Alaskans will get an increased shot at driving Park Road in Denali beginning June 1

A cyclist pedals through the Pretty Rocks area of the Denali Park Road on the approach to the Polychrome Overlook on Saturday, May 9, 2020. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

With an expected pandemic-caused shortage of tourists at Denali National Park this summer, the Park Service is increasing private vehicle access along the Park Road.

The road will be closed at Savage River, Mile 15, as of Monday, but Denali National Park spokesperson G.W. Hitchcock says people can register online for a limited number of daily permits to drive out to Teklanika at mile 30, during the month of June.  

“It will be like a timed reservation system that you can apply for and get a window at which you’ll be able to go past the Savage River check station as far as the Teklanika rest area. Those reservations are currently available on recreation.gov,” he said.

Hitchcock says Phase Two of the program, which will run over five long weekends in July, August and September, will provide a limited number of daily reservation spots to drive out the road as far as the Eielson Visitors Center at mile 66. He says both permit opportunities are being rolled out online in batches

“We know that some people need to plan out far in advance so a bulk of the permits are gonna be available two weeks before the date you’re trying to get a reservation on. And then we’ll have a reserve of some of those permits available 48 hours before that day so that the public that doesn’t necessarily know what they’re going to be doing two-weeks in advance can take advantage of some last-minute planning and make a last-minute reservation,” he said.

Summer Park Road traffic is governed by a vehicle management plan, and Hitchcock says the number of private vehicles allowed out the road on any day will be determined by how many private business tour vehicles, which are also being permitted this summer, and regular Denali shuttle and tour buses, are on the road.

“[We have to] balance our management of wildlife and the visitor experience with how much traffic we permit on the Park Road. The number of reservations that are available are going to be determined by what impacts we notice to wildlife around the road, what other vehicle traffic is already on the road,” he said.

Hitchcock acknowledges that all the opportunities and schedules are a little confusing, and encourages people to go to the Denali National Park website to read up, and apply for a slot if interested.  He says Denali’s bus service will start July 1, the same day park visitor centers open.