Alaska, North America

Denali National Park Road Lottery

One of my favorite places is Denali National Park, in Alaska. Generally, as a visitor, you have to ride a bus through the park. However, for five days a year, the Denali National Park Road Lottery changes all that. Read on to find out how you can take part and have more freedom with your visit. 

Denali National Park Road Lottery

                                                                    Denali aka Mt McKinley

Denali National Park Road Lottery

You may be asking what the Denali National Park Road Lottery is and even, why do you care. Normally, when you visit the park, you don’t drive your vehicle through the park, but rather purchase a ticket to ride the park bus. You can also drive your car into the park about 15 miles, but if you only go that far, you are really missing out of some beautiful and interesting experiences.


Denali National Park Road Lottery

                                                                                 My Dad and I

How it Works

Once a year, from May 1st through May 31st, you can apply for a ticket to drive your vehicle all the way through the park. Sometime in June, you will be contacted, via the email you provide, telling you if you win or lose. When you enter the lottery, you are required to pay a non-refundable $15 fee and if your name is drawn, your card will be further charged a $25 permit fee. The lottery dates change by a few days each year, but for 2020, they are September 18-22.

Denali National Park Road Lottery


In 2020, there will be 4 days where they allow Denali National Park Road Lottery winners to drive through the park. However, you will be assigned a specific day and will be one of 400 vehicles that particular day. So, there are 1600 tickets up for grabs.

Denali National Park Road Lottery

                                                                       Early Morning Fog

What Do You Get

What exactly do you get with your permit? On the day you are drawn for, your permit provides you entrance to drive your personal vehicle through the park. You are permitted to be in the park from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm on your awarded day and there are vehicle restrictions, so be sure to read the rules they send you throughly. The road you drive is not paved, but weather permitting, you can drive 92 miles to the end of the park.

Denali National Park Road Lottery

                                                                          Bull Moose

Military Appreciation Day

The fifth day is reserved for active duty military and their families only and the military is in charge of handing out those permits.

Denali National Park Road Lottery

                                                             Sow Grizzly and Her Cubs

What Will You See

The photos in this post are all from our day using our Denali National Park Road Lottery permit. I kept pretty close count of the animals we saw so I could share it with you. We saw 11 grizzlies, 6 moose, 2 ptarmigan, 1 bull caribou, 6 ground squirrel, 2 Alaskan grey wolves, 34 Dall sheep, 1 fox and of course, the mountain, which is often shy. We went on my husband’s birthday with 2 of our kids and my dad, so that made it even more special.

Denali National Park Road Lottery

                                                                          2 Grizzlies

Specific Tips

While I already have a post detailing tips for Denali National Park, here are a few specific tips if you draw a ticket.

  • Bring cold weather gear. The weather can change rapidly in September.
  • Take your time. It’s very easy to miss something if you’re driving too fast.
  • Keep your distance from the car in front of you. Cars stop fast. Also, if you’re further back, the dust won’t be as bad.
  • Bring your own food and drink. There are no restaurants past the Visitor’s Center.
  • Practice wildlife safety. Do NOT approach any wildlife. The animals are wild and you are in their habitat.
  • Bring a good camera because as stated above, there is plenty to photograph. Please read my post on wildlife photography tips to help you be successful.
  • When you are actually applying, have every adult that will be with you enter for a chance to win. We had 4 entries and only one person drew a permit.
  • Make sure your gas tank is full because after the beginning of the park, there are no more stations.
Denali National Park Road Lottery

                                                                        Alaska Red Fox

Will We Do It Again

Will we apply for the Denali National Park Road Lottery again? You bet. We really enjoyed our day and we loved that we could stop anywhere we wanted along the way. Even with all the people, it was still way less people than visiting Yellowstone National Park in the summer.  If you decide to apply for the lottery, you can do that here.

Note: After the lottery days were past, I did read some articles stating that not everyone agrees with allowing cars in for these days. I get that. It’s probably stressful for the animals, which is not good for sure. However, if the visitors are respectful of their environment and the animals, I think it can be a good thing. There are a lot of rangers trying to ensure this is the case.

