Guide to Denali's Backpacking Units

Learn and Explore

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-two 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-two 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

    • "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, 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


Backcountry Availability

Follow the links in the Backcountry Unit column of the table below to read up on each backcountry unit.

Last updated: April 14, 2022

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PO Box 9
Denali Park , AK 99755


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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