Denali National Park

The History of Denali National Park

©2006 National Park Services The semiannual caribou migration is among the great spectacles of Denali National Park.

Denali National Park is comprised of two worlds: the raw alpine region of the high mountains and the tundra-covered lowlands. Connecting one to the other are the great glaciers that flow down from the summits of McKinley and the other peaks. For decades the main travel route into the mountains has been the Muldrow Glacier, an immense river of ice fed by the Harper, Brooks, and Taleika glaciers. Each originates in cirques (glacier-gouged rock basins) high on the mountain.

The ice that becomes the Muldrow Glacier begins just below Mount McKinley's summit and flows northeastward 35 miles through a granite gorge on the side of the mountain to its leading edge, or snout. On the tundra far below the summit, the ice melts, feeding the McKinley River.

Twice in the past century, for reasons not fully understood, the glacier has surged forward. The last time was during the winter of 1956-57, when the Muldrow's snout suddenly advanced 2.5 miles across the tundra. Its movement was accompanied by the constant sound of breaking ice and rushing water. Despite the debris and jumbled ice left by the Muldrow's last leap forward, the glacier is still used as a major climbing route up the mountain.

The Establishment of Denali National Park

Denali was the first national park to be established in Alaska (in 1917), and it was originally called Mount McKinley. The park was renamed in 1980, the same year the other seven national parks in the state were established by the Alaska National Interest Lands Act. Together, the eight Alaskan parks and associated preserves contain a staggering 41 and a half million acres, more than all the other national parks combined.

Denali is the most popular of the national parks in Alaska, and a trip there will explain why that is. Whether you're interested in watching the caribou migration, hiking the trails to Horseshoe Lake, or climbing Mount McKinley, you'll have an unforgettable experience at Denali National Park.

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