Camping in Denali National Park FAQ
What is the weather like at different times of year?
How big are the Bear Resistant Food Containers?
How far in advance can I reserve my backcountry spots?
Do I have to come all the way back to the Visitor Center if I do not wish to begin my backcountry trip until after my stay at one of the campgrounds?
Are permits required for day hiking?
Which is the best unit?
I am accustomed to trail hiking, not hiking in trailless wilderness. Should I be worried about getting lost? How familiar do I need to be with a map and compass?
Can I combine a backcountry trip with a bicycle ride on the park road?
Can I get maps and books on Denali before I get there?
How long does the permitting process take?
How do I make bus reservations?
What buses can I take?
How do I know which areas are closed?
How much does a permit cost?
How long can I stay out in the backcountry?
Can I cache food for extended trips? If so, where?
Can I have fires in the park?
Should I bring my fly rod?
Can I buy food and fuel once I arrive in the park?
Can I bring my dog?
Should I carry pepper spray for bears?
Can I bring a firearm for protection?
What are the mountaineering options in the park?
Q. What is the weather like at different times of year?
A. Summer comes quickly to the park with warm days in late May or early June, which melt any remaining snow and allow the vegetation to turn green. June tends to be a drier month than July or August and, although it may snow during any month of the year, the first snows signaling fall may come as early as late August or early September. The park itself does not tend to get as much snow as many other parts of Alaska; seven feet of snow for a winter tends to be average. Through the early season, the skies stay light almost all day, and for summer backpackers, darkness does not become a concern until mid-August. The weather from day to day and week to week tends to be fairly unpredictable, as the mountains tend to create their own weather; it is difficult to tell when you are planning a backcountry trip what the weather will do during the course of those days.
Q. How big are the Bear Resistant Food Containers?
A. There are two sizes of the BRFC’s that are issued free of charge with the backcountry permit. Small containers (dimensions 8x12 inches) will carry enough food for a single person for 3 to 5 days and weigh about 3 pounds. These containers may be packed in much the same way as a sleeping bag. Large containers (dimensions 8x18 inches) will carry enough food for a single person for 7 to 10 days and weigh about 5 pounds. The larger containers are more difficult to pack.
Q. How far in advance can I reserve my backcountry spots?
A. No advance reservations may be made for backcountry units. You must come in person to the Backcountry Information Center (BIC) no more than one day in advance of the day you wish to begin your trip. All members of your party need to be present in order to have your spots reserved and receive your backcountry permit.
Q. Do I have to come all the way back to the Backcountry Information Center if I do not wish to begin my backcountry trip until after my stay at one of the campgrounds?
A. There are normally five campgrounds open in the park. Two of these (Riley and Savage) are within the first 15 miles of the park road. If you are staying in one of these campgrounds you must have all members of your party come to the BIC to reserve your permit no more than one day in advance. However, if you are staying at one of the other four campgrounds west of Savage River Campground (Sanctuary, Teklanika, or Wonder Lake) you may get a backcountry permit for after your stay at that campground 1 day before the first night of your stay at the campground. All other rules for receiving the permit still apply.
Q. Are permits required for day hiking?
A. No permits are required for day hiking in the park. In fact, Denali is a trailless wilderness, and you may day hike anywhere in the park simply by taking the bus into the park and getting off along the road. Day hikers must still follow all rules and regulations set up for backcountry users. No BRFC’s are required for day hiking, but you must keep your food on your person at all times during your hike. All hikers should check at the Wilderness Access Center (WAC) or with the ranger at the BIC for the most recent information about wildlife closures, which are closed for all thru-hikers and backpackers.
Q. Which is the best unit?
A. There are 2.5 million acres of land in the Denali Wilderness, and thus each one of 43 backcountry units encompasses thousands of acres. Some backcountry units experience more use than others for reasons such as accessibility from the road and hikers’ familiarity with certain areas. This does not mean that these units are “better” than other units. Backcountry Rangers will provide information concerning the different types of terrain, vegetation, and wildlife you will find in different areas of the park. Backcountry hikers equipped with a positive attitude and a love of the outdoors will rarely if ever have anything but an amazing wilderness experience.
