Denali National Park Facts! In this article, we provide you with 10 amazing facts about one of America’s most magnificent national parks.
More Than Just Parks is your one-stop-shop when it comes to learning everything you’ll need to know about America’s national parks. We’ve got expert guides, beautiful photos, helpful tips, breathtaking films and so much more.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind some of these natural wonders. Then I got to see them firsthand.
And now I’m sharing some of the incredible stories about these beautiful places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
More Than Just Parks takes a deeper dive with its national park facts. We’ve done our homework so that you’ll get more than you bargained for.
To get you excited about planning your next visit, in this article we’re covering 10 fascinating facts about Denali National Park.
Table Of Contents: Denali National Park Facts
Denali National Park Facts
- 1. Some Basic Facts About Denali National Park
- Denali National Park Facts
- Top 5 Denali National Park Facts
- 2. The Earliest Inhabitants Of Denali Were Nomadic
- 3. Denali Was Originally Named After A Presidential Candidate
- 4. A Hunter/Naturalist Almost Single-Handedly Established Denali National Park
- 5. Denali Has The Highest Elevation In North America
- 6. Denali’s First Superintendent Was The 2nd Man To Climb The Tallest Mountain In North America
- Top 10 Denali National Park Facts
- 7. Denali Is The Coldest & Stormiest Of The Seven Summits
- 8. Glaciers Cover Approximately 1,000,000 Acres Of Denali
- 9. There Have Been 129 Climbing Deaths At Denali Since 1932
- 10. Denali Is The Only National Park With A Working Sled Dog Kennel
- 11. Wildlife Watchers Can See The “Big 5” At Denali
- About The People Behind More Than Just Parks
- Meet The Parks Brothers
- Related Links:
- Top 5 Denali National Park Facts
Facts About Denali National Park
1. Some Basic Facts About Denali National Park
Alaska’s flagship national park named for its tallest mountain which happens to be the highest peak in North America, Denali is on every park-goers bucket list.
The breadth of this mountain is hard to appreciate and so is the size of the park itself at 6.1 million acres.
Denali also happens to be one of the most accessible Alaskan national parks with limited driving access, bus access that gets you further, visitor center, campgrounds, and the famous car lottery.
- Location: Alaska
- Acreage: 4.741 million acres
- Visitation: Denali National Park in Alaska had 229,521 visitors in 2021
- Highest Elevation: With a peak at 6,190 meters (20,310 feet), Alaska’s Denali has the highest elevation in North America.
- Lowest Elevation: Denali’s base sits at about 2,000 feet above sea level and rises over three and one-half miles to its 20,310 foot summit.
- When Did It Become A National Park? The park was established as Mt. McKinley National Park on Feb. 26, 1917. The original park was designated a wilderness area, the first national park created specifically to protect wildlife, and incorporated into Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980.
Denali National Park Facts
Top 5 Denali National Park Facts
2. The Earliest Inhabitants Of Denali Were Nomadic
If you’re interested in origin stories then one of the most interesting Denali National Park Facts is that the earliest peoples to inhabit the area which is today Denali National Park were the Athabascans.
The Athabascan Indian people traditionally lived in Interior Alaska, an expansive region that begins south of the Brooks Mountain Range and continues down to the Kenai Peninsula. There are eleven linguistic groups of Athabascans in Alaska.
They were nomadic, following game from camp to camp in the spring, summer and early fall and then settling into a winter village for the long season.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that these people were storytellers. Their stories described how things came to be or contained moral messages.
They were a part of a larger oral tradition which attempted to explain the forces and creatures of the natural world through entertaining tales which included characters such as the beaver, brown bear, fox, porcupine or raven.
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3. Denali Was Originally Named After A Presidential Candidate
We’re accustomed to having places named after Presidents. But a presidential candidate? For me, one of the most intriguing of the Denali National Park Facts involves how the mountain was originally named.
In 1896, a prospector and Princeton alum by the name of William Dickey named the highest mountain peak in North America after then presidential candidate William McKinley.
Why you might ask? According to the story, Dickey picked McKinley to settle an argument with other prospectors about the superiority of the gold standard.
In the campaign, McKinley was backing the gold standard whereas his opponent, William Jennings Bryan, was in favor of an expansionary monetary policy featuring the unlimited coinage of silver into money on-demand.
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Was The Wizard Of Oz Influenced By The 1896 Election
Now here’s a fascinating fact about the Election of 1896. Just as the debate over the Gold Standard led to the naming of Mount McKinley National Park, a famous story was also likely influenced by the same raging political debate.
