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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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?