My husband and I won the Denali Road Lottery in 2011. The win entitled us to purchase a $25 permit to drive the 92-mile Denali Park Road – the only road in the six-million acre Denali National Park and Preserve. During the main tourist season (May to September) only shuttle buses are allowed to travel the narrow, two-lane road, but during a brief period at the end of the tourist season the road is opened to private vehicles. Demand proved so great that the number of vehicles had to be restricted, and access awarded via a lottery system. We were one of only 1,600 cars allowed to travel the two-lane road during a 4-day period in September. Our adventure, Denali – Ticket To Drive, appears in Life Is Good Magazine, Nov/Dec 2012.
It was an exciting adventure through some of Alaska’s most spectacular wilderness with plenty of wildlife sightings. The autumn colors were gorgeous, and we observed more than a dozen grizzly bears foraging as they prepared for winter’s arrival. One encounter, though exciting, was a little too close for comfort. We learned to give the bears a wide berth. There were moose, as well, both bulls and cows; and Dall sheep, usually high in the peaks, were at road level as they migrated to other areas with winter coming on.
We enjoyed a thrilling drive and wonderful weather, though that is not always the case. Here are a few things you need to know before you enter the lottery.
1. The lottery is opened throughout the month of June, accessible at recreation.gov . Only one entry is allowed per person; the cost to enter is $10. If you win, you will be required to purchase a permit for $25. The winners are announced in July.
2. If you are lucky enough to win, there is still no guarantee you will be able to drive the road. It is allowed, weather permitting. The road is an unpaved, narrow two-lanes. On occasion some or all of the road has been closed due to snow and icy conditions. Park Ranger Kris Fister reported the 2012 drive (this year) was plagued with high winds and that at least one day where the road could only be partially opened.
3. At this time of the year, the main tourist season is shutting down. The park is opened year round, but with limited access and services after the Road Lottery. You will need to make your reservations early. There are some campgrounds that are also open. You can find more about this at recreation.gov.
4. It’s a good idea to stock up on supplies in the larger cities of either Fairbanks or Anchorage before heading to the park. We found the stores shelves nearly bare at the stores in the small community outside the park’s entrance, and many items on restaurant menus were no longer available.
5. Also, there is no food service available beyond the park’s entrance area. You will need to take food with you for the drive, though there is water and restroom facilities at Eielson Vistor’s Center.
If you don’t mind gambling on the weather, it’s more than worth the trip. We entered the lottery again this year (2012) but were not so fortunate to win, but you can bet our name will be in the hat come June 2013. Maybe we’ll see you there.
Author’s Note: Be sure to read Denali-Ticket To Drive.
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