Most of us are familiar with the story of the Wizard of Oz. If we haven’t read the book then we’ve seen the classic 1939 film starring Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Frank Morgan and Margaret Hamilton.
The economy was a huge issue in the 1896 election between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan, as the country had been battling a depression since 1893. The election was largely fought over how to reinvigorate the economy.
At that time, the U.S. economy was tied to the Gold Standard. Populists, however, wanted to tie America’s currency to both gold and silver (a policy known as bimetallism) believing it would inflate the national economy and provide relief to farmers and workers who were besieged by low wages and rising debt.
L. Frank Baum, who spent part of the 1890s as a journalist in South Dakota, one of the Plains states where the populist movement was strong. Another Plains state that was a hotbed of the pro-silver movement was Kansas, home of Dorothy’s character.
According to Littlefield, the yellow brick road symbolized the gold standard. The Emerald City was Washington, D.C., where everyone saw through green-colored, or money-colored, glasses, while the not-so-all-powerful wizard was the president.
The scarecrow and tin man represented struggling farmers and factory workers, and the cowardly lion was Bryan, the presidential candidate who despite being a roaring orator (and having a name that rhymed with lion) was unable to put together the coalition needed to win the election.
While Baum never admitted it, many consider these historical parallels to strong to ignore.
4. A Hunter/Naturalist Almost Single-Handedly Established Denali National Park
Charles Sheldon was a Yale-educated engineer who made some smart investments in mining and was able to retire at the ripe old age of 36. He then devoted his time and his money to exploration, hunting, and adventure—all of which centered on mountain sheep.
Sheldon explored Denali for two years, building a cabin, hunting grizzly bears and sheep, exploring ice caves, and documenting, nearly daily, his discoveries in this relatively unexplored region.
In the second chapter of his book The Wilderness of Denali, just moments after he stepped foot at the base of North America’s tallest peak, he captured the moment as only Sheldon could.
“Alone in an unknown wilderness hundreds of miles from civilization and high on one of the world’s most imposing mountains, I was deeply moved by the stupendous mass of the great upheaval, the vast extent of the wild areas below, the chaos of the unfinished surface is still in process of moulding, and by the crash and roar of the mighty avalanches.” (Source: Boone & Crockett Club)
Sheldon Organizes Political Support For A National Park
Sheldon mobilized the Boone & Crockett Clubs to build the political momentum for turning Denali into a national park. He helped to draft legislation authorizing the park’s formation in 1916.
It would take a year, but the bill finally won approval in both houses of Congress.
Here’s another interesting fact. Charles Sheldon actually hand-delivered the bill to President Woodrow Wilson who signed it on February 26, 1917, making Mount McKinley, which would later be changed to Denali, America’s 12th national park.
Sheldon And His Sheep
Another interesting fact about Charles Sheldon is that he made a fortune in railroads and mining at an early age. As a consequence, he was able to retire and pursue his true life’s passion – sheep.
Sheldon undertook two Alaskan expeditions to study sheep. It was his concern that they be protected which first led him to champion Denali for protection as a national park.
5. Denali Has The Highest Elevation In North America
Another of the extraordinary Denali National Park Facts is that, with a peak at 6,190 meters (20,310 feet), Alaska’s Denali has the highest elevation in North America.
Also called Mount McKinley, it’s the tallest mountain in North America, located in south-central Alaska.
The word “Denali” comes from Koyukon, a traditional Native Alaskan language, and means “the tall one.”
This name had been used for many generations and was used by early non-Native researchers and naturalists.
6. Denali’s First Superintendent Was The 2nd Man To Climb The Tallest Mountain In North America
Denali National Park & Preserve’s First Superintendent was Harry Karstens. And he was no ordinary government employee.
This one of my favorite Denali National Parks Facts because, according to the National Park Service, Karstens first came north during the Klondike gold rush of 1897 when he was just 19-years-old.
He prospected in the Yukon Territory before migrating down the Yukon River into Alaska. Near Eagle, Alaska, he searched for gold on the Seventymile River where he acquired his nickname, “The Seventymile Kid.”
Karstens also hauled supplies and hunted for the U.S. Army, then building a telegraph line that linked isolated Alaskan outposts. Here he gained fame as a fearless and resolute dog musher hauling mail across vast stretches of wilderness, helping to pioneer the mail route from Valdez to Fairbanks.
Karstens later gained fame as the climbing leader on the first successful summit of Mount McKinley in 1913. Walter Harper entered the history books that year as the first man to successfully summit Mount McKinley.
Harry Karstens followed him as the second man to make the climb to the top.
