We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Trip Report - Denali Road Lottery

Which Denali National Park and Preserve hotels are on sale?
mm/dd/yyyy mm/dd/yyyy
See hotels
Wasilla, Alaska
Destination Expert
for Alaska
Level Contributor
5,423 posts
152 reviews
Save Topic
Trip Report - Denali Road Lottery

We were one of the lucky 400 that got drawn for the road lottery on Sunday. I drove tour bus to/from Denali for two years, but never had even turned onto the Park Road.

On this trip there was me, the wife, the sister-in-law, the brother-in-law, the 8 year old niece, the 2 year old niece, the mother-in-law and the father-in-law. First lesson learned... Be careful about who you tell when you win a spot in the lottery. Otherwise you'll be one of eight people squeezed into a Suburban for 16 hours.

Us & the parents-in-laws drove up from Wasilla, the other four took the train up from Wasilla.

Those of us driving up stopped off in Talkeetna to get some baked goodies from the Flying Squirrel Bakery and then had lunch at Twister Creek. Both places have great food and are recommended stops.

The father-in-law drives LNG tanker for Carlile between Pt. Mackenzie and Fairbanks 4 days a week. But there's some side roads and scenic pull offs he can't stop at, so we hit some of those. And we made the usual stop at the Veteran's Memorial. It was raining pretty good at times.

With the stops, we got to Denali at the same time as those on the train. We then went to the Wilderness Access Center to get some coffee at the Starbucks and get our passes all squared away. We then drove the first 15 miles into the park. We got a great look at a huge bull moose and a couple of cows.

We then headed to 49th State Brewery for dinner. I had read the reviews and was really looking forward to eating here. We left very disappointed. It took over an hour to get our food, the server was indifferent and they messed up our order. I'm sure it was an isolated bad experience, but I won't stop there again.

We then headed to Motel Nord Haven. We had two rooms, one in each building. The rooms were great for the price and I'd stay here again.

We got a really late start the next morning due to a sick toddler. We also needed to stop by the Visitor's Center to get the eight year old a Jr. Ranger badge. So it was almost 9:30 before we got into the park.

We saw the same bull moose going in. The brother in law spotted a pack of 12 wolves on a ridge line and we saw about a half of dozen bears all together.

The weather was pretty miserable. We had rain and wind gust up to 60 miles an hour. In Polychrome Pass the wind was picking up rocks the size of golf balls and blowing them around.

We made it as far as Eielson Visitor Center before turning around.

We got out of the park by 7pm. We went to Glitter Gulch for food. We tried Prospector Pizza, but it was very busy. So a few of the group grabbed a burger from the fish and chip place and we moved on, leaving the area by 8pm. The wind and rain continued. We made a few bathroom stops and stopped at Sunshine to get a hot dog. We got to Wasilla about 11:30pm.

Some tips for others doing a Denali trip:

-As we say on these forums, be ready for any weather and have fun despite the weather. Dress in layers.

-Take binoculars. I threw mine in as an after thought and was so glad I did. The wolves were far enough away that without the binoculars it wouldn't be worth stopping.

-If you are driving as part of the road lottery, pick up a bottle of Windex and a squeegee. The mud would build up thick on the windows with the rain.

-Plan extra time to visit the stuff at the entrance of the park. We only spent a few minutes here and I wished I had more time. I also wanted to do some hiking, but the weather and lack of time prevented that.

-Again, plan extra time. Often when people are posting itineraries for Alaska, you'll see them thinking they can do the park all day and then drive to Anchorage. We were only going as far as Wasilla and we didn't get there until midnight. I was EXHAUSTED. If I do the road lottery again, I'll plan on staying the night before and the night after.

The fall colors were amazing. Seeing the animals was great.

Thanks to the regular posters on here who helped me plan the trip.

Oh, pictures... When I get them up on my blog, I'll post a link for pictures.

