Getting a Backcountry Permit

Permits are available at the Backcountry Information Center (BIC) located adjacent to the Wilderness Access Center. The BIC is open from 9 am to 6 pm daily during the summer - however, the permitting process takes about an hour, so please arrive by 5 pm to start the process. Advanced reservations are not available, and permits are only issued in person.

You can receive a backcountry permit as early as one day before the start of your trip. The permitting process consists of five basic steps. All party members must complete the entire process in person:

Step 1: Plan Your Itinerary

Investing time in familiarizing yourself with Denali's backcountry beforehand will aid in the permit process once you arrive. However, because there is no way of knowing which backcountry units will be available until you arrive at the Backcountry Information Center to obtain your permit you should be prepared to be flexible. It is recommended to research ahead of time backcountry units you are most interested in, having at least two or three ideas in mind when you come in to obtain your permit. The rangers here will help you to find an open unit based on the planning you have done along with your goals and abilities.

Things to consider are: how many nights you want to backpack; how much time you want to spend on a bus, traveling to your unit; how much of the park you want to see, both while hiking and while on the bus; and how comfortable you are with challenges like river crossings, mountain passes, brush or steep snow slopes. You can also research the types of terrain the park offers so you can cross-reference the type of trip you want with the available units. Spectacular scenery and wildlife are found throughout the backcountry, though the specific types of scenery and wildlife do vary.

Remember to be conservative when predicting your daily mileage. There are no trails, and travel can be slow and difficult in brushy areas or when fording glacial rivers. Upon your arrival at the BIC, several additional resources will be available to assist you in planning your trip, including unit description guides, local maps, and knowledgeable Backcountry Rangers. Your flexibility is important to the success of your trip.

You can use the unit descriptions in the Denali backcountry camping and hiking guide to help plan your itinerary.

Step 2: Watch the Backcountry Safety Video

This informative, 30-minute video program is presented at the BIC and will answer many questions you have about negotiating the Denali backcountry. It covers topics such as campsite selection, bear and wildlife encounters, river crossings, Leave No Trace principles, Bear Resistant Food Containers (BRFCs), and much more. All members of your party must view this program.

It is possible to watch this video at the Wilderness Access Center (WAC) before the BIC opens and after it closes during summer months. If you watch the movie at the WAC, make sure to sign your name on the video clipboard to prove you have watched it.

Step 3: Attend a Safety Talk

Following the video, all party members must be present for a brief safety talk by a Backcountry Ranger. You will then receive your free backcountry permit and Bear Resistant Food Container that is required for proper food storage. You must sign your permit in recognition that you understand all backcountry rules and regulations. Violations of the conditions of the permit may result in adverse impacts to park resources and legal consequences.

Step 4: Delineate Your Map

You may hike anywhere in the park, but your tent must be in the backcountry unit indicated on your permit. Unit boundaries and wildlife closures are not marked in the backcountry. It is your responsibility to know their location and mark them on your map. Fifteen minute (1 inch =1 mile) USGS topographic quad maps are strongly recommended and are available for purchase at the BIC. While a GPS is a great tool for backcountry use, it should be used along with, not in place of, a map. After obtaining the proper map(s), delineate unit boundaries and wildlife closure boundaries so that you will know where to hike and camp during your trip.

Step 5: Bus Tickets and Parking

Access to most park backcountry units requires use of the Visitor Transportation System (VTS), also known as the shuttle bus system. Camper buses are a type of shuttle, built to accommodate people and their gear. They depart from the Wilderness Access Center (WAC) several times a day. To secure space for your party, you should purchase tickets at the WAC soon after obtaining your backcountry permit.

This bus system will take you anywhere along the Park Road to start your hike. When your trip is finished, or if you wish to move to another part of the park during the course of your trip, simply return to the Park Road and wave down the next available green VTS bus. If you combine a campground reservation and a backcountry trip, you can secure your camper bus ticket when you make campground reservations, and that ticket will be good for your backcountry trip as long as you do not travel east of mile 15 (Savage River).

Allow yourself plenty of extra time. Remember that the backcountry permitting process takes an hour or more, bus tickets must be purchased 15 minutes before departure, and all personal vehicles left overnight must be parked in either the Wilderness Access Center or Denali Visitor Center parking lot (RV lot only). These are the only places along the Park Road you can leave your vehicle unattended overnight during the summer. If you have pre-booked a campground site and bus ticket that you will combine with your backcountry trip, inform the staff at the BIC so they can help get you to the bus on time.

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