Denali Park Road Capacity Study, 2006 - 2012

People and buses are stopped on the road. Mount McKinley towers off in the distant.
View from Stony Overlook

NPS Photo

The road study was completed in 2012 with the approval of the Denali Park Road 2012 Vehicle Management Plan. This plan marks the start of a new era in the management of the park road.

Study History

In 2006, Denali began a multidisciplinary study designed to optimize visitor experience along the park road while protecting wildlife. Since 1972, traffic on the park road has been limited mostly to buses, and since 1986, a use limit of 10,512 vehicle trips annually has been in effect. Faced with increasing visitation and pressure to defend or change the limits to road traffic, park managers have designed a study to develop a greater understanding of the impacts of traffic volume and traffic patterns on the physical, biological, and social environment of the park. The study was comprised of three primary components and took place from 2006 to 2012.

Wildlife Movement

To examine potential impacts of Park Road traffic on wildlife movements and distribution, researchers deployed GPS collars on 20 Dall's sheep and 20 grizzly bears within the road corridor. Location information and movement paths of collared animals were modeled with habitat and traffic data to determine possible relationships between vehicles on the Park Road and wildlife behavior.

Viewable in Google Earth, data showing the movements of three of the collared bears from the summer of 2006 can be found below. Also available are the movements of two groups of Dall sheep in the summer of 2007. Download the files and open them in Google Earth.

Displaying thousands of points, the data demonstrate what parts of the park these animals frequent, and when.

The heat map below demonstrates the three bears (#s 573, 576 and 586) tracked in summer 2006. The fainter, bluer colors indicate areas infrequently visited by the bears, while the yellow and red (warmer) areas indicate areas where those bears spent more time.


Visitor Survey

Researchers examined the expectations and quality of experiences of Denali Park Road vehicle users. As part of this study, visitors were asked to identify and describe issues important to their experience on the Denali Park Road. The results of these interviews were used to determine indicators and help set standards for visitor experience on the Park road. Park managers are using the indicators and standards to evaluate and manage vehicle.

image of Caribou on park road with buses
Caribou on the park road

NPS Photo - John Hourdos

Traffic Model

The Denali Park road has very unique traffic patterns affected by a number of factors such as locations of wildlife sightings, numbers and behavior of buses on the road each day, weather, and road maintenance. To account for the effects of these various factors on traffic flow, researchers used GPS and wildlife sighting data collected from vehicles driving the park road in 2006/2007 to create a traffic model capable of simulating location and vehicle specific driving behaviors. The model enabled researchers to vary bus schedule scenarios, wildlife encounter probabilities and other road logistic rules to quantify and visually analyze predicted bunching, travel times, and following distances of buses and other vehicles along the road. The results were used to predict and better manage traffic related impacts on visitor experience and wildlife behavior.

Study Goals

Ultimately, a comprehensive model of park road traffic was developed to predict the effects of changes in traffic volume and timing on visitor experience and wildlife movements. The model results informed the selection of a preferred alternative presented in the Vehicle Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This model suggested that an increase in traffic volume was feasible. The next step is an experimental increase in road traffic, timed so as to produce the greatest value in understanding impacts, as part of a Before-After-Control-Impact (BACI) study. The goal of the road study was to provide park managers with a tool to make well-informed, science-based decisions about the future of traffic on the park road.

Additional Information

Past Updates

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 9
Denali Park, AK 99755


(907) 683-9532
General park information. The phone is answered 9 am - 4 pm daily, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. If you reach the voicemail, please leave a message with your number and we'll call you back as soon as we finish helping the visitor on the line ahead of you.

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