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Cantwell, Alaska

Cantwell, Alaska Visitor Guide

Cantwell is a small, unincorporated community located in the scenic Denali Borough of Alaska. Situated at the junction of the Parks Highway (Alaska Route 3) and the Denali Highway (Alaska Route 8), Cantwell serves as a convenient base for exploring the surrounding wilderness and outdoor attractions. This visitor guide provides information on how to get to Cantwell, where to stay, what to do, and other essential tips for your trip.

Getting to Cantwell

Cantwell is approximately 212 miles north of Anchorage and 27 miles south of the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve. The most common way to reach Cantwell is by car or RV, as it lies along the Parks Highway.

From Anchorage, take Alaska Route 1 (Glenn Highway) towards Palmer, then connect to Alaska Route 3 (Parks Highway) heading north. The drive takes about 4 hours, depending on road and weather conditions.

The Alaska Railroad offers service between Anchorage and Fairbanks, stopping at Cantwell along the way. Check the [Alaska Railroad’s website]( for schedules and ticket information.

Where to Stay

Cantwell offers limited lodging options, including motels, lodges, cabin rentals, and campgrounds. Some accommodations to consider are:

– **Cantwell Lodge**: A rustic lodge offering private rooms and cabins with basic amenities.
– **Backwoods Lodge**: A small, family-owned lodge with a handful of private rooms and cabins.
– **Denali Highway Cabins & Tours**: Located along the Denali Highway, this property offers cabin rentals and guided tours.
– **Cantwell RV Park**: A basic RV park with hookups, restrooms, and laundry facilities.

For additional lodging options, consider staying in Denali National Park or nearby Healy.

Cantwell, Alaska, is a gateway to the pristine wilderness of the Denali region. In addition to the activities and attractions mentioned in the previous visitor guide, here are more ways to immerse yourself in the landscape and local culture:

Flightseeing Tours

Taking a flightseeing tour is a fantastic way to appreciate the grandeur of Denali and the Alaska Range. Several air services operate in the region, offering small plane or helicopter tours with experienced pilots who can provide insights into the area’s geology, wildlife, and history. Some operators also offer glacier landings, giving you the unique opportunity to step out onto a glacier and explore the icy terrain up close.

Cross-country Skiing and Snowshoeing

During the winter months, the Cantwell area offers cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities. Enjoy the tranquility of the snow-covered landscape as you glide or trek through the wilderness. Be prepared for potentially harsh weather conditions and always carry the necessary safety equipment, such as a whistle, map, compass, and extra layers of clothing.

Dog Sledding

Experience a quintessential Alaskan adventure by going on a dog sledding tour. Local mushers offer guided tours, ranging from short rides to multi-day expeditions. This unique mode of transportation allows you to explore the Alaskan wilderness while learning about the history and culture of dog sledding in the region.

Cultural Experiences

Cantwell and the surrounding Denali region are home to a rich Alaska Native history and culture. Visit nearby cultural centers, such as the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in Fairbanks or the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, to learn more about the indigenous peoples of Alaska and their way of life.

Wildlife Viewing

Cantwell’s remote location and pristine wilderness provide ample opportunities to observe Alaska’s diverse wildlife. Keep an eye out for moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, and grizzly bears while you explore the area. Remember to maintain a safe distance from wild animals and never approach or feed them.


Due to its northern location and minimal light pollution, Cantwell offers excellent stargazing opportunities. On clear nights, you can observe the Milky Way, constellations, planets, and other celestial objects. Bring a telescope or binoculars to enhance your viewing experience and consider downloading a stargazing app to help you identify the night sky’s features.

When planning your trip to Cantwell, Alaska, consider the seasonal variations in weather and daylight. Summers offer long days with abundant daylight, while winters boast snowy landscapes and the chance to see the Aurora Borealis. Regardless of the season, Cantwell serves as an ideal base for exploring the rugged beauty of the Denali region and experiencing the adventure that awaits in the Alaskan wilderness.

Cantwell’s location offers access to a variety of outdoor activities and attractions. Here are some popular options:

Denali National Park and Preserve
The main attraction near Cantwell is Denali National Park and Preserve, home to North America’s highest peak, Denali (formerly Mount McKinley). The park offers numerous recreational activities, including hiking, wildlife viewing, mountaineering, and more. The visitor centers within the park can provide information on trails, guided tours, and ranger-led programs.