Denali National Park Road Lottery

                                                                              Dall Sheep


Denali National Park Road Lottery

You Might Also Like

  • Jyoti April 22, 2020 at 9:27 am

    I had no idea such a pass even existed. I’d love to try the Denali lottery some time when I have more flexibility in my travel schedule.
    I love your wildlife photography!

    • ppadmin May 11, 2020 at 12:16 pm

      Thank you so much! I love photographing wildlife. We were excited when we found out about the pass. It was well worth it.

  • Kelly April 22, 2020 at 12:54 pm

    I think the Road Lottery is a brilliant idea. I saw it as a way of maintaining the natural wildlife habitat as opposed to disturbing the animals. I agree that it would be a great way to tour the park and being able to stop whenever you like.

    • ppadmin May 11, 2020 at 12:18 pm

      We thought it was a fantastic idea too. I was surprised when I read the complaints from people. I would hate for them to open it to cars all the time though.

  • Freya April 22, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    This is amazing Kathleen, what an incredible experience! I can’t believe how much wildlife you saw AND you got a pretty clear view of the peak. It’s good to know that they restrict the number of vehicles in the park to minimise disturbance to the animals and their natural environment. I would love this roadtrip.

    • ppadmin May 11, 2020 at 12:20 pm

      We’ve been to the park a lot of times and this was my favorite trip. I didn’t feel rushed or like I couldn’t stop when I wanted. It was really a wonderful day.

  • Carol Kubicki April 23, 2020 at 2:23 am

    What an amazing experience! So much wildlife to see and incredible scenery. Thank you for sharing. I am sure they have assessed the impact on wildlife and if everyone takes care and spaces out it should be minimal.

    • ppadmin May 11, 2020 at 12:21 pm

      I think they have too. The rangers enforce the park rules very well at Denali.

  • Sarah April 23, 2020 at 2:41 am

    When travel opens up again, would love to visit Alaska. I had no idea about the lottery to visit Denali. I can understand some grumbles about letting cars in and I’m sure there will always be someone that abuses this experience but wow, would so love to experience this. What an incredible wildlife spotting adventure you had!

    • ppadmin May 11, 2020 at 12:23 pm

      I think any decision the park makes, someone will complain. The rangers are all over on these days to enforce the rules. It was such a beautiful day.

  • Catherine April 23, 2020 at 3:15 am

    Wow, this is amazing! I’d certainly give it a go to be able to explore the Denali National Park on my own. I can’t believe all the animals you saw – my girls would absolutely love a trip like this!

    • ppadmin May 11, 2020 at 12:25 pm

      Your girls would so love it! We saw a lot more than I expected to see. We were so happy about that. I hope you can do it sometime.

  • Vanessa Ball April 28, 2020 at 2:44 am

    It is a little dream of mine to visit Alaska and I’ve never heard Denali National Park – it is now top of my list! I think it’s a great idea to have a bus or win the car lottery rather than lots of cars driving through. You saw some amazing wildlife when you were there, it’s pure luck with nature. Some great tips on your trip to Denali National Park.

    • ppadmin May 11, 2020 at 12:29 pm

      I hope you are able to visit. Alaska has 8 national and 156 state parks for you to visit. Not all can be driven to, but Denali can. Investigate Alaska fully so you don’t miss anything. It’s a wonderful state.

  • Yukti Agrawal April 28, 2020 at 9:21 am

    I never knew for driving across a national park also we need a lottery. Denali National Park road lottery sounds fun but I am very bad at winning in lottery. I would love to win this lottery to enjoy the drive and beautiful sights in between. Photo with early morning fog looks dreamy. Good you spotted many wildlife and especially that Alaska Red fox.

    • ppadmin May 11, 2020 at 12:31 pm

      I believe the road lottery is unique to Denali National Park. I’ve never heard of it anywhere else. It was such an amazing day and the weather was beautiful.