Denali National Park
In the interior of Alaska’s wilderness lies a truly spectacular sight. Rising 20,310 feet into the air, Mt. Denali is the tallest peak on the North American continent. It can be seen from 30 miles all around, and is the crowning jewel is a park that is resplendent with majestic wildlife, pure air, and Northern lights. It is also one of the biggest National Parks, as it is composed of 6 million acres of unadulterated forests, plains, mountains, rivers, and streams. Denali National Park was established in 1917, but had been host to many other visitors before then. Native tribes lived in and around the park, mostly skirting the edges of the park due to the lack of trees and edible plants within the park boundaries. Russian explorers knew of the park and its mountain before the American travelers arrived. When the United States purchased the Alaskan territory, there was very little change to the landscape or natural cultures already existing there. The area is considerably difficult to reach, and so had a natural barrier from tourists, miners, and logging operations. However, when gold was discovered in the area, prospectors started arriving. These people mainly settled in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau. Almost immediately after the first visitors arrived, talk of preserving the striking majesty of the landscape and wildlife began. In 1902 Alaska official Wickersham wrote “This forest ought to be withdrawn from disposal and preserved for the use of those who shall come after us to explore the highest and most royal of American mountains.” When the park was established, there was the difficult task of naming the mountain massif.
From before European settlers first came to America, the various native tribes had their own names for the crown jewel of the park. Most of these names were variations of “Deenalee,” later shortened to Denali. However, at the time of its discovery, McKinley was a presidential hopeful and the name stuck to the mountain for election purposes. He name was officially signed into law in 1917. Naming it after McKinley was offensive to Athabaskan, native Alaskan, sensibilities, as it is unusual for them to name a mountain after a person. In 2015 President Obama and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell changed the name back to Denali on the eve of the national park service’s 100th anniversary.
Within Denali National Park there are a plethora of animals, large and small, that call the park home. The most well known among them are the big five: grizzly bears, moose, Dall’s sheep, caribou, and wolves. These animals are beautiful but powerful, and so you should always keep a respectful distance. Part of the park’s health in its animals and plant life is due to its remote location. It has some of the cleanest air in the world, which constitutes the foundation for the extraordinary health and beauty of the area.
What should I do while at the park?
Day hiking, backpacking, biking, wildlife viewing, and bus tours are all popular pastimes. You’ll have to hike within the park to get the best views of the big mountain. If you’re a winter visitor, you can snowshoe, winter camp, ice fish, and even mush on a dog sled! There are many great hiking opportunities, although due to the wildness of the park most hiking is off trail in the wilderness. This is a bit intimidating to the inexperienced; so do not attempt a long backpacking trip in the Alaskan forests without proper and extensive preparation.
Where should I stay while visiting the park?
The closest town is Fairbanks, which is around 2 miles North of the park entrance. Once in the park, there are hotel options. The Grande Denali Lodge and Denali Bluffs Hotel are great options for longer trips in the park. These two hotels are located a mile from the park, and are the best option for lodging besides camping in the park.
How much does it cost to access the park?
There is a $10 fee for each person 15 years and older to enter the park, or a $40 annual entrance fee.
What is the weather like?
The weather is typically cool and wet. Summers are temperate but certainly not warm, and come prepared with warm layers and waterproof clothes any time of year. Winters are freezing, with lows in January that can dip to negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Will I always have a clear view of Mt. Denali?
Actually, no. Veteran Denali bus drivers say that the mountain is typically only visible one in three days, as the summer months are often cloudy. In the winter, the cold air is clearer, and so provides better all around views of the mountain. However, with a bit of hiking you will certainly be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Big One.