Denali Highway
The Denali Highway is a 135-mile-long (217 km) mostly gravel road that connects Cantwell to Paxson. This scenic drive offers stunning views of the Alaska Range, tundra landscapes, and opportunities for wildlife spotting. The road is open seasonally, typically from late spring to early fall, depending on weather and road conditions. A 4-wheel-drive vehicle with good clearance is recommended.

Hiking and Backpacking
The area surrounding Cantwell offers numerous hiking and backpacking opportunities, from short day hikes to multi-day treks. Some popular trails include the Kesugi Ridge Trail, the Triple Lakes Trail, and the Mount Healy Overlook Trail. Make sure to carry a map, compass, and bear spray, and be prepared for sudden weather changes.

The lakes, rivers, and streams near Cantwell provide excellent fishing opportunities for anglers seeking salmon, trout, grayling, and other fish species. Check with local outfitters for information on fishing licenses, gear rentals, and guided fishing trips.

ATV and Snowmobile Tours
Explore the Alaskan wilderness on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or snowmobile tour. Local outfitters offer guided tours through the backcountry, providing a thrilling way to experience the rugged landscapes around Cantwell.

Aurora Borealis Viewing
During the winter months, Cantwell and the surrounding area offer excellent opportunities to witness the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). Check the [Aurora Forecast]( for optimal viewing times and head to a location away from artificial lights to increase your chances of seeing this natural phenomenon.

As you continue to explore Cantwell and the surrounding region, here are some additional activities and points of interest to consider during your visit:

Denali State Park

Located to the east of Denali National Park and Preserve, Denali State Park covers 325,240 acres of pristine Alaskan wilderness. This park offers stunning views of the Alaska Range, as well as opportunities for hiking, camping, wildlife viewing, and fishing. Some popular trails in Denali State Park include the Curry Ridge Trail and the Byers Lake Loop Trail.


Approximately 115 miles south of Cantwell, the vibrant town of Talkeetna offers a unique blend of Alaskan history, culture, and outdoor activities. You can explore the historic downtown, visit the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station, or embark on a scenic river rafting trip. Talkeetna is also a popular starting point for climbers attempting to summit Denali.

Nenana River

The Nenana River is a glacial-fed river that runs through the Denali region, with its upper reaches providing opportunities for thrilling whitewater rafting trips. Several outfitters operate guided rafting excursions, suitable for various skill levels. The river’s calmer sections are perfect for scenic floats, allowing you to soak in the surrounding landscapes and spot wildlife.

Alaska Native Art and Craft

Alaska’s rich native heritage is reflected in its unique art and craft traditions. As you travel through Cantwell and the Denali region, look for opportunities to purchase authentic Alaska Native art, such as carved ivory, beadwork, and woven baskets. These purchases support local artisans and provide a lasting memento of your Alaskan adventure.

Roadhouses, Diners, and Local Eateries

While Cantwell has limited dining options, you can find roadhouses, diners, and local eateries offering hearty Alaskan fare along the Parks Highway and in nearby towns such as Healy and Talkeetna. Sample local specialties such as reindeer sausage, wild-caught salmon, and blueberry pancakes. These establishments often serve as gathering spots for locals, providing a glimpse into the daily life of Alaskans.

Gold Panning

Gold panning is a part of Alaska’s rich history, and you can try your hand at this activity in various locations throughout the state. While not common in Cantwell itself, nearby towns and areas, such as Fairbanks, offer gold panning experiences. Some locations even allow you to keep any gold you find, making for a memorable souvenir.

When visiting Cantwell, Alaska, and the Denali region, it’s essential to respect the natural environment and its inhabitants. Practice Leave No Trace principles, such as packing out all trash, sticking to established trails, and respecting wildlife. By doing so, you can help preserve the pristine beauty of Alaska for future generations to enjoy.

Travel Tips
– Cantwell and the surrounding region can experience extreme weather conditions, so pack appropriate clothing and gear for your trip. Layers, waterproof clothing, and sturdy footwear are essential.
– Be bear-aware when hiking or camping in the area. Carry bear spray, make noise, and follow proper food storage guidelines to minimize encounters with bears.
– Cell phone reception can be limited or nonexistent in some areas around Cantwell, so carry a map and compass for navigation and inform someone of your travel plans.

Cantwell, Alaska, may be small, but it offers plenty of opportunities for adventure and outdoor exploration. By staying in Cantwell, you can experience the beauty and ruggedness of Alaska’s wilderness while being just a short drive away from the popular attractions of Denali National Park and Preserve.