Denali Fast Facts

Some Denali Facts

History of the Park

The history of the park started when Charles Alexander Sheldon took an interest in the Dall sheep native to the region and became concerned that human encroachment might threaten the species. After his 1907-1908 visit, he petitioned the people of Alaska and Congress to create a preserve for the sheep. (His account of the visit was published posthumously as The Wilderness of Denali.) The park was established as Mount McKinley National Park on February 26, 1917. However, only a portion of Mount McKinley (not even including the summit) was within the original park boundary. The park was designated an international biosphere reserve in 1976. A separate Denali National Monument was proclaimed by Jimmy Carter on December 1, 1978.

Highest Mountain

Denali is the highest mountain in North America, the United States, and Alaska. Denali, with 20,322 feet (6,194 meters) of prominence, is the third most prominent mountain in the world, with only Mount Everest and Aconcagua having more prominence. Denali is one of the Seven Summits and is an ultra-prominent peak with more than 5,000 feet of prominence.

The High One

Denali, meaning “The High One,” is the native Athabascan name for North America’s highest mountain. It was renamed Mount McKinley for then-presidential nominee William McKinley by prospector William Dickey during the 1896 Cook Inlet gold rush. Dickey named the peak because McKinley championed the gold standard rather than silver .

Mt. McKinley

The state of Alaska changed the name of Mount McKinley to Denali in 1975. The Alaska Geographic Names Board maintains that Denali is the proper name for the mountain, while the federal Board of Geographic Names continues to uphold the name McKinley. The name of Mount McKinley National Park was changed to Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980. Alaskans and climbers call the mountain Denali.


Large mammals include Dall sheep, mountain goats, caribou, wolves, and black and grizzly bears. Smaller mammals include lynx, wolverines, beavers, martens, porcupines, foxes, coyotes, marmots, river otters, ground squirrels, pikas, and voles. There are very few reptiles and amphibians anywhere in Alaska due to the cold temperatures.

Bird Species

There have been 167 species of birds officially recorded in the park. There are some permanent residents, but most of the species are migratory, coming from six continents at some point during the year.

Plant Life in Denali

There are more than 1,500 species of vascular plants, mosses and lichens. Most of the park is arctic tundra, however, the taiga forest covers much of the lowest lands.

The 1st Denali Climb

The first serious attempt to climb Denali was in 1910 when two Alaskan prospectors—Peter Anderson and Billy Taylor—from a party of four reached the summit of the lower 19,470-feet North Summit on April 3. They climbed 8,000 feet from their 11,000-foot camp to the summit and returned to camp in 18 hours—an astonishing feat! The crew, called the Sourdough Expedition, were climbing novices who spent 3 months climbing to win a bet with a bar owner who said it would never be climbed. They wore homemade crampons, snowshoes, Inuit mukluks, overalls, parkas, and mittens. On summit day, they carried doughnuts, caribou meat, 3 flasks of hot drinks, and a 14-foot-long spruce pole and an American flag. Their hope was that someone with a telescope would see the pole and flag and know that the peak had been climbed. After returning to Kantishna, the climbers were welcomed as heroes. Skeptics wouldn’t accept that the greenhorns had summitted Denali. The 1913 South Summit first ascent party, however, saw the flagpole, vindicating the extraordinary ascent.

First Ascent of the Summit

The first ascent of the main or South Summit of Denali was on June 7, 1913 by Walter Harper, Harry Karstens, and Robert Tatum from an expedition led by Hudson Stuck. They climbed the Muldrow Glacier route. Stuck saw the flagpole planted by the Sourdough climbers with binoculars on the North Summit, confirming their success.

Notable Denali Ascents

First woman ascent
Barbara Polk Washburn, June 6, 1947

First solo ascent
Naomi Uemura, August 26, 1970

First winter ascent
Johnston, Davidson, and Ray Genet, February 28, 1967

First winter solo ascent
Naomi Uemura, February 12, 1984 (died on descent)

Fastest ascent
Chad Kellogg, West Buttress, 14 hours 22 minutes, from 7,200 feet to 20,320 feet

First blind ascent
Joan Phelps on May 30, 1993

Denali by the Numbers

Total Height of Denali in Feet

Total Number Visitors to the Park Each Year

Total Acres in Denali National Park