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The Denali Road Lottery Offers Regulated Leaf Peeping at Alaska’s Denali National Park


Summer view of Denali's shuttle road. Wikipedia Commons photo.

After the shuttle buses cease operating at Denali National Park, motorists with lottery-distributed permits can take fall color tours on the 92-mile shuttle road. This year the four-day special event known as the "Denali Road Lottery" will take place September 12, 13, 14, and 15 (Friday through Monday, 6 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.) weather permitting. Up to 400 vehicles per day will be allowed.

The leaf peeping season arrives early in Denali National Park, about mid-August, and lasts only a few weeks. By early September, colors have peaked in many areas of the park, though others are still showy. A variety of shrubs (fireweed, blueberry, bearberry, etc.) and deciduous trees of the boreal forest and stream corridors (birch, aspen, cottonwood, etc.) contribute to the display, yielding a mixture of pink, yellow, purple, red, and orange. Seeing bears, moose, Dall sheep, and other park wildlife is a bonus.

Few Lower 48 tourists are still around by late-September. Visitation at Denali plummets when summer disappears, snow threatens, and shuttle bus service ceases on the 92-mile shuttle road, the only road in this big-as-Connecticut wilderness park. Last year, Denali’s August visitation was 116,000. September visitation – nearly all of it jammed into the first couple of weeks – was 47,000. The October count was 807, as in eight-oh-seven.

With bus service suspended on the shuttle road, and with the fall colors at their best, some motorists take their private vehicles on leaf peeping tours along the shuttle road. If the weather cooperates, they get to drive the entire length of the road.

It’s a wonderful experience by all accounts, but there’s a catch. The National Park Service can extend this Denali leaf peeping privilege for only a few days each fall, and must keep traffic on the shuttle road from exceeding road maintenance tolerances and or violating wilderness protection standards. To take a Denali leaf peeping tour, a motorist must have a permit.

Since the demand for permits greatly exceeds the supply, and since it’s infeasible to issue permits at the entrance on a first-come, first-served daily queuing basis (can you imagine turning away thousands of disappointed motorists who have driven hundreds of miles?), permits are distributed via an NPS-administered lottery.

The lottery process is pretty interesting. Here is the announcement that was distributed last June for this year’s Denali Road Lottery: (Note the important change slated to begin in 2009)

Denali Road Lottery Application Procedures - 2008

The annual Denali Road Lottery will take place this year on September 12, 13, 14, and 15.

• A $10, non- refundable application fee is required for each entry. This fee can be paid by check
or money order. Applicants should not send cash.

• A $25, non- refundable permit fee is required on the day the permit is picked up at the park. In addition, permit holders must pay the park entrance fee of $20 per vehicle unless they have an America the Beautiful - National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass (Annual, Senior, Access, or Volunteer) or a Denali Park specific pass.

• Only one entry per person will be accepted. Duplicate entries will be disqualified.Entrants should submit an envelope to the park with this information:

1. A legible return address, including a first and last name (this is how entrants will be notified if they have been selected or not)

2. Dates in order of preference. This should be printed on the back of the envelope. If no dates are provided, dates of September 12, 13, 14 and 15 will be assigned, in that order. A self- addressed, stamped envelope is not required, and will not be used if included with the application.

3. Check or money order for $10 made payable to the “National Park Service”. • Applications should be sent to:

Denali National Park and Preserve
Road Lottery
P.O. Box 588
Talkeetna, AK 99676

Entries must be postmarked between July 1- 31 for 2008.

Entry dates for the 2009 and future road lotteries will be June 1- 30. The change in the entry period to a month earlier will allow the National Park Service to provide more timely notification to those individuals who obtain road permits so that they can make their travel arrangements.

• The drawing will take place during the second week of August in order to allow permit recipients ample time to make travel and/or lodging arrangements.

Applicants are advised to mail entries early to make certain that they arrive in time to be included in the drawing. All entries not included in the drawing will be returned.

• The names of successful applicants will be posted on the park website at after the drawing. All applicants will be notified on the status of their entry via the mail. The information sent to those selected for road permits will include details on visiting the park during the road lottery and payment of the $25 permit fee and $20 park entrance fee. Permits are transferable.

• Please contact park headquarters at (907) 683- 2294

Hearty Traveler congratulations to this year’s Denali Road Lottery permit holders. We hope that the Weather Gods will cooperate to make this a stellar year for Denali autumn splendor.

Post script: After the Road Lottery, and until the first major snows, motorists are allowed to drive their private vehicles on the first 30 miles of the shuttle road (the initial 15 miles of which are paved).


Can anyone think why they don't accept electronic applications with payment via Paypal (or similar)? Set up a decent web application once and spare a few people to wade through paper and enter the names and dates and stuff into databases by hand.

That seemed like a pretty logical question to me, MRC, so I posed it to the PIO at Denali. She told me that arrangements are being made to allow applicants to pay the application fee electronically. (Payment for permits would still have to be made at the park, as would any applicable admission fees.) If all goes as planned, the electronic payment option should be in place for next year's application cycle. But since the wheels of bureaucracy can turn very slowly, I wouldn't bet the farm on it. Incidentally, it looks like this year's Road Lottery will have fairly decent weather (highs in the mid- to high 40s), and there's no precip in the forecast -- at least not at the moment. Colors are past their peak in a lot of places, but still pretty good in others.

After a season of protecting the park and wildlife and protecting the safety of the visitor by having experienced bus drivers why open the road to hordes of inexperienced folks? It is not an easy road to drive and the lottery seems to negate what the park has been practicing and preaching all summer long. Why????????

I see that for 2009 entry by web is permitted as well as by regular mail. This is clearly more convenient, but I wonder how the randomness of the lottery will be administered with these two different types of entry. Will paper entries be digitized or vice versa? And I have read that computers are not capable of truly random choice but must follow some program or algorithm. That would not be the same as putting all entries in a huge drum and picking out the winners.

I can't say exactly what method they'll use, but it's a simple matter to assign ID numbers to all entries, however submitted, and then select winning entries randomly.

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