Guide to Denali's Backpacking Units

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In addition to the information below, which describes 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 (thus, each unit is tens of thousands of acres large).

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 trip itineraries in mind—or better yet, just general ideas of how you'd like your trip to unfold. 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 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

  • Limits for Campers

    • 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).

  • Backpacking Permits

    • Permits are issued only in person (no telephone or email reservations), and no more than one day in advance of your trip. Read our step-by-step guide to planning your backpacking trip carefully before you arrive in Denali.

    • "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 Desk in the park.

 

Using the Backcountry Unit Map to Plan Your Adventure

The map below has two main 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 Desk in the Denali Visitor Center.
  • Click on the Denali backcountry unit layer to learn a little about that unit.

The map also displays any active closures (i.e., areas hikers cannot enter). These are usually due to a wildlife nest or den, or are temporarily put into place when a bear or wolf kills an animal.

How to Use the Map

Two of the steps in our suggestions for planning a Denali backpacking trip tell you to spend some time (1) looking at a map of backpacking units and (2) sketching out a few possible routes or trip ideas.

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 description of that unit. Each unit page offers generalized information. Note, some of these units are thousands of acres in size, so it's tough to give comprehensive details; 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

Unit Map

 
 

If you have trouble using the map above, follow the links below to read up on each backcountry unit.

Unit Number Unit Name
Unit 1 Triple Lakes
Unit 2 Riley Creek
Unit 3 Jenny Creek
Unit 4 Upper Savage
Unit 5 Upper Sanctuary
Unit 6 Upper Teklanika
Unit 7 Upper East Fork
Unit 8 Polychrome Glaciers
Unit 9 East Branch Upper Toklat
Unit 10 West Branch Upper Toklat
Unit 11 Stony Dome
Unit 12 Sunset / Sunrise Glaciers
Unit 13 Mount Eielson
Unit 14 McKinley Bar East
Unit 15 McKinley Bar West
Unit 16 Windy Creek
Unit 17 Foggy and Easy Passes
Unit 18 Upper Glacier Creek
Unit 19 Pirate Creek
Unit 20 McGonagall Pass
Unit 21 Muddy River
Units 22 & 69 Upper Foraker & Swift Fork
Unit 23 West Fork Glacier
Unit 24 Mount Healy
Unit 25 Healy Ridge
Unit 26 Primrose Ridge
Unit 27 Mount Wright
Unit 28 Sushana River
Unit 29 Igloo Mountain
Unit 30 Tributary Creek
Unit 31 Polychrome Mountain
Unit 32 Middle Toklat
Unit 33 Stony Hill
Unit 34 Mount Galen
Unit 35 Moose Creek
Unit 36 Jumbo Creek
Unit 37 Lower East Fork
Unit 38 Lower Toklat
Unit 39 Stony Creek
Unit 40 Clearwater Fork
Unit 41 Spruce Peak
Unit 42 Eureka Creek
Unit 43 Eldorado Creek
Units 44-48 Peters Glacier, Denali, Upper Kahiltna, Mount Foraker, & Herron Glacier
Units 61-63 Stampede, Southeast Stampede, & Southwest Stampede
Unit 64 Kantishna Hills
Units 65-68 Moose-McKinley, McKinley-Birch, Birch-Foraker Preserve, & Herron-Highpower Preserve
Unit 70 Bull River
Unit 71 Ohio Creek
Units 72-79 Eldridge Glacier, Buckskin Glacier, Upper Ruth, Lower Ruth, Mount Hunter, Tokositna Glacier, Middle Kahiltna, & Little Switzerland
Units 80-85 Upper Yentna-Lacuna, Lower Kahiltna, Dall-Yentna Preserve, Mount Dall Preserve, & Kichatna Preserve
Units 86 & 87 Mount Mather & Mount Brooks

Last updated: August 20, 2019

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.

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