Healy, Alaska
Destination Expert
for Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Level Contributor
38,909 posts
44 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Trip Report - Denali Road Lottery

Thanks so much for sharing your report - I am delighted to hear that you finally got to see some of the Park and all the animals. Now to come during the summer when it is so green and the flowers are blooming. :)

I am bummed for you about 49th - one of my favorite places to eat, but I realize bad service can happen anywhere. Too bad you didn't stick around for Prospectors - they have great pizza and salads, but then you would have gotten home even later. I'll look forward to your photos - thanks! :)

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Level Contributor
8,132 posts
36 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Trip Report - Denali Road Lottery

AKStafford I'm so glad you reported back . . . thanks for sharing! I had to laugh at your comment about telling others about having won a lottery pass; yes it can get out of hand quickly if you're not careful.

The moose and wolf pack were obviously highlights, as well as all of the bears you got to see. It's a shame about the weather, but it is Alaska after all :)

I remember doing Prospectors when I was there last year and ended up sitting at the bar . . . the very last seat there as a matter of fact. I recall the hostess telling me it was a 90 minute wait unless I was willing to sit at the bar. Being alone, not an issue . . . with a large group, not an option.

I cannot wait for the photos!

fti
MN
Destination Expert
for Alaska
Level Contributor
15,373 posts
28 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Trip Report - Denali Road Lottery

Thanks for the report. I left Sunday afternoon from Denail after 6 nights there and Sunday was by far the worst day weather-wise (not to mention no power for 2-3 hours that morning, also meaning no gas stations were working). I haven't even started on a trip journal yet. Saturday was by far the best day for wildlife viewing for me, even though it was Friday when we saw the "Big Five."

There was LOTS of wildlife activity the first 15 miles of the park road, especially about mile 10. Saw 8 cows and a bull at one time. Earlier that day a bear crossed in front of our car in this same area. Then a bear crossed in front of the car near Stony Overlook and walked along the driver's side - so close that if the driver had opened the door it would have hit the bear!

More to come.

Wasilla, Alaska
Destination Expert
for Alaska
Level Contributor
5,423 posts
152 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Trip Report - Denali Road Lottery

Here's the first of three blog post with pictures. My brother in law & mother in law had better cameras... I'm trying to get copies of their pictures.

…blogspot.com/2012/09/denali-national-park-v…

Michigan
Level Contributor
444 posts
Save Reply
5. Re: Trip Report - Denali Road Lottery

>>Earlier that day a bear crossed in front of our car in this same area. Then a bear crossed in front of the car near Stony Overlook and walked along the driver's side - so close that if the driver had opened the door it would have hit the bear!<<

I'm so glad that the smart driver showed great judgement in not opening up that door. :)

Edited: 1:56 am, September 20, 2012
Michigan
Level Contributor
444 posts
Save Reply
6. Re: Trip Report - Denali Road Lottery

Sorry and surprised to hear about the 49th State Brewery. Went there twice while in and around Denali NP during the lottery and had great service and food both times. I wouldn't give up going there again due to one bad experience though.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Level Contributor
8,132 posts
36 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Trip Report - Denali Road Lottery

>>>I'm so glad that the smart driver showed great judgement in not opening up that door. :) <<<

LOL Tahoe!

But did you open your window for the photo op???

Wake Forest, North...
Level Contributor
250 posts
24 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Trip Report - Denali Road Lottery

Great trip report! Sounds fantastic.

We also had a very poor experience at the 49th State Brewery in May. Food was very medicore and the service was poor. It was probably our least favorite meal in Alaska by far. I was very sad because I had been looking foward to it based on the recs here.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Level Contributor
8,132 posts
36 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Trip Report - Denali Road Lottery

Thanks for sharing the photos! The park sure takes on a variety of looks, doesn't it. Reminds me of our rainy day(s) there back in 2010.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Level Contributor
8,132 posts
36 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: Trip Report - Denali Road Lottery

About the poor experiences at the 49th State Brewery . . .

I've found that some seasonal places struggle at the start and end of the season; the start because they haven't gotten into their mojo and at the end, some employees are on wind-down, looking forward to some time off.

It is unfortunate and given their reputation, you'd think someplace as well established as 49th State, would have those hiccups out of their system.