Denali National Park is hard to explain in words. It is huge, gorgeous, natural, thrilling, amazing….
I hear the words “once in a lifetime” connected to Denali pretty often. But after being there, I really hope that isn’t true. It is a place I want to visit over and over. I think that’s how a lot of people feel because an estimated 400,000 people visit yearly. Most of those visits are concentrated in the summer which would make the two-lane winding road in Denali laughably crowded, but personal cars are usually only limited to the first thirty miles of the park. To go further, you must jump on a shuttle bus and ride-share to your destination. Unless you win the Denali Road Lottery.
Once a year, right after the summer shuttle buses stop running in September, Denali National Park opens to personal cars. To get a chance at this amazing adventure, you must apply for the Denali Road Lottery and if you are lucky you’ll win. I got lucky, and my family and our dear Alaskan friends got to hit the road.
We began our driving somewhat early in the morning, taking in the rising sun against the autumn landscape. There was a chill in the air (read that as we Texans were wearing our heavy winter coats), and the flaming colors around us made us even more excited.
Whenever we wanted to stop and take a look at something, we did. When the wildlife wasn’t close at hand, we jumped out and tried to get a better look.
If I had to sum up the experience in one word, it would probably be “bears.” We saw 13 grizzlies that day!
There were plenty of other animals to see. The big five you are looking for are bears, moose, sheep, foxes and wolves. We saw all of the five, but the wolves were really far from the road. We luckily saw them by looking into a strangers telescope.
Tips for the Denali Road Lottery :
- Bring plenty of food and water for your family.
- Make sure your tank is full of gas.
- Don’t be stupid around the animals. Don’t get too close, and definitely don’t turn your back to take a selfie.
- Eielson Visitor Center is located at mile 66, and is a great place to have lunch and take a quick hike. I will warn you that it was INCREDIBLY windy when I was there…. like knock you off the mountain windy! I chose not to hike very far but the guys went for it.
- If you get a chance, check in the day before and get your road lottery tags early. It will help you get a jump on the crowd and allow for a relaxing beginning of your drive.
If you want to take a look at the entire Denali National Park road, check out this time lapse movie of all 90-something miles of it.