Denali National Park

Denali National Park.

On any summer day in Denali, Alaska’s most well known national park that was established on 26 February 1917, hundreds of people see sights that will stay with them the rest of their lives. Perhaps a golden eagle will soar off the cliffs at Polychrome Pass, or 20 Dall’s sheep will rest on a green shoulder of Primrose Ridge, or a grizzly will ramble over the tundra at Sable Pass. Maybe a caribou will pause on a ridgetop, silhouetted by the warm light of day’s end, or a loon will call across Wonder Lake, or clouds will part to reveal the great massif of Denali, 20,320 feet high, the roof of North America. The drama is always there. To see it, all you need to do is travel the 92-mile park road. The farther you go, the more you’ll see, for the subarctic landscape will open up as big as the sky, and the animals will move through it with wild, ancient poetry. Other North American parks have their wildlife, but none has animals so visible or diverse as Denali. And other parks have their mountains, but none with a stature so stunning, a summit so towering as Denali.

Denali’s visitors have increased almost 200 percent in 30 years. Accommodating them without eroding the park’s 6,075,029 acres wilderness has been a struggle. A bus system that permits maximum wildlife viewing while holding down traffic has been designed. Campgrounds are modest and unobtrusive. And the wilderness areas have strict overnight camping ceilings to prevent overcrowding and damage to flora and fauna. Unless you plan by using the park’s easy-to-use reservation system, you may have to wait a day or two to get your preferred campsite or bus reservation.

Inspired by the beauty of the Toklat River, naturalist Charles Sheldon spent nine years lobbying for legislation to create the park—the first national park in Alaska. Originally established in 1917 with the name Mount McKinley, 63 years later it would be renamed Denali or “the High One,” the native Athabaskan name for the majestic peak. That same year, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) enlarged the boundaries by four million acres (almost two million hectares), regrouping the land into Denali National Park and Preserve. Credit: National Geographic.