Q. I am accustomed to trail hiking, not hiking in trailless wilderness. Should I be worried about getting lost? How familiar do I need to be with a map and compass?
A. Confidence in how to read topographic maps and basic compass skills is recommended for all backcountry users. Generally, it is fairly easy to tell where you are because the small number of truly wooded areas make waterways and dramatic features of the land easily visible. However, basic compass skills may be essential in some terrain and in foggy weather. Check out this site for more info on map and compass skills: Alaska Natural History Association
Q. Can I combine a backcountry trip with a bicycle ride on the park road?
A. Combining bicycles with the backcountry can be quite difficult, but such trips are manageable with adequate planning. All bicyclists must follow the bicycle rules of the road and must leave their bike at a campground or rest stop (specifically at Savage, Sanctuary, Teklanika, Toklat, or Wonder Lake) where it can be locked up while they are in the backcountry. No bikes are allowed trails. We strongly recommend that bicyclists be as prepared as all hikers in terms of gear and equipment. The high brush and often difficult terrain makes hiking without a backpack impractical, so those who wish to combine biking with backcountry should be prepared to transport a pack while biking.
Q. Can I make reservations for a unit and not use them?
A. When one party says that they are out in the backcountry, they are taking spots in the quota for that unit that might otherwise go to a different party. Therefore, to make backcountry reservations and purposefully not use them may deprive others of taking the trip they would like. However, if you are out in the backcountry and decide to come out early for any reason, all you have to do is return your BRFC’s and we will be able to free the unused spots for others to enjoy.
Q. Can I get maps and books on Denali before I get there?
A. You can purchase books and maps from the Alaska Natural History Assocation Website. Follow this link for more information: ANHA
Q. How long does the permitting process take?
A. The process usually takes about an hour but may take longer or shorter depending on how long it takes you to plan your trip. Generally, when visitors first come to the BIC, they first spend time planning their itinerary (which units they wish to stay in on which nights) based on unit availability. Then all members of the party much watch a safety video (~ 30 min), hear a safety briefing from one of the rangers (~5-10 min), purchase and/or mark maps with unit boundaries and wildlife closures, and buy a camper bus ticket to get out into the park.
Q. How do I make bus reservations?
A. Backcountry users can take one of the camper buses, which leave daily and travel the park road. These buses are the only buses available to backcountry users because there is space in the back for packs and because visitors must either have reservations in a campground or have acquired a backcountry permit to ride the bus. These buses are kept open for these types of users and thus no reservation is either necessary or possible before you arrive at the Wilderness Access Center in Denali.
Q. What buses can I take?
A. The camper bus is set up specifically for backcountry and campground users. The two other buses that may be open to backcountry users are the Savage Shuttle, which runs on a set schedule each day between the Wilderness Access Center and Savage Check Station at mile 15, and the Polychrome bus, which runs once a day between the Wilderness Access Center and Polychrome rest area at Mile 47 of the park road.
Q. How do I know which areas are closed?
A. Check at the WAC or with one of the rangers at the BIC to get recent closure information before heading out. Closures are often only marked on the most obvious travel routes, so it is your responsibility to be aware of the location of closures and know how to avoid them without relying on signs. The best way to do this is to have maps of the area of appropriate scale so that you may judge the boundaries of the closure by the topographic features of the land.
Q. How much does a permit cost?
A. All backcountry permits are free! The only cost of spending time in the backcountry in Denali is the price of the camper bus ticket.
Q. How long can I stay out in the backcountry?
A. Any visitor to the park can spend as many as 30 days in the backcountry. These days may be in one continuous trip, or may be dispersed over an entire season. You can stay as long as 7 days continuously in a single unit, but when doing so must move your campsite at least every two days so as to minimize the impact created by having your equipment there for extended periods.