Close to half a million people visit Denali National Park every year. Many of these visitors come to see North America’s tallest mountain, Mount McKinley. Denali is the Athabaskan name for the mountain, meaning “The High One.” The sheer beauty of the mountain and its glaciers would be worth the trip, but there is so much more to see and do here.
Before 20th century explorers, trappers and miners came to the Denali area, native Athabascans wandered the region for thousands of years. In early 1905, prospectors Quigley and Horn found gold in Glacier Creek, precipitating the gold rush to the Kantishna Hills. The shallow gold deposits were soon mined and the gold rush was over as quickly as it had begun. In 1917, Denali was first created as Mount McKinley National Park to protect its abundant wildlife, and in 1980, the park was expanded and the name changed to Denali National Park.
Denali National Park and Preserve is 9,492.23 square miles in size, larger than the state of New Hampshire. The lowest point in the park is 200 feet (at the Yentna River boundary) and the highest point is 20,320 feet (at the peak of Mount McKinley). There are approximately 12,206 lakes and ponds in Denali and 18,679 miles of streams. Glaciers cover 17 percent of the park's land area, and the deepest measured glacier is Ruth Glacier, at 3,805 feet. The surface ice of Ruth Glacier moves about 3 feet per day.
Researchers monitor climate change in Denali, contributing to larger-scale climate monitoring and management efforts. Average January temperature in the area is 2 degrees F and average July temperature is 55 degrees F, while the coldest recorded temperature has been minus 55 degrees F. Despite this, global warming has shown its effects in Denali, with earlier snowmelt and thawing of permanent snowfields. If this warming trend continues, it will change the physical appearance of Denali as the treeline moves higher up the mountains.
Fauna & Flora
Among the 39 species of mammals at Denali are brown bears, grizzly bears, marmot, moose, caribou, lynx, fox and even packs of wolves. There are 167 species of birds, including one endangered species, the peregrine falcon. There is one species of amphibia and no recorded presence of reptiles in Denali. This subarctic wilderness is home to more than 650 species of flowering plants and other plant life that is adapted to the long, cold winters and short growing seasons of the Denali area.
A single 91-mile long road curves through Denali National Park. Beyond mile 15 of the park road, only specially authorized tour buses, bicycles or hikers are allowed. Although hiking opportunities are significant in this wilderness area, there are many additional activities available, including landing on a glacier in a small aircraft, dogmushing and panning for gold, or you can tour the Denali kennels and meet the only sled dogs in the United States that help protect a national park.
The Denali Road Lottery
The Denali Park Road can only be used by official shuttle buses, unless you enter and win the Denali "Road Lottery," which grants entry to 400 cars during a four-day window in September. Every year on the second weekend after Labor Day, Denali hosts the lottery, allowing winners to purchase a pass to drive as much of the Park Road as weather allows in one day.
- Photo Credit Denali/Mt. Mckinley image by Robert Ulph from Fotolia.com
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