When measured from base to top, Mount McKinley is the world's tallest mountain. High above the glacier-covered peaks of the Alaska Range, the mountain is commonly known by its original Native name, "Denali", which literally means the "Great One" or the "High One." The north face of the mountain towers over the Alaska Range at 20,320 feet while the south face rises to 19,470 feet. Unfortunately, two days of every three in the summer, the mountain is shrouded in clouds.
With permanent snow and ice at higher elevations, vegetation in Denali mostly consists of coniferous forest (taiga) and open tundra. The six million acres that group to form Denali National Park encompass a complete arctic ecosystem. There are also other spectacular mountains and large glaciers to be seen in the Alaska Range.
Relatives of the bighorn sheep, Dall sheep graze the alpine tundra. They are found at lower elevations but with the progression of summer, they will seek higher ground as they follow the snowmelt.
Like the Dall sheep, Caribou travel in groups and both male and female Caribou have antlers. They migrate great distances from their calving grounds to their winter range in the northernmost areas of the park.
The deer family's largest member, the moose, are not herd animals. The bulls may group in threes or fours during the mating season as they pursue several cow moose. The calves are born in May and stay with the cow for one or two years.
Grizzly bears are seen throughout the park. They are omnivores, eating berries and small plants, ground squirrels, moose or caribou calves and occassional carrion.
There are 37 mammal species recorded in the park and reserve including fox, wolverine, weasel, lynx, marten, snowshoe hare, hoary marmot, ground squirrel, red squirrel, pika, porcupine, beaver, shrew, vole and lemming.
Birdlife in the park is both varied and interesting. The distances traveled between nesting grounds and wintering areas is vast. You may easily see ptarmigan, owls and other birds on the open tundra. Golden eagles patrol the ridgetops and higher elevation searching for prey. All told, there are 156 species of birds recorded at Denali.
The park was first established as Mount McKinley National Park on February 26, 1917. It was established to protect its large mammals and not because of majestic Mount McKinley. It was eventually designated as a wilderness area and incorporated into Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980.
Charles Sheldon, naturalist, hunter and conservationist, conceived the plan to conserve the region as a national park. He first traveled to the park in 1906 and again in 1907 with packer and guide, Harry Karstens. Sheldon spent much of his time studying boundaries for the proposed park. Largely due to the efforts of Sheldon and the Game Committee of the Boone and Crocket Club, of which he was chairman, Mount McKinley National Park was established in 1917.
President Jimmy Carter signed the bill establishing Denali National Park on December 2, 1980. Denali National Park presently remains largely as the original native Athabascans as the past knew it: Wild and unspoiled. Today, a wide variety of visitor activities are accommodated by the park including wildlife viewing, mountaineering, and backpacking.
Denali Natural History Tour (DNHT)
Offered mid-May - mid-September
Focusing on the rich natural and cultural history of the park, this 4 ½ to 5 hour tour travels to Primrose Ridge (Mile 17).
Several interpretive stops enhance the experience, beginning with a stop at the Wilderness Access Center for a viewing of the film "Across Time and Tundra" which depicts early visitor experiences within the same area traveled by DNHT passengers. A stop at the still-used ranger cabin - called Savage Cabin - provides a living-history glimpse of the folks who might have used the cabin at one time. At the Primrose Ridge turnaround point, you will experience a memorable Alaskan Native presentation that will enlighten you regarding how this land has been used for nearly 10,000 years.
A snack and hot beverages are provided. Wheelchair accessible buses are available, and all stops are wheelchair accessible.
Tundra Wilderness Tour (TWT) Recommended!!
Offered May 20 - mid-September
Variations of this tour have been in existence since 1923, with the first concessioner offering bus trips as far as the road extended at that time.
Today, the TWT is a 7-8 hour excursion into the park with a certified driver-naturalist. Going to at least Toklat River (mile 53), this tour provides in-depth information about the history of the park, while maintaining a keen eye in search of wildlife and photography opportunities.
A box lunch and beverages are provided. Wheelchair accessible buses are available, and all stops are wheelchair accessible.
In spring and fall, a shortened version of this tour, called the Teklanika Tundra Wilderness Tour, travels 30 miles into the park to the Teklanika River rest stop. This option is only available when the full-length Tundra Wilderness Tour is not running.