Compilation of Trails Management Planning and Policy


Enabling Legislation

“An Act of Congress designated this park in 1917, originally naming it Mount McKinley National Park. Congress "established [the park] as a game refuge," and instructed park managers to craft "regulations being primarily aimed at the freest use of the said park for recreation purposes by the public and for the preservation of animals, birds, and fish and for the preservation of the natural curiosities and scenic beauties thereof."

Over the years, additional Acts impacted the size and management of the park, most significantly the passage of ANILCA (Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act) in 1980. The passage of ANILCA tripled the park's size, and renamed it Denali National Park and Preserve.

General Management Plan (GMP)

Download the 1986 GMP

“A ‘Backcountry Use Plan’ was developed and implemented in 1976 and updated in 1984 in response to an unprecedented increase in use of the backcountry. The plan is revised annually. The primary objectives of the plan are to provide backcountry opportunities for visitors while (1) preventing vegetation damage which would not recover within one growing season, (2) preventing the creation of trails, campsites, and other signs of human use which compromise wilderness values, and (3) minimizing human impacts upon wildlife…

The wilderness area is zoned into a number of backcountry units, and only a limited number of overnight permits are issued for each unit. Fires, littering, cutting of vegetation, and other activities that would mar the environment are prohibited. Some vegetation trampling and trail formation occurs, but overall impacts are minor.

To the extent possible, visitor use will remain dispersed so that no areas become overused. If visitor pressure for use of the backcountry increases, park managers may add accessible areas in the new park and preserve additions to the backcountry permit system. The proposed development of new facilities on the south side of the park (see ‘Visitor use and General Development’) will facilitate access to and use of backcountry areas in this part of Denali. Future increases in demand for backcountry recreation can be met on the south side, allowing the perpetuation of appropriate levels of use throughout the entire park. The south side will be included in a ‘Backcountry Management Plan.’

The park intends to maintain primarily a “no formal trails” policy for the designated Denali wilderness area. Generally, hiking routes in this portion of the park follow natural drainages and therefore do not require designation or maintenance. The no-trails policy will be extended to include the northern additions to the park wherever possible. The trails near the park entrance and the short loop trails along the park road corridor will be maintained for continued use. A formal trail plan will be developed for the Riley Creek/hotel area. The McGonagall Pass trail from Wonder Lake will be retained. The feasibility of building and maintaining trails in the southern additions to the park will be studied as part of the south-side development concept plan.” (p.60-61)

“Provide short, formal trails and ‘harden’ surfaces where resources are being damaged or where extensive informal trails are developing.” (p.18)

Front-country Development

Download the 1997 Road Corridor and Entrance Area (Front country) DCP/EIS

Front country developments would be limited to actions in which the National Park Service has traditionally specialized, such as interpretive centers, environmental education opportunities, trails, resource protection programs, and campgrounds… Visitor opportunities along the first 15 miles of the park road would be enhanced. Trail construction, wider road shoulders, new picnic areas, and improvements to rest areas would provide additional opportunities for leisurely day use experiences viewing animals and landscapes.

Hiking opportunities would be increased and enhanced through more and better defined trails in the entrance area and at certain locations along the park road corridor. Visitors could escape their ties to mechanical transportation systems for brief encounters with the natural and cultural resources along many short trails, especially in the concentrated visitor use areas between the Nenana and Savage Rivers. Conditions and accessibility of existing trails would be upgraded and maintained. These trails would feature both natural and cultural resources along with splendid mountain scenery. (p.23, 24, 25)

A bicycle/foot trail would be constructed and maintained to connect the Nenana River canyon to the entrance area. Gravel shoulders constructed along the paved section of the park road to enhance wildlife viewing would be available to cyclists also. (p.30)

Construct an additional 8-foot gravel shoulder along the paved section of the park road from mile 8 to the Savage River where topography and resource conditions allow. This would provide for more safer (sic), more leisurely scenery and wildlife viewing as well as a margin for safety for bicycle traffic.

Ten backcountry campsites would be designated in the Kantishna Hills along former mining routes so that new trail construction would be minimal. (p.31)

Other entrance area actions proposed include improving information and orientation at the railroad depot resources in the Riley Creek campground area with a 1-mile, accessible trail. (p.33)

Existing pedestrian trails would be used with trailhead modifications and new connections to link the new visitor services center, the camper conveniences center, and the interpretive and discovery center. A connect visitor services inside the park with those outside via a bridge over the Nenana River….Each rest area in the front country would include interpretive exhibits, a shelter and comfort station, and a short (1/4–1/2 mile) loop trail. (p.35)


Reroute the steep portions of the Rock Creek trail and the section near the transit bus parking lot (approximately 1 mile total).