Now here’s a little known fact. Karstens and his partner, Walter Harper, spent weeks cutting steps in an earthquake-shattered jumble of ice along their route to the summit. They excavated a staircase that led them to the highest point on the mountain.
That staircase would be named Karstens Ridge in honor of Harry Karstens skill and stamina.
Top 10 Denali National Park Facts
7. Denali Is The Coldest & Stormiest Of The Seven Summits
Just when you thought we couldn’t come up with any more unbelievable Capitol Reef National Park Facts we’ve come up with another one.
The Seven Summits are the highest mountains of each of the seven traditional continents.
The seven summits listed in order of difficulty from greatest to least are:
- Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.
- Mount Elbrus, Russia.
- Denali, Alaska (formerly known as Mount McKinley)
- Aconcagua, Argentina.
- Vision Massif, Antartica.
- Puncak Jaya, Oceania.
- Mount Everest, Nepal/China
What truly sets Denali apart is its latitude which leads to some extreme weather. It rises just two hundred miles south of the Artic Circle and is the coldest and stormiest of the Seven Summits.
The other six are close enough to the equator to escape the extremes of cold, snow and wind which regularly impact Denali.
8. Glaciers Cover Approximately 1,000,000 Acres Of Denali
According to the National Park Service, glaciers cover one million acres, or one-sixth of Denali National Park. Like the many arms of an octopus, glaciers flow away from the mountains transporting hundreds of thousand of tons of ice each year.
This ice eventually melts in the lower reaches of the glaciers and rapidly fills rivers with turbulent muddy water that flows into the oceans. The iconic image of a glacier calving ice chunks into the ocean cannot be seen here – these glaciers are more distant and rougher, eking out an existence high in the Alaska Range.
Hundreds of unnamed glaciers and at least 40 named glaciers flow from heights as high as 19,000 feet and descend to elevations as low as 800 feet above sea level. It’s an incredible sight!
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9. There Have Been 129 Climbing Deaths At Denali Since 1932
Mountaineering is a favorite activity at this national park. Perhaps the least known of our Denali National Park Facts, however, is that this has also produced a grim statistic.
Since 1932, there have been 129 climbing deaths at the park.
In 2022, 48-year-old Fernando Birman of Stockton, New Jersey collapsed while attempting to summit Alaska’s Denali mountain. Birman, who was the park’s most recent mountaineering fatality, was part of a 12-member guided tour that began their ascent on May 22.
In 1967, members of the Wilcox Expedition encountered what was the “perfect storm.” They encountered two weather systems colliding which produced a vortex of cold, snow and wind as they were descending from the summit.
All seven members of this ill-fated expedition perished as a consequence. This tragedy remains the worst mountaineering disaster in the history of climbing on Denali and one of the worst in North American mountaineering.
10. Denali Is The Only National Park With A Working Sled Dog Kennel
Sled Dogs have been helping rangers patrol the park since it opened in the 1920s.
Another of the most interesting yet little known Denali National Park Facts is that they are the only sled dogs in the United States that work in a national park And, Denali is the only national park with a working sled dog kennel.
Because these dogs play such an integral part in the operation of the park, breeding of sled dogs take place there. Breeding pairs are matched specifically to produce dogs that display the personality traits and possess the physical attributes necessary to perform the job of a sled dog.
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11. Wildlife Watchers Can See The “Big 5” At Denali
At Denali, there are 39 species of mammals. This includes the “Big 5” or five largest mammals which are: caribou, Dall sheep, grizzly bears, moose and wolves.
And while you’re there, you can also see up to 170 species of birds and over 1,500 species of plants.
Map Of Denali National Park
List Of Denali National Park Facts
- The Earliest Inhabitants Of Denali Were Nomadic
- Denali Was Originally Named After A Presidential Candidate
- A Hunter/Naturalist Almost Single-Handedly Established Denali National Park
- Denali Has The Highest Elevation In North America
- Denali’s First Superintendent Was The 2nd Man To Climb The Tallest Mountain In North America
- Denali Is The Coldest & Stormiest Of The Seven Summits
- Glaciers Cover Approximately 1,000,000 Acres Of Denali
- There Have Been 129 Climbing Deaths At Denali Since 1932
- Denali Is The Only National Park With A Working Sled Dog Kennel
- Wildlife Watchers Can See The “Big 5” At Denali
About The People Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, Department of Interior, U.S. Forest Service, USDA, & countless states over the years creating films on important places and issues.
Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
I’m always on the hunt for topics where nature and history intersect so please feel free to share any ideas that you might have with me in the comments below.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then sign up below!
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