Spring comes late: Riding Petersville Rd.

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The Petersville Road accesses the southern foothills of the Alaska Range, to the west of Talkeetna and Trapper Creek.  Once a wagon road for miners from the Talkeetna area to reach gold claims, including the Cache Creek Gold Mine, the road is now passable up to twenty miles by standard motor vehicle in season.  In winter, the area is criss-crossed with snow machine routes.  In spring, which comes late, it’s a bit messy.

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At the intersection with the Parks Highway at the Trapper Creek Inn and and gas station at milepost 115, ten miles of pavement are found toward the west with minimal elevation gain– simply follow the sign towards Moose Creek and Peter’s Creek.  Thereafter the road turns to dirt and the scenery flourishes.  On a clear day, the views of Denali tempt further travel as it peers higher and higher above spruce at each successive body of water.  Crossing Kroto Creek and several other drainages presents a few short, challenging climbs, and a mild net elevation gain.  An upward turn in the road and several structures mark the settlement of Peter’s Creek at mile 19, and the road becomes less suitable for standard automobile traffic, although it is easily passable on a hybrid or mountain bike.  In the spring, or after recent rain events, the road may be muddy and rutted.  What I found in late May, after a record setting snowfall, were melting snowdrifts and mud.  And, lots of locals enjoying the holiday weekend on roaring ATVs.  A nice weekend with the family includes driving a truck until it can pass no further, then the ATV until blockaded by snow and mud.  Crack a beer, shoot a gun, then come roaring back for dinner.  Welcome to Alaska.

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Despite the busy holiday weekend, it’s still wild out there and the road continues at least 12 miles beyond the melting snow piles that stopped me.  It passes through the Peter’s Hills, and provides access to several gold mines, and it is said that some routes eventually end at the National Park boundary.  There is also rumored to be a scenic canyon as you pass through the Peter’s Hills, about thirty miles in.  I made it about 27 miles until I was pushing through snow more than riding.  I retreated a few miles for the night and made camp high above Kroto Creek, which was flush with spring melt.

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The last set of ATV tracks.  I later learned that they had traveled only a few hundred feet further before encountering an impassable snowfield.  Aside from wet feet and a heavy bike, passage by foot was tolerable.

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This was the end of the road for me, about two miles short of the abandoned settlement at Petersville, and only a few miles further into the Peter’s HIlls, pictured in the distance.  It would have been a convenient time for fat tires on the Pugsley.

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Camping:  Private lands surround the paved road until mile 10, at which point the dirt road is dotted with turnouts suitable for camping.  Some private lands are signed along the roadside, although they become less numerous as you go.  There are public restrooms at Kroto Creek and a large parking area, full of RV’s on holiday.  A map will not be necessary if you stick to the main road, although there are some interesting side trails which were flooded with mud this time of year.  There were very few junctions, although the road may become less defined as it diverges toward gold mines and hunting camps further in.   I wasn’t even a bit concerned about how to find my way back in the first 27 miles.  There is plenty of surface water along the route.  Certainly, bear deterrent and proper food storage are advisable.

Retreating the next day, I found sunny skies and quick passage as I lost elevation back toward the Parks Highway.  I became successively happier when I returned to dry dirt road, then graded roads, then finally pavement and 20 mph riding back to Trapper Creek for a coffee and a mid-afternoon breakfast sandwich.  The Trapper Creek Inn has free wifi and great sandwiches.

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Schwalbe Big Apple 26 x 2.35 tires on Surly Marge Lite 65mm wide rims.  The low-profile tread rolls well on pavement, and the tire volume and wide footprint do well to smooth bumpy dirt roads and float over mud and loose sediment.  I was especially impressed at how I was able to float over wet spongy sections of unconsolidated glacial till– silty, sandy, gravelly stuff with a mix of clay that swells with water.  Traction on heavy, melting snow was terrible, but that didn’t stop me from trying to ride through every section of snow in my path.  I did little to adjust my tire pressure, which may have helped, as traction and ride quality were generally quite good.

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Plenty of existing campsites along the road.

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And views of Denali, especially between Trapper Creek and Peter’s Creek in the first 20 miles.  The views would have been incredible from atop the Peter’s Hills, beyond mile 30.

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Detail of the area, posted inside the Trapper Creek Inn.  It’s a good reference to look at before you go.  They also sell maps of local snow machine routes, and the DeLorme Alaska State Gazetteer.  I was about two miles short of the Petersville, indicated by the number 9 on the top left of the map.  In dry summer conditions, medium volume tires would be adequate for most of the Petersville Rd.

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An idyllic homestead only a few miles from Trapper Creek.  Views of Denali, The Great One, are inspiring and precious.  Many park visitors never see the peak due to the unique weather patterns in the Alaska Range.  This home has no shortage of amazing scenery.  A sign indicated it was for sale, if you’re interested.

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3 thoughts on “Spring comes late: Riding Petersville Rd.

  1. Man, having to push with 2.35′s?! I guess that wet snow can be a show stopper when it wants. Anyways, your trip is looking great so far Nick. Wish I was there.

    • Well, there is tire volume, and tread, and even the profile of the tire (based on wheel size, rim width, and tire shape) that all play a part in these conditions. In loose snow conditions, the more the tire acts like a paddleboat as a result of the tread pattern, the better. Take a look at the Surly Endomorph tread, which is a classic snow tire design. Obviously, the Big Apple doesn’t bite at all in these conditions. In all honesty, most of the 4″ tires would have been sliding around in this stuff as well. It was real heavy, sloppy stuff.

      I’ve got to get to CO somehow, but I’m having so much fun in AK?

  2. Pingback: Biking to the trailhead | gypsy by trade

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