Parks Highway from Anchorage or Fairbanks to Denali National Parkbecause this highway is paved and well laid out.

This highway is also very busy, which is why we chose the Denali Highway, which runs from Paxson to Cantwell. Mostly gravel, the Denali Highway offers a scenic 135-mile journey with jaw-dropping views of the Alaska Range. What it doesn’t offer are gas stations, plenty of places to eat and stay, or traffic.

As we drove, I felt it seemed like dinosaurs could, at any moment, enter the lush, lake-filled tundra.

We were also particularly aware of the distance from the highway when we punctured two tires at the same time.

The cause of the punctures is unclear. We didn’t run over studs or tire studs, and the tires weren’t flat. Instead, as best we can understand, we were going too fast on the gravel and sharp rocks damaged the already weakened tires of our rental car. The rain also made potholes hard to spot, and wet conditions likely made potholes and washboards worse. All road conditions are dependent on weather conditions and DOT maintenance crew duration.

Luckily, our trusty “The Milepost” showed us about two miles from one of the few highway pavilions, where we were able to sort out our tire situation.

The mechanic at the lodge replaced an apartment with the spare part from our rental car. Unfortunately, he didn’t have another spare tire to replace the second flat tire and didn’t think a patch would stop the tire from continuing to leak. 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 puncture and two for us to keep in the trunk, just in case.

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

Although we never got close to the speed limit, I think we should have gone even slower, given the rough road conditions filled with potholes. The lodge mechanic recommended a maximum speed of 15mph on the worst sections of the highway to avoid the flats.

For the rest of our trip we went much slower, getting around potholes with precision and care, and had no more tire issues.

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