Denali Park



The park was originally established as Mount McKinley National Park



The park was recognized as an international biosphere reserve demonstrating a balanced relationship between people and nature



The United States Mint released the 15th of its America the Beautiful Quarters honoring the park



President Barack Obama formally renamed the park as Denali Park

Denali is More than a Mountain


A Mountain by Any Other Name . . .

Alaska’s Denali is the highest mountain in North America at 20,310 feet*. Denali has had several names: Bolshaya Gora (Russian), Densmore’s Mountain, and Mount McKinley. Denali is the Koyukon Athabaskan Natives’ name for the mountain, and was formally renamed Denali by President Barack Obama in 2015. The Denali National Park and Reserve covers over 6 million acres and is larger than New Hampshire. It was first established in 1917 as Mount McKinley National Park. The landscape surrounding the mountain is a mixture of forest, taiga, tundra, glaciers, rock, and snow. Kahiltna Glacier, at 44 miles is the longest glacier in the Alaska Range, and is considered part of Denali. The mouth of Denali’s Southeast Fork houses an airport and serves as a base camp for climbers.


Occupancy at Denali

Human remains have been found in the Denali Region dating from 11,000 years ago. Hunting sites have been dated from about 8,000 years ago and are found among the approximately 84 discovered archeological sites. Because of the harsh weather and heights, the oldest site within park boundaries, Teklanika River, dates to 7130 BC. The most likely peoples from the area are the Athabaskan, one of whose three language groupings** are found as far south as the American Southwest and northwestern Mexico – the six Apache languages and Navajo.


Geology, Glaciers, and Permafrost, Oh My

Denali the mountain, made primarily of granite, does not erode, and is gaining in height. The mountain and park are central to the 600-mile long Alaska Range mountain chain. The oldest rocks in the park are Yukon-Tanana terrane, which are ocean deposits from 400 million to 1 billion years ago. The folding, faulting and collision tectonics of this sediment over the millennia has formed schist, quartzite, phyllite, slate, marble, and limestone. The area of Denali Park is one of great tectonic activity – its fault system is part of a larger fault that includes the San Andreas Fault of California. There are over 600 hundred earthquakes in the park each year – most too small to be felt, but help seismologists better understand fault systems.

Glaciers cover 16% of the Park area – five cover the south-facing area, while Muldrow the largest glacier inhabits the north side. Glaciers move and, as they do, deposit rock fragments, some of which can be as large as houses and as far away from the source as 30 miles.

During the Pleistocene era (the Ice Age), the entire area of Denali was frozen. The northernmost parts continue to remain frozen; this permanently frozen ground is called permafrost. Areas that are not continuously frozen have active layers that can range between one inch to 10 feet depending on the temperature, for example, there are shallow ponds on Denali; there is a group of white spruce trees, the Drunken Forest, that shifts and moves based on freezing and thawing.

Animals residing in Denali Park include grizzly and black bears, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, coyotes, beavers, and Canadian lynxes. Plant life includes mosses, ferns, fungi, wild blueberries, and soap berries. Fish and birds are abundant particularly during the late spring and summer.

Even though the park road typically closes at Mile 3, winter activities include skiing, winter biking, and snowshoeing – the park offers free snowshoe rentals!


Did You Know?

  • If you measure Denali from base to summit, it is 6,000 feet higher than Mount Everest.
  • There are still disputes over the formal naming of Denali from Mount McKinley.
  • Denali gains .391 inch in height every year.


* This intrepid writer circled the top of Denali in a 4-seater plane in 2001.

** The linguistic term for this language group is now identified by native speakers as Dené.



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