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Outdoors/Adventure

Denali National Park to start reservation system for private drivers on park’s only road

A wolf stands on a ridge in Denali National Park during the park's annual road lottery. (Stephen Nowers / ADN archive 2002)

Private drivers will get the unique chance to travel Denali National Park and Preserve’s only road this summer after COVID-19 precautions reduced anticipated bus traffic.

Vehicles will be allowed to access usually restricted portions of the Denali Park Road via a reservation system announced Friday. The park service decided to allow private vehicle traffic after the coronavirus pandemic drastically lowered the number of visitors: Cruise ship passengers aren’t coming and tourism in general is expected to be sharply reduced.

The agency is rolling out the road reservations in two stages.

Starting Monday through June 30, the public will have access to the road beyond the Savage River Check Station at Mile 15 to the Teklanika Rest Stop via a permit called the Teklanika Road Permit, available through recreation.gov. This system allows the public to reserve one of a limited number of daily scheduled entries, officials say. Vehicles without a permit can go as far as Savage River.

Starting July 1, when tour, transit and camper bus service starts, the public will also be able to access the road to the Eielson Visitor Center with an Eielson Road Permit available through recreation.gov. Access dates will be limited to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays on five weekends during the summer: July 10-12; July 24-26; Aug. 7-9; Aug. 21-23; and Sept. 4-7.

Reservations for the “timed entry" permits will be open at 10 a.m. AKDT 14 days in advance of the permit date. Additional permits will be made available at 10 a.m. two days before the permit date.

It wasn’t clear how many private vehicles would be allowed on the road under the new policy. Park officials say that will depend on bus and commercial operations, as well as any impacts on wildlife.

The reservation system is separate from the longstanding road lottery the park offers every year.

The park draws 1,600 lottery winners each year but the number of entrants fluctuates, park spokesman Gerald Hitchcock said. The odds of being drawn are around one in seven.

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