The arrival of October at Denali National Park and Preserve brings both flexibility and changes for visitors who want to drive the Denali Park Road on their own. The famous drive is open to private vehicles as far as the Teklanika River Rest Area at Mile 30 through Friday, October 8, but after that it's a day-to-day thing, depending upon the weather and a road construction project.
During the summer, roughly late May through early September, private vehicles may drive the first fifteen miles of the Denali Park Road, to a spot named Savage River. The route to that point is paved, and features numerous pull-outs so visitors can enjoy the view. Beyond mile 15, the road turns to gravel and, with a few exceptions, vehicle travel is restricted to shuttle and tour buses.
The buses are an excellent way to enjoy the trip during the busy summer season, and they help minimize the amount of traffic on the road. After early September, when visitation declines dramatically, restrictions on private vehicles ease somewhat, but now that October has arrived, those private trips will soon be winding down as well.
Beginning sometime after October 8, work will begin on replacing a large culvert at Mile 7, and once that work begins, that section of road will be impassable by vehicle. When construction begins, the road will be closed to vehicles at Mile 5 to allow for a safe turnaround; the road will be open beyond that point to pedestrians and bicyclists, but they will need to walk around the culvert installation site and stay alert for trucks and other heavy equipment.
The construction schedule is being finalized, and work is expected to start between October 9 and 15. The project is expected to take up to four weeks.
Looking ahead to later in the year, the road will be plowed as far as Mile 7 until November 24, allowing for public access to at least Mile 5 until that date, depending upon completion of the construction work. Anyone traveling by foot or bike beyond Mile 5 should be alert for heavy equipment traffic. After November 24, the road will close at Park Headquarters, Mile 3.
The headquarters flagpole parking lot is also closed to all parking until late November. The site is under construction as part of the kennels road re-alignment project
If you're planning a trip to the park, you're advised to check ahead for weather and road information, as conditions can change rapidly at this time of the year. Information is available on the park website or by calling (907) 683-2294 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.
The Murie Science and Learning Center in the park is open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. to provide park information and backcountry permits. The Bear Loop of the Riley Creek Campground is open for camping, but has no running water. A vault toilet is provided for campers and water can be obtained at the Murie Science and Learning Center. Gas, food service and lodging are available in the communities of Healy and Cantwell.