The existing trail system in the entrance and headquarters areas would be upgraded, accessibility improved, and routine maintenance provided. Extensive rehabilitation would be completed in the Horseshoe Lake area. The following trails would be constructed and maintained (also see the Proposed Trails map).

Entrance/Headquarters Areas

  • Triple Lakes trail (7 miles) with footbridge connecting to the Riley Creek campground area (upgrade and relocate as needed).
  • Bicycle/foot trail (1 mile) connecting visitor services in the Nenana River canyon to visitor services inside the park.
  • Foot trail (8 miles) linking McKinley Village with the entrance area (Nenana River trail) with trailheads at each end.
  • Upper section of Mt. Healy overlook trail (1 mile).

Park Interior

  • A loop trail system in the Savage River area that includes a 1/4–1/2 mile loop located downstream from the proposed bus turnaround, a longer loop extending about 1 mile downstream with a footbridge for the approximately 1-mile return on the opposite side of the river, and a trail up the ridge to the east. This trail would connect to hiking trails extending to the top of the ridge and connecting to the Savage River campground. The trail downstream along the Savage River could possibly incorporate the historic horse trail. A 1/4–1/2 mile accessible loop trail at Primrose pullout.
  • A 1-mile loop trail to the ridge north of Eielson Visitor Center.
  • A 1/4–1/2 mile loop trail at each of the proposed Savage and Toklat rest areas.
  • A 1/4 mile river access trail at the Teklanika rest stop.

West End

  • McKinley Bar trail from Wonder Lake campground access road to the river (upgrade and relocate this 2-mile trail as needed).
  • A 1/4 mile trail from the designated parking area, south along Lake Creek to the north end of Wonder Lake.
  • A 1/4 mile trail to the top of the small hill at the north end of Wonder Lake (between the lake outlet and the ranger station). The trailhead and viewing area at the lake outlet would be rehabilitated. (p.38)

The access route to the Jauhola cabin would be maintained as a trail, with motorized access by all-terrain vehicles allowed only for major rehabilitation projects.

Guided hiking by the two Kantishna limited concessions permit holders would be allowed in designated areas along the park road west of mile 84, the Wonder Lake campground access road, and the McKinley Bar trail. These guided activities would be available only for overnight guests of the two permit holders. A maximum of two permits would therefore be available for guided hiking. These restrictions would not apply to the historic operator in Kantishna. (p.44)

The VERP process defines carrying capacity as “the type and level of visitor use that can be accommodated while sustaining the desired resource and social conditions that complement the purposes of the park units and their management objectives.” VERP emphasizes managing to achieve and maintain predetermined social and resource conditions. Providing for a high quality visitor experience and resource protection are the goals of management as opposed to simply providing for unlimited use of park resources. (p.45)

Highest Priority – “…construct bicycle/foot trail connecting Nenana River canyon to visitor services area…construct rest areas and trail system in Savage River and Toklat areas…construct Triple Lakes Trail; construct short loop trail at Primrose and river access trail at Teklanika”

Second Highest Priority – “…construct Yanert Overlook campground and Nenana River trail…construct cultural resources trail…reconfigure sled dog demonstration trail at headquarters; construct trails at north end of Wonder Lake…provide additional visitor opportunities in Kantishna (guiding, rehabilitate the Jauhola cabin.)”

Lowest Priority – “…construct gravel shoulders along sections of paved road…upgrade existing trail system in entrance area; construct loop trail north of Eielson visitor Center; upgrade/relocate McKinley Bar trail” (p.51)

Environmental assessments may be required to fully implement the following elements of the proposed action:

4. Nenana River Trail and Yanert Overlook campground, looking at specific route and location and trailhead development
7. Savage River short loop trail
9. Savage River ridge trail (location, connections to other trails)
10. Primrose, Triple Lakes, Mt. Healy, Eielson and Wonder Lake trails; also McKinley Bar trail relocation (p.74)

