Photo Credit: Nic McPhee
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The word "Denali" means "the high one" in the native Athabaskan language and refers to the mountain itself. The mountain was named after president William McKinley of Ohio in 1897 by local prospector William A. Dickey, although McKinley had no connection with the region. The name is only used by those outside of Alaska. Charles Alexander Sheldon took an interest in the Dall sheep native to the region, and became concerned that human encroachment might threaten the species. After his 1907-1908 visit, he petitioned the people of Alaska and Congress to create a preserve for the sheep. (His account of the visit was published posthumously as The Wilderness of Denali, ISBN 1-56833-152-5). The park was established as Mount McKinley National Park on February 26, 1917. However, only a portion of Mount McKinley (not even including the summit) was within the original park boundary. The park was designated an international biosphere reserve in 1976. A separate Denali National Monument was proclaimed by Jimmy Carter on December 1, 1978.
Mount McKinley National Park, whose name had been subject to local criticism from the onset, and Denali National Monument were incorporated and established into Denali National Park and Preserve by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, December 2, 1980. At this time the Alaska Board of Geographic Names changed the name of the mountain back to "Denali," even though the U.S. Board of Geographic Names maintains "McKinley". Alaskans tend to use "Denali" and rely on context to distinguish between the park and the mountain. The size of the national park is over 6 million acres (24,500 kmÃ‚Â²), of which 4,724,735.16 acres (19,120 kmÃ‚Â²) are federally owned. The national preserve is 1,334,200 acres (543 kmÃ‚Â²), of which 1,304,132 acres (5,278 kmÃ‚Â²) are federally owned. On December 2, 1980, a 2,146,580 acre (8,687 kmÃ‚Â²) Denali Wilderness was established within the park.
Denali habitat is a mix of forest at the lowest elevations, including deciduous taiga. The preserve is also home to tundra at middle elevations, and glaciers, rock, and snow at the highest elevations. Today, the park hosts more than 400,000 visitors who enjoy wildlife viewing, mountaineering, and backpacking. Wintertime recreation includes dog-sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling where allowed.
The park is serviced by a 91-mile (146 km) road from the George Parks Highway to the mining camp of Kantishna. It runs east to west, north of and roughly parallel to the imposing Alaska Range. Only a small fraction of the road is paved because permafrost and the freeze-thaw cycle create an enormous cost for maintaining the road. Only the first 15 miles (24 km) of the road are available to private vehicles, and beyond this point visitors must access the interior of the park through concessionary buses. Wonder Lake can be reached by a six-hour bus ride from the Wilderness Access Center. Eielson Visitor Center is located four hours into the park on the road.
Several fully narrated tours of the park are available, the most popular of which is the Tundra Wilderness Tour. The tours travel from the initial boreal forests through tundra to the Toklat River or Kantishna. A clear view of the mountain is only possible about 20% of the time during the summer, although it is visible more often during the winter. Several portions of the road run alongside sheer cliffs that drop hundreds of feet at the edges, and there are no guardrails. As a result of the danger involved, and because most of the gravel road is only one lane wide, drivers are trained extensively in procedures for navigating the sharp mountain curves, and yielding the right-of-way to opposing buses and park vehicles.
While the main park road goes straight through the middle of the Denali National Park Wilderness, the national preserve and portions of the park not designated wilderness are even more inaccessible. There are no roads extending out to the preserve areas, which are on the far west end of the park. The far north of the park, characterized by hills and rivers, is accessed by the Stampede Trail, a dirt road which stops at the park boundary. The very rugged south portion of the park, characterized by enormous glacier-filled canyons, is accessed by Petersville Road, a dirt road that stops about 5 miles (8.0 km) outside of the park. The mountains can be accessed most easily by air taxis that land on the glaciers.
The Denali Wilderness is a wilderness area in the Denali National Park and Preserve. It encompasses the high heart of the Alaska Range, including Denali, the centerpiece of the wilderness, which comprises about one-third of the national park.
Denali Wilderness covers the area formerly known as Mount McKinley National Park from 1917 until the park was expanded and renamed in 1980. It is 2,146,580 acres (8,687 kmÃ‚Â²) in area; the entire park is larger than the state of Massachusetts.
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- Bicycling - Mountain
- Camping - Backcountry
- Skiing - Cross-Country
- Climbing - Rock