Denali National Park: A wild expanse covering over 6 million acres of pristine wilderness. Home to the tallest peak in North America, the park is the embodiment of the Alaskan spirit.
During the summer season, travel on the 92.5-mile park road is limited to mile 15. After this point, personal vehicles are not allowed, and all travel must be done by park bus. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, however, adventurous visitors could drive the park road unobstructed. The growing popularity of Denali created an overwhelming amount of traffic for the park rangers to manage.
In 1990, the park instituted a road lottery. Over the course of several days, 400 vehicles each day are permitted to drive the entire length of the park road. A separate day for military was later added. Unlike during bus travel, drivers can stop wherever and whenever they like, save for a few sections of narrow road next to sheer cliffs. This freedom allows visitors to stop for frequent wildlife and take the time to appreciate the diverse landscape.
Applicants enter in May and winners are selected in June. Entry for the road lottery takes place in September, a time when fall colors dominate the park. The deep reds and vibrant yellows in Denali are some of the most beautiful in the entire state. Conditions and seasons change rapidly in the park and light; overcast skies have even transitioned into blizzard conditions over the course of a few hours.
In most, if not all national parks in the Lower 48, visitors can travel the entirety of park roads in their own vehicles. Because of this, national parks often see standstill traffic during the peak tourism season. The road lottery represents a uniquely Alaskan experience.
Those who win the road lottery and drive the park road leave with a profound sense of appreciation for the state and all that it contains. The scale of the park is hard to put into words. Driving on a single lane road, thousands of feet above a massive river bed, is something you must experience to truly believe.
Mile 85 is home to Wonder Lake. Appropriately named, the lake sits only 26 miles from the mountain and reflects the Alaska range when calm. Between Wonder Lake and the end of the road is Kantishna. Kantishna holds several lodges and private cabins. Among those cabins is Fannie Quiqley’s. An early mining pioneer in 1905, “she was respected for her outdoors skills, cooking and harsh way of speaking,” according to a plaque in her cabin. Before the establishment of the park, these early pioneers called what is now a protected area recognized around the world, home.
At the end of the road is a small, unassuming sign. It simply reads: “End of the Road Mile 92.5 Denali National Park and Preserve.” It is a symbol of the incredible opportunity to experience a truly wild place unlike anywhere else.