South Denali

Download the 1996 South Side DCP and EIS


Under the proposed action, interpretive trails and/or hiking trails, where possible leading through the brush to alpine terrain in the state and national parks, would be developed in the Tokositna area, Chelatna Lake, the central development zone of Denali State Park, and the Broad Pass/Dunkle Hills areas. The trails would generally be less than 5 miles in length (one-way) and would be developed for a diverse public with varied abilities and interests. Detailed trail locations would be developed through subsequent trail planning by NPS and state of Alaska personnel. Appropriate measure would be taken to minimize or eliminate impacts on vegetation and wildlife (see the Mitigating Measures Common to All Action Alternatives section).
  • Tokositna Area.
    A system of short hiking/interpretive trails in the visitor center area and longer trails through the brush to alpine terrain in Denali State Park and Denali National Park and Preserve will be developed in the Tokositna area, including a possible trail to Long Point.
  • Chelatna Lake.
    A hiking trail will be constructed through the brush from Chelatna Lake leading to alpine terrain in Denali National Park and Preserve. A sign covering basic trail and safety information will be placed at the trailhead.
  • Central Development Zone.
    A hiking/interpretive trail will be developed in conjunction with the visitor center located adjacent to the existing Byers Lake loop trail. Additional short hiking trails may be developed in this area.
  • Broad Pass/Dunkle Hills.
    The state right-of-way into the Dunkle Hills and Golden Zone areas could provide increased public access opportunities for hiking, bicycling, and mining-related interpretive opportunities once land status issues are resolved. Access to mining-related interpretation and private in- holdings will be the primary function of the main portion of the right-of-way, which leads south across the West Fork of the Chulitna River to the Golden Zone area (see the Existing Conditions Detail- Dunkle Hills Area map). The other portion of the right-of-way, which diverges from the Golden Zone route and leads northeast into the Dunkle Hills, will be primarily for hiking and bicycling, subject to valid existing rights. For the purposes of analysis, this development concept plan assumes construction of a trailhead along the right-of-way at or near the national park boundary to provide improved access to Denali National Park and Preserve and a gravel parking area for 10 vehicles at or near the trailhead.

Backcountry Management Plan

Download the 2006 Backcountry Management Plan/EIS

The National Park Service is committed to providing visitors to the national park and preserve with reasonable access for wilderness recreational activities, traditional activities, and for other purposes as described in ANILCA and other laws summarized in chapter 1. The National Park Service would generally allow independent, cross-country travel by any legal means, and would encourage access to the park and preserve by means of facilities (e.g., trails and marked routes) an commercial air taxi and guide services) as described in the Backcountry Facilities and Commercial Services portions of this plan. (p.46)

  • Cross-Country Travel
    Except as otherwise specified in the management area descriptions and the Backcountry Facilities section, backcountry access and travel in Denali would continue without designated routes or constructed trails to allow for freedom to explore and to minimize signs of human presence. (p. 48)
  • Trails
    The National Park Service would designate Backcountry Hiker areas and (if needed) construct or improve the following trails:
    • Some existing social trails within units 41, 42, and 43 in Kantishna, formalizing a trail system in this area • From Eielson Visitor Center to Gorge Creek
    • A loop from the water tower above Wonder Lake Campground up to the bench west of Wonder Lake and return
    • From the Mount Healy overlook down a spur ridge to create a loop to the Taiga Trail
    • From the west end of Thorofare Bluffs down to the Thorofare River bar. No other new summer or winter trails would be added besides those identified in the 1997 Entrance Area and Road Corridor DCP and the 1997 South Side Denali DCP. Elsewhere in the park and preserve, the National Park Service would maintain a “no formal trails” policy. (p.56)
  • Campsites
    Up to 5 designated camping areas of 1-3 sites each would be created in conjunction with the Corridor and Backcountry Hiker areas in units 41, 42, and 43 in the Kantishna Hills. These sites would be farther from the park road than the areas commonly used by day-hikers. Food storage and/or sanitation facilities could be placed in the designated campsites. (p.56)
2006 South Side Implementation Plan/EIS

Trail Systems

The hub and spoke concept would provide the general vision for trail systems in the South Denali region: the main parking area and information center at Byers Lake would serve as the transportation and information hub, with access to trails and rivers occurring at strategic locations. All trails are conceptual and would require additional site investigations to determine exact locations.

Approximately 31 miles of pedestrian trails would be constructed in the vicinity of the new nature center. Most of the trails would be constructed in Denali State Park, though some trails would be constructed on general state land. Trails would be unpaved.

  • A 15-mile hiking trail would be constructed from Petersville Road (at the gravel pit at mile 30.5) to the Tokositna River and Home Lake. It would also connect to the Long Point loop trail. (Tread width would be 2 feet, with brush cleared 3 feet both sides of trail.) See Trail A on Peters Hills Overview Map (Figure 2 -7).
  • A 10 -mile hiking trail loop would be constructed from the nature center to Long Point and back. (Tread width would be 4 feet, with no brush cleared). See Trail B on Peters Hills Overview Map (Figure 2-7).
  • A 5-mile interpretive hiking trail loop would be constructed from the access road to Four Lakes and back. (Tread width would be 6 feet, with no brush cleared). See Trail C on Peters Hills Overview Map (Figure 2-7).
  • A.5 mile developed (ADA accessible) interpretive loop trail would be constructed within the vicinity of the nature center. (Tread width would be 8 feet, with no brush cleared). These trails would provide a relatively short interpretive outdoor facility for visitors. See Trail E on Peters Hills Overview Map (Figure 2-7).

Trails Maintenance Plan

Read up on how Denali plans maintenance of trails.

Last updated: June 21, 2021

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