Bucket List · camping · Living in Alaska · National Parks

Denali Road Lottery 2017

On Friday I had the super rare opportunity to drive my car into Denali National Park during the Denali Road Lottery!  To visit Denali National Park, people usually have to take a shuttle bus into the park instead of driving their own car.  It’s something they do to prevent humans from having too much impact on the park so it’s a good thing, but it can make it tough to see the park the way you want to.  You can get out and hike but you have to flag another bus down, and it’s kind of annoying being on a big school bus with a bunch of strangers.  That’s why getting a spot in the coveted Denali Road Lottery is so exciting!  We had from 6:00 am to midnight on Friday to spend as much time in the park as possible, and we could stop and get out of the car whenever we wanted.  Only 400 people get chosen each of the 4 days.  Some people rent a car, but my Jeep was perfect for the dirt highway.

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My friend was the actual lottery winner, so she planned the trip.  We decided to drive up to Denali National Park on Thursday night and camped in the Riley Creek Campground at the entrance of the park.  We got in around midnight and set up our tents in the dark with the aid of our headlamps.  I was pleasantly surprised by the amenities – I haven’t seen any other campgrounds in Alaska that have running water in the bathrooms (toilets and sinks, no showers) and even though it was crowded our tent was hidden in the trees.  The temperature got down into the 30s at night but my gear kept me from getting too cold.

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We woke up the next morning ready to drive into the park!  Once we picked up our entrance permit we drove to the start of the dirt highway at Savage River.  We had to wait in line for almost an hour, but it was worth it once we were cleared to enter and we were able to hit the park road in my jeep!

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Denali is a huge park, and the road is 92 miles long from one end to the other.  The main visitor center, Eielson, is at mile 66 and has an amazing view of Denali so it was our goal for the day.  As we drove further into the park we started seeing more and more gorgeous views of the mountains!

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The clouds were definitely out in the mountains, and it looked like it was snowing over the Alaska Range.  When we drove through Polychrome Pass the mountains were especially gorgeous – and super windy!

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I was dying over the gorgeous views and definitely stopped to take as many pictures as possible along the way.  The fall colors were gorgeous on the tundra and we even saw 4 bears from a distance!

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It’s impossible to see it, but there’s a bear hidden down there!
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What the road looks like during a bear sighting

It was already an amazing day in the park, but I knew that a view of Denali would make it completely perfect.  And it turns out that we were one of the lucky 30% of park visitors, because Denali was completely out and visible!

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Denali is the tallest mountain in North America and is over 20,000 feet tall.  It makes its own weather patterns and is usually hidden in the clouds, but we got a clear view of it on Friday!

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It’s so hard to capture how big and gorgeous it is in pictures.  Everyone needs to make it up here to see this at some point in their lifetime!  And the must-see location is Eielson Visitor’s Center.  It took us around 4 hours to make it out there but that drive is worth it on a day like this!

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It was freezing out there with the crazy wind, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat lunch on a picnic table in front of the mountain.  After we were chilly and tired of staring at Denali, we started our drive back to the park entrance.

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It was a long day of driving but it was such an awesome trip!  I’m definitely putting my name into the road lottery every single year from now on.  I know we got lucky with the weather but I’m hoping to have the opportunity to see Denali in the fall every year!

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Have you ever visited a National Park that didn’t allow you to drive through the park?  Have you ever won a lottery spot for an epic adventure?

9 thoughts on “Denali Road Lottery 2017

  1. Awesome! I’m going to Denali next summer and can’t wait! I’m still trying to work out the details- how far in to take the shuttle, where to stop, etc. It’s not the easiest place to plan for, if you’re not familiar with the area.

    1. The first time I went there I was so confused and overwhelmed with planning! The hardest parts are that it’s not like every other park (just one road, you can’t drive into it, and there’s really not a lot of hiking trails) and the mountain is barely ever out. When I went here the first time I bought 2 days of park shuttle tickets to Eielson (you used to get a 3rd day free if you bought 2, you should look into that!) and we made sure to book the earliest departure time because animals are more active in the morning and at twilight. The first day was rainy and cloudy and we couldn’t see the mountain, but we saw a crazy amount of animals. The second day we saw less animals, but it was sunny and clear and the mountain was 100% visible! When we got out to Eielson we went to the ticket desk and extended our trip out to Wonder Lake because we wanted to see more of the mountain. It was worth the extra few hours of travel because the views were amazing and we had a bit of time to walk around some trails there. We also got out and hiked one of the very few established trails in the park, which was the alpine trail across from Eielson. The days were super long but definitely worth it. Good luck with planning and let me know if you need any more info!

      1. Let me ask your opinion on this. We’ll have about 2 weeks to spend in Alaska, flying into and out of Anchorage and renting a car from there. I’m thinking we’ll have enough time to go to Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Kenai Fjords National Parks. Do you agree or do you think that’s too much driving for 2 weeks?

      2. That’s a lot, but definitely possible. We were here for 2 weeks on our honeymoon and went to Seward, the Matanuska Glacier, and Denali. It was a lot of driving but we wanted to see as much of the road system as possible. Wrangell-St. Elias is far from the other two parks but very pretty and remote (stock up on groceries in Palmer!). We popped a tire out there once and had quite the adventure getting it fixed! Definitely remember that those parks have very few established roads and trails. I used to work for a boat tour company that went into Kenai Fjords and it was for sure the best way to see the park. I’m excited about your trip, it sounds amazing!

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