Guide to Denali's Backpacking Units

In addition to the information below, which details the areas you can backpack, you should read our step-by-step guide to planning your backpacking trip carefully before you arrive in Denali.

Explanation of Backcountry Units

The six million acres of Denali are divided into 87 separate backcountry units. Forty-one units have a limit on the number of individuals that can camp in each unit per night. During peak summer visitation, many of these units are heavily used, so please come to the Backcountry Desk with several alternative trip itineraries. Don't become discouraged if your first choice is not available. Remember, there are six million acres to choose from, and all units offer excellent wilderness trips.

Note the following key information when planning a trek through Denali's backcountry:

  • Unit Quotas and Group Size Limits
    • Forty-one backcountry units have a specific quota. The quota is the maximum number of campers in that unit each night (e.g., if a unit quota is 8, there might be 8 solo backpackers, or 4 groups of 2 people, etc).
    • Every unit has a group size limit, too. The group size limit is how many individuals can travel and/or camp together as a single party. Generally, units west of the Muddy River have a group size limit of 6, while units east of that river have a limit of 12 (unless the unit quota is less than 12, of course).
    • Unit availability determines where you may camp each night, and you must camp in the unit for which you have a permit
  • Individual Limits
    • For each camper, there is a maximum of seven consecutive nights in a single unit.
    • For each camper, there is a maximum thirty nights in the backcountry during a summer season (April 15 - September 30).
  • Permits
    • Permits are issued only in person (no telephone or email reservations), and no more than one day in advance of your trip.
    • "Double booking" a single night in two different units or a unit and a campground is not allowed.
    • All party members must be present to receive a permit.
    • Note: Permits are not required for day-hiking in the backcountry
  • Closures
    There are some areas closed to human entry, usually due to the presence of nests/dens, or heightened bear activity (e.g., the presence of a killed animal). Closures are indicated on the unit map, below, and on a map at the Backcountry Information Center in the park.
 
Using the Backcountry Unit Map to Plan Your Adventure

The map below has two layers - the Denali backcountry units and the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) topographic quadrant ("quad") maps.

  • Use the quad map layer to understand which paper USGS quad maps you might want to buy. You can buy maps online via usgs.gov, though we suggest you wait and buy maps once you are at the Backcountry Information Center.
  • Click on the Denali backcountry unit layer to learn a little about that unit.

How to use the map

Two of the steps in our guide to planning a Denali backpacking trip suggest you spend some time (1) looking at a map of backpacking units and (2) sketching out a few possible routes or trip ideas. The map, below, will help you do this.

As you click on each unit in the map, you'll see its name and unit number, as well as a link to a page with more details about that unit. Each unit page offers generalized information (some of these units are thousands of acres large), but the most important features are mentioned (e.g., if major river crossings, glaciers or significant areas of brush and forest will be encountered). The map also helps you get a sense of where units are along the park's sole road, letting you estimate travel times (i.e., units closer to the park entrance, in the east part of the park, involve less bus / travel time to get started).

With all of these thoughts in mind, you can hopefully get a general sense of where in the park you'd like to backpack. This will speed up the permit process once you're here, since our rangers won't have to go into a full explanation of the backpacking units and how buses work in Denali.


Places that are temporarily closed to human entry are also marked on this map. Any part of the park not covered by a backcountry unit is closed to backpacking, but is open for day-hiking (e.g., around visitor centers or right next to the park road).

Other helpful resources

 

Denali Backcountry Units

Backcountry camping units in Denali National Park and Preserve. Areas of the park not covered by a backcountry unit are always closed to summer backpacking. The red areas, which indicate wildlife closures, are closed to all human entry. The light yellow areas indicate United States Geologic Survey (USGS) topographic "Alaska series" quadrangle maps (1:63,360 scale). Use the USGS layer of this map to understand which paper USGS quad maps you need for your trip.
 

Last updated: July 20, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 9
Denali Park, AK 99755

Phone:

(907) 683-9532
A ranger is available 9 am - 4 pm daily (except on major holidays). If you get to the voicemail, please leave a message and we'll call you back as soon as we finish with the previous caller.

Contact Us