Driving the Denali Park Road: A Unique Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience During Road Lottery

If you’ve ever researched visiting Denali National Park & Preserve, you’ve probably noticed one thing immediately: you can’t drive on the single unpaved Denali Park Road. In order to reduce emissions, limit traffic congestion, and protect park resources and wildlife, Denali National Park & Preserve began a bus system for travelers in 1972.

Due to concern from nostalgic visitors who wished to drive the road, the park began its annual Road Lottery event in 1990, when 400 cars are given permits to drive the entire 92-mile Park Road. The lottery is always held for five days in September, with one day dedicated to currently serving members of the U.S. military. 

Denali National Park & Preserve/Photo by Lian Law/Courtesy of NPS

When and Where Can I Enter?
In 2020, Denali Road Lottery is from September 18-22, with September 19 reserved for Military Appreciation Day. The lottery is currently open for anyone to enter on recreation.gov. Typically, the dates you can apply are May 1-May 31, but in 2020, due to delays in response to COVID-19, the application period is June 1-June 30. 

When you enter, you’ll select the days you’d like to drive the road in order of your preference, but keep in mind that you may not get your first choice if you win.

To apply, you’ll need to pay a $15 application fee. If you win, an additional $25 permit fee will automatically be charged to the credit card on file. Make sure the card is valid so you don’t forfeit your permit if you win!

You might see grizzlies on your drive!/Photo by Kat Belcher/Courtesy of NPS

What Happens If I Win?
If you win a Road Lottery permit, congratulations! You’re one of the lucky 1,600 visitors selected. Beginning September 11, you can pick up your permit at the Denali Visitor Center. I highly recommend arriving early in the morning, especially if you pick up your permit during Road Lottery, as the lines can be very long. 

When you pick up your permit, a park ranger will go over the rules of driving the Denali Park Road with you and provide further instructions. Make sure you bring your driver’s license (or another form of photo identification), so the rangers can verify you are one of the winners.

If you win a permit but can’t go, you’re allowed to transfer your permit to someone else for free—you can’t sell it or make any sort of profit/trade. The new winner should present their photo ID and a letter from you stating you have transferred your permit to them when they arrive at the visitor center.

Things could get chilly/Photo courtesy of NPS

2020 Changes in Denali National Park & Preserve
Some other changes have occurred in Denali National Park & Preserve for the 2020 season in response to COVID-19. For instance, there are limited options for bus trips into the park due to safety concerns. Therefore, for the first time ever, the park has opened a timed-entry permit system on recreation.gov. You can choose a date and time you wish to drive either 30 miles to Teklanika or 66 miles to the Eielson Visitor Center. This is an extremely unique opportunity to take advantage of if you find yourself in Alaska this summer.

Visiting Denali National Park & Preserve
The park is still open to all visitors during Road Lottery, whether you have a permit or not. Check out my Denali Travel Guide and posts detailing all six Denali campgrounds and ranking all 20 hiking trails in Denali to successfully plan your trip.

Header photo by Kat Belcher/Courtesy of NPS

Riley is a lifelong traveler who has been visiting national parks as long as she can actually remember. Her newest passion is sharing her love of national parks with the world by planning trips, writing about travels, and offering advice. One day, she hopes to visit all 419 national parks.


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