Snowy Winter Fat Biking in Denali National Park

It’s hard to believe that this photo was taken on March 8. Winter is leaving us fast up here, but you wouldn’t know it just a couple hundred miles up the Parks Highway. That’s where I snapped this pic on the weekend we decided to try winter fat biking in Denali. The roads were still slathered in slippery ice, and we fell back into the sub-zero temperatures our region experienced back in February.

Driving The icy Parks Highway with studded tires
The icy Parks Highway on March 8, 2024.

The drive was sketchy, but worth it. Seeing Denali National park in winter without hordes of tourists has been on our bucket list all year, even way before we hatched this crazy Alaska idea. It’s pretty difficult to experience any U.S. national parks without crowds now, but if there ever was one that we assumed would be it, Denali was the one.

Knowing we would be driving up through the icy Alaska Range with possible snow showers in the forecast, I almost chickened out and told Jim to forget it. The high country drive between Willow and Healy is five hours of snow, ice, blowing snow, and heavy wind at times. This traverses some of the highest altitudes in Alaska, and although it’s insanely gorgeous, it’s not for the faint of heart. Even though we had studded tires, and Jim was an excellent driver, it was still the most terrifying drive we’ve ever taken.

I wondered it we would be the only people dumb enough to drive to Denali in weather like this.

Our trip in early March.

Of course we were not. Plenty of Alaskans were on the same road, going who knows where, like the rugged souls that they are.

We braved this weather because our crazy musher friends offered to watch Nellie, so we could do something we never get to do with a dog; fat biking!

Later we would learn that fat biking is a much different experience than regular mountain biking, which we’ve done for decades. And doing it on snow is probably the equivalent of trying to ride over sand dunes. See the size of those tires on those rental bikes in the back of our Project M? Those wheels are massive! And our tires were studded for ice and snow, just like the snow tires on our truck that got us safely up to Healy, the closest town with services near Denali in winter.

The Project M fit all of our crap, and bikes too.
The Project M fit all of our crap, and bikes too.

We loved how the back of our Project M held two bikes and all our travel crap, with room to spare.

There is a lot of cargo space in that beast, and we still get to use the truck for its intended purpose. The Project M still exceeds our expectations. We can’t wait for the camping season to begin!

So, you wouldn’t know it by looking at that beautiful blue sky, but on the day we arrived at park headquarters, it was a chilly -5 degrees without wind chill (probably closer to -10 or -15 once we started biking). Knowing the weather would be a little cold, we had multiple layers of clothing and face coverings, reverting back to the way we would dress for a run in January. What a pain in the ass! But so worth it.

Pulling in to the parking lot, we could see that we weren’t the only insane people out there. Or so we thought.

Unloading fat bikes from the Project M
Unloading fat bikes from the Project M

There were about a dozen people who showed up at the visitor center when we arrived. But once we hit the trails around the park, we didn’t see another soul. Apparently more people than we thought actually do come to see Denali in winter (it’s about 90 miles from Fairbanks. But do any of them go fat biking in Denali in winter? Not that we could see. Most drive as far into the park as they can get, see the sled dog teams if the kennel is open, then retreat back to the big city of Fairbanks.

Silly tourists at Denali Sled Dog Kennel
Silly tourists at Denali Sled Dog Kennel

The park’s sled dogs are the big draw in winter. But before you can go pet these gorgeous pups, you must attend a presentation given by the interpretive ranger who explains the history of the park’s team, and how to behave around these furry workers. She discussed why you shouldn’t pet a barking sled dog, and introduced everyone to the concept of sled dog kennel management, training, feeding, and how they help the park with many chores that modern machinery still can’t do.

Ranger gives tourists instruction at Denali Sled Dog Kennels
Ranger gives tourists instruction at Denali Sled Dog Kennels

The ranger’s talk is a great introduction for anyone unfamiliar with the musher’s way of life up here. And, really, it doesn’t get any better than getting to go into the kennel to love on these guys.

Beautiful Denali Sled Dog
Beautiful Denali Sled Dog

These dogs work hard, and play harder. They were some of the friendliest, happiest, waggiest sled dogs we’ve ever met.

Super friendly Denali Sled Dog
Super friendly Denali Sled Dog

And they’re also the largest sled dogs we’ve ever met. Most sled dogs don’t have to pull lots of heavy objects out into the backcountry like these guys do. These canines are the freighters of Denali, lugging equipment and supplies through the wilderness to maintain trails and manage the wilderness all year long.

Dogs are bred to be social with tourists.
Dogs are bred to be social with tourists.

The Denali Park Sled Dog Kennel is only open to the public on weekends, so don’t miss it if you happen to be there on Saturday or Sunday. I recommend going in winter though, since it really is the best way to get a sense of how much these dogs enjoy living in their snowy landscape.

After the kennel visit, we went back to the truck and re-loaded the bikes. Then we headed out to the end of the park road at mile 12, where cars were prohibited at the time from further travel, but bicycles, musher teams, skiers and hikers were not.

Once the snow flies, Denali Park Road is only open to autos for the first three miles.

But by late February, it opens up a little more as the days go by. By the time we arrived, the first 12 miles were open, which is where we began our Denali Park Road fat biking chug up into the mountain. There is just one road into and out of the park, and we quickly learned that it’s an uphill climb. Here’s what happened.

An uphill climb for amazing views.

Despite the very hard work biking up for those spectacular views, I really feel like winter is the best time to experience Denali. If you don’t get out into the country on your own power at this time of year, there’s really no way to dig into the country and feel what it’s like, listen to the sounds, or experience the magic of this surreal landscape.
What are we doing?!

The nice part about fat biking Denali in winter is you never have to think twice about a bear chasing you. That’s a different story in summer, where cyclists are referred to as “meals on wheels.” What’s even better about seeing the park this time of year is that we were literally the only two people on that road the entire time. We did see a few other whackadoodles get out of cars at the end of the road and head out into the back country on foot. But we never met anyone else on our first, and last fat biking in snow experience.

Yeah, we can check fat biking off our bucket list too. Running in snow, mud, or sand, feels so much easier than pedaling those monster bikes. Along with skiing, it’s one of those things that we had fun doing. But fat biking just doesn’t rock our world enough to dig deeper into the activity. We’ll take the simplicity of running over a gearhead activity any day!

As for Denali in winter, a national park just doesn’t get any better than that.

4 thoughts on “Snowy Winter Fat Biking in Denali National Park”

  1. I’m sure it is a different beautiful in winter. We really enoyed the sled dogs even in summer. I’m sure we’ll see them again this summer.


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