Petersville Road Scenic Drive
Petersville Road is the "other" road to Denali, the southern gateway to Denali and certainly the road less traveled. It's a rugged mining road that was built in the 1920s and designed for true explorers of Alaska who wish to discover the backcountry on their own terms.
This trip will take about 2 hours one-way, covering about 34 miles. Only the first 10 miles are paved. Four-wheel drive is recommended, but not mandatory. Road conditions are usually favorable July through August, while June and September are "iffy." Due to the area's proximity to the Alaska Range, there is usually a great deal of snow on the road beyond mile 14 the rest of the year, which explains the area's popularity with snowmobilers.
Travel with necessary survival equipment, including a spare tire, tow rope, raingear, wading boots, mosquito repellent, matches, food, blankets and other gear.
WHERE TO BEGIN
Travel the Parks Highway to Milepost 114.9 to Trapper Creek - a great spot to fill up.
WHAT TO DO
Visit Trapper Creek's Old Historic Post Office before turning onto the Petersville Road. Notice the many farms in the area established by "59ers," people who came up to take advantage of a federal land grab from 1948 through the 60s and 70s.
Mile 0.7: Trapper Creek's Spruce Lane Farms Museum and Gifts is an authentic log cabin museum with a view of Denali. Learn about area gold mining history and the homesteader movement, find local gifts and pet their ponies.
Mile 6: Moose Creek is a great stop for a picnic lunch and good berry picking toward summer's end. Check to see if there are any trout or grayling in the creek. Various points between mile 6 and mile 19 offer views of the Alaska Range and tundra lakes. Watch for swans, ducks, geese, moose and other Alaska wildlife.
Mile 19: Forks Roadhouse. The Forks Roadhouse was a historical lodge set in the heart of Alaska, but unfortunately, it burned to the ground in the early 2010s.
At about mile 26, the road passes through the long-abandoned mining camp of Petersville. The buildings are closed and off-limits; it's not really a good place to stop.
Mile 28-30: The spectacular Peters Creek Canyon. A one-lane road hugs one side of a deep gorge with waterfalls all around. Views of the Alaska Range complete the picture.
Before entering the canyon, turn right onto the trail at the mouth of the canyon and hike to the top of the Peters Hills for some of the most phenomenal views of the Alaska Range featuring Mount McKinley, Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter, as well as stunning views of the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountains, the Matanuska-Susitna Valleys and much more. Watch for migratory birds and small mammals early in the summer, and Ptarmigan and bears feeding on the berries later in the year. This is a great area to begin a mountain biking trek, as there are many rugged trails and roads in this region.
Mile 32: Now entering the Petersville State Recreational Mining Area, an area set aside by the State of Alaska for the citizens to pan and mine for gold. If you don't know how, it's easy to learn and fun to do. This is also another outstanding area to camp.
Just past the bridge you come to another fork: The left fork takes you to the Cache Creek area and the right fork takes you to the Blue Ribbon Mine and Denali State Park. Take the right fork and travel a little ways beyond the bridge to the Peters Creek ford, where bears and salmon are often spotted. Crossing the creek may appear daunting. However, the creek is generally quite shallow. Stay away from areas where strong currents have cut deep channels into the gravel bed. Instead, cross only where the water is rough and shallow, two to three feet. Don't hesitate or stop in mid-stream, just keep your momentum and move forward. After crossing the creek, the left fork goes to Peters Creek and the right takes you to Blue Ribbon Mine. You are now leaving the Petersville State Recreation area and entering privately held state mining claims. By law, you may freely travel through, or hunt, fish, even camp on mining claims without the owner's permission. However, remember that the gold and other minerals are the property of the claim owner, and any unauthorized removal can result in criminal charges and civil liabilities. This is also true for disturbing claim markers, corners, or vandalizing equipment and camp facilities. Please respect private property.
Gold was discovered in this area in 1898, and the first known mining activities began in 1906. An estimated 200,000 ounces of gold have been produced since, mostly by small-scale and hand mining. The overall impact has been minimal, and most of the lands have been or are being reclaimed.
At this point, the road becomes narrower and indistinct at times. The only evidence of a road or trail, which sometimes is swallowed up by the stream, is the occasional piece of surveyors' ribbon hanging from a branch. The seemingly impenetrable brush suddenly opens up, then as quickly, it surrounds you again. As you peer into the thick vegetation, ask yourself: Could there be a bear, moose, or other large beast -- or what other hidden treasure may be lurking in there unseen and unknown?
At Mile 34 or so, look for the sign "Welcome to the Blue Ribbon Mine." To visit the mine, turn left here and drive for about 1.5 miles. Feel free to take photos. For information and reservations about mine tours, or recreational gold panning and mining, contact the Blue Ribbon Mine (907) 355-8664 or write to the Alaska Freegold Company, PO Box 423, Willow, Alaska 99688.
From here, depart for Denali State Park, Denali National Park and Preserve or stay and enjoy the scenery. To drive to the boundary of Denali State Park, go back down the hill to the sign, turn left. After about one-half mile you will see that the road becomes very steep. DO NOT ATTEMPT to drive this unless you have a four-wheel drive vehicle in good condition and are familiar with its operation. Continue on, until you reach the crest of the hill. Then turn left and drive until you come to the "Denali State Park" sign.
A very nice trail takes off from here, and by following it for a mile or so, you can overlook the Tokositna Valley and Glacier, the Tokosha Mountains, and of course, Denali, the "Great One." In the 1920s, the world-renowned Alaskan artist Sydney Laurence painted from this vantage point. Captain James Cook walked and camped here while searching for a trail into the Interior of Alaska.
What else is there to do? Hiking,fishing, photography, mountain biking, cultural exploration, bird watching, wildlife and mountain viewing. You will be moved, inspired, and exhilarated. Only by visiting here will you be able to feel and experience the powerful connection with nature. Mere superlatives cannot describe - any more than even the very best photos - the grandeur of the foothills of the Alaska Range.
"Hello, I'm Dennis Garrett. I came to Alaska in 1981 to find adventure, opportunity and gold. It took me several years and various stints as a soldier, private detective and entrepreneur before I had the grubstake and claims necessary to mine for the gold in the foothills of Mount McKinley. I've been operating a gold mine since 1992."
Information provided by Dennis R. Garrett, owner and operator of the Blue Ribbon Mine, located at the end of the Petersville Road.