Hiking in Denali National Park

Hiking

Mt. McKinley with hikers near Wonder Lake. August 30, 8AM. Denali National Park, Alaska. Hike 55

Mt. McKinley with hikers near Wonder Lake. August 30, 8AM. Denali National Park, Alaska. Hike 55

Backpacker in Teklanika River drainage.

Backpacker in Teklanika River drainage.

Most of the dayhikes and backpacks in the Denali National Park Alaska Guide to Hiking, Photography and Camping are done without developed and marked trails. There are very few developed and marked trails in Denali National Park. I think many of you are like me. Before my first summer in Denali National Park (1967), I had no experience hiking without trails. Since then, I have hiked without developed trails in Denali National Park, the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Lake Clark National Park. In the Denali Guidebook I provide tips and techniques for hiking without trails in Denali National Park. Denali National Park is a good place to start hiking without trails. It is hard to get lost in Denali. Much of the terrain along the road is open tundra or broad river valley. From the road you can often see and judge the difficulty of routes to reach ridges and mountaintops. During your hike the brush will rarely be so thick or high that you cannot find a spot to view some of the route ahead.

Denali Hiking and Backpacking

Hiker on Polychrome Mountain ridge.

Hiker on Polychrome Mountain ridge.

Polychrome Mountain Ridgeline

Polychrome Mountain Ridgeline

The terrain and vegetation offer many hiking opportunities in Denali National Park. The 50 day hikes and 15 backpacking trips covered in the Denali National Park Alaska Guide to Hiking, Photography and Camping represent only a few of the possibilities. Most of the dayhikes can also be extended into backpacking trips. Hikes range from about one hour to eight hours in length and 23 are rated as easy. Backpacking trips range from two to five days. Each hike description covers highlights, distance and time required, detailed route finding instructions and maps, and cautions. Hike maps are based on U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) maps which are also listed for each hike. Hiking and route finding difficulty ratings are designated. (See Hike and Backpack Comparison Tables) See sample hike description. I hope the routes described in my Denali National Park Alaska Guide to Hiking, Photography and Camping will provide the practice and examples to help you also explore other routes! (Link to the Author.)

Many hours of daylight

During most of the summer, you will have at least 12 hours of daylight; in June and July there is much more. If you take one of the earliest buses to Eielson, there is plenty of daylight to do most dayhikes and still ride the bus both ways in the daylight for maximum wildlife viewing. The 50 hikes in the Denali National Park Alaska Guide to Hiking, Photography and Camping can be done using the park bus system. I designed the length of many hikes so I could ride an early bus to Eielson Visitor Center and then get off to hike on the return ride to the park entrance.

Stream crossings

Crossing the East Fork River on Hikes 19 and 22 in Polychrome area.

Crossing the East Fork River on Hikes 19 and 22 in Polychrome area.

Hiker jumping creek

Hiker jumping creek

Most streams encountered on dayhikes in the Denali National Park Alaska Guide to Hiking, Photography and Camping can be stepped across or crossed on rocks. While a few dayhikes do require wading, most of these avoid streams likely to be more than knee deep. Some of the backpacking trips do require crossing major rivers. Before attempting a major river crossing, discuss your plans with the backcountry park rangers and view the excellent stream crossing video at the Backcountry Permit Center.

Hiking with bears In Denali National Park

Hiker in brush in Denali National Park

Hiker in brush in Denali National Park

Denali National Park has a good bear safety record. This good safety record is due to hikers and photographers practicing the hiking and food management rules and recommendations provided by the National Park Service. In 1967 when I started hiking with bears in Denali National Park, I found no guidebooks on hiking in bear country. I present the guidelines which I have followed to keep me safe. I often hike alone in Denali. I also recommend talking to the Denali National Park backcountry rangers and watching the excellent, interactive Backcountry Simulator on hiking in bear country at the Backcountry Permit Center. It covers hiking and camping procedures to avoid bears as well as what to do in the event of a charge or an attack. You are required to view the video before obtaining a backcountry camping permit.

Denali National Park Permits

Hiking in Polychrome Area in Denali National Park

Hiking in Polychrome Area in Denali National Park

A permit is not required to dayhike in Denali National Park. Backpackers will need a permit. A backcountry permit is required to camp overnight outside a campground. Backcountry permits are only available at the backcountry ranger desk in the Denali National Park Backcountry Information Center adjacent to the Wilderness Access Center. Permits are issued on a first come, first served basis. The number of campers permitted in each backcountry permit area is limited. During the peak season and if you have a large group, it will be difficult to get permits for the most popular backpacking areas. Therefore I recommend you plan several possible routes, be flexible, and be in line well before the permit center opens.

All images and content ©Ike Waits