For people using park campgrounds, "winter" in Denali starts in the middle of September and lasts until the Friday of Mother's Day Weekend. When we talk about the rules for backpacking, however, "winter" means October 1 through April 14. If you are backpacking in the other half of the year (April 15 - September 30), all of the summer backpacking rules apply.
Campgrounds in Winter
Roughly two weeks after Labor Day each September, after summer bus service ends, all park campgrounds but one close.
Denali is an amazing place to enjoy winter activities such as snow-shoeing, skiing, or dog mushing. During any of these activities, folks are welcome to camp overnight in the park, though they must acquire a (free) backcountry permit, in person at the winter visitor center.
Many winter visitors enjoy using the trails created by the park dog teams, which greatly speeds up your travel. You're welcome to set off on your own path, however, and explore more of the park than where we regularly travel.
October 1—April 15 is the winter camping season, though snow levels in October and November can be pretty thin in some years. The best months for winter travel are typically February and March, when daylight hours are increasing and snow conditions tend to be better than in early winter (i.e., October - December). By April, day-time highs are often above freezing, and rivers and creeks may begin unlocking from their deep-winter freeze.
At any point in winter, temperatures can dip as low as -40 F (-40 C) or colder. You must be prepared with extreme-weather gear, and should pay close attention to the weather forecast.
Whether you are an experienced winter traveler in Alaska, a novice, or somewhere between the two, you can plan a backcountry trip in Denali that meets your expectations, skills, and comfort level. Even a short-mileage, one-night trip in Denali will feel like you've entered a remote winter wonderland of your very own.
How to Get a Camping Permit
Permits are only for backcountry users; people camping in Riley Creek Campground outside the summer season do not need permits or reservations, just go to the campground and find a spot you like. If it is full, you'll need to look outside the park for a campground.
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Last updated: October 1, 2020