Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park and Preserve’s dynamic glaciated landscape supports a diversity of wildlife, including grizzly bears, caribou, wolves, Dall sheep and moose. Birds and wildflowers grace summer slopes. Visitors enjoy sightseeing, backpacking, and mountaineering. Whether climbing or admiring, the crowning jewel is North America’s highest peak, the awe-inspiring, 20,320 foot Mount McKinley.

Mount McKinley National Park was established in 1917 to protect its large mammals, not because of majestic Mt. McKinley. In 1980, the boundary was expanded to include both the Denali caribou herds wintering and calving ground and the entire Mt. McKinley massif. This more than tripled the size of the park, and was renamed Denali National Park and Preserve. It was also designated an International Biosphere Reserve significant for the potential for subarctic ecosystem research.
Denali is an Athabaskan word meaning The High One. The mountain is officially named Mt. McKinley but is also referred to as Denali. Mt. McKinley is the highest peak in North America at 20,320 feet. It creates its own weather system and is often covered in clouds. Mt. McKinley is only visible about 1/3 of the time, so visitors to the park only have about a 30% chance of viewing Mt. McKinley. Denali is one of the greatest wildlife viewing areas in the world. Visitors have a chance of seeing grizzly bears, caribou, moose, Dall sheep, foxes, and wolves. Many smaller animals also inhabit the park such as arctic ground squirrels, hoary marmots, pikas, snowshoe hares, and beavers. For those interested in bird watching, there are a variety of birds that migrate to the park for the summer. The list includes arctic tern, American golden plover, long tailed jaeger, the surfbird, arctic warbler, the wheatear, willow ptarmigan, golden eagles, and ravens. Approximately 150 species live in and around the Denali area during the summer months.

For many people, this vast national park (covering 9,375 sq mi/24,280 sq km) between Anchorage and Fairbanks is the highlight of a trip to Alaska. It's a truly spectacular area, featuring the majestic 20,320-ft/6,299-m Mount McKinley (many Alaskans prefer the Tanaina name, Denali), the tallest mountain in North America. More than 155 species of birds and 37 species of mammals, including Dall sheep, caribou, grizzly bears, moose and wolves, inhabit the park. The landscape is at its most verdant during July and August. Beautiful fall colors (and fewer travelers) can be found in early September. The park is best seen as a three-night stop, especially if you are taking the train between Fairbanks and Anchorage. From mid-May to mid-September, the park offers interpretive talks and walks with guides, and all-day bus tours take visitors deep into the park. Be aware that the park road is restricted to tour- and shuttle-bus traffic for most of its 90-mi/145-km length. Book bus tours in advance: They fill up fast. Other park activities and facilities include fishing, river rafting, horseback riding and dogsledding demonstrations. Backcountry permits are available. Reservations need to be made months in advance to stay at the park's single lodge. Other lodging is available just outside the park's entrance, where you will also find restaurants and private parks for recreational vehicles.

Weather in Denali is extremely variable. Often changes in weather occur without warning. Many of our rangers tell visitors to expect sun, wind, rain, and clouds, and expect them all on the same day. Average summer temperatures range from 33 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. While we hope it doesn't, it has been known to snow in July, so be prepared. Wearing layers of clothing makes it easy to regulate your body temperature. Also, you'll find that a good waterproof raincoat is invaluable. Winters can be extremely cold with temperatures ranging from -40 degrees Fahrenheit and below to high 20s on warm days. Specialized cold weather gear is necessary for mountaineering and winter visits.

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