Denali National Park could be Alaska's best known national park with over 6 million acres of unspoiled wilderness including North America's tallest peak, Mount Denali (formerly Mount McKinley).
The Park was initially roamed by Athabascan Aboriginals for generations until the end of the 19th century as white North American presence grew. Naturalist Charles Sheldon was disturbed by the reckless treatment of both wildlife and habitat from increased hunting and eventually was successful in establishing a park preserve.
After this important first step it later became evident the initial boundaries of Mount McKinley National Park (it's original name) were insufficient to fully protect the entire fragile ecosystem of the area.
Hence in 1980 the ecological awareness of President Jimmy Carter spurred him to sign the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), expanding the park to 6 million acres and also changing the name to the current Denali National Park and Preserve.
Today it is a significant wildlife and
habitat refuge where the human footprint is minimal, yet allowing
more than 432,000 visitors annually to enjoy it's beauty.
There are 39 species of mammals in the
park and 169 species of birds. The most well known large animals
include black and grizzly bears, wolves, Dall's Sheep, moose and
caribou. Foxes, beavers, lynx, martens, red squirrels, marmots and
arctic ground squirrels are some resident smaller mammals as well.
The largest avian inhabitants are the
golden eagle and less frequently the bald eagle (which is a variation
from their much denser populations in the Alaskan coastal regions).
In addition there are black-capped and boreal chickadees, ptarmigans,
gyrfalcons, and redpolls.
The Murie Science and Learning Center has exhibits, classes, field seminars, youth camps and speaker events, as well as a fossilized footprint of a three-toed Cretaceous Theropod dinosaur, excavated in the park in 2005.
Mount Denali of course is a focal point for many travellers to Alaska. Some come to climb it, but for most viewing it by tour or even flight-seeing are common options.
There is a 13 hour scenic drive over a 91 mile round trip through the park. You can use your own vehicle the first 15 miles, park at the Savage River Check Station, then hop on a tour bus for the rest of the trip; which includes roaming wildlife, coniferous forest, spreading glaciers and a view of Mount Denali from a distance.
Hiking is a popular choice for visitors to Denali National Park. Horseshoe Lake Trail is a leisurely 90 minute hike through spruce and aspen forests to Horseshoe Lake and Nenana River. Wildlife can be viewed on the 1.5 mile route.
More serious climbers can attempt the Mount Healy Overlook Trail. This vigorous hike ascends 1700 feet over some steep terrain during the 3 to 4 hour trek (one way). The summit at the end of this 2.2 mile workout offers beautiful vistas of the Nenana River Valley, alpine ridges and the park entrance.
And of course there are many guided tours and excursions available to further explore Denali National Park.