The Athanascan people populated the area for thousands of years before the early 1900s when the area started to swarm with prospectors looking for gold in the Kantishna Hills. The park was initially instated in 1917 to protect Alaska’s highest mountain and most recognised landmark Mt McKinley, however in 1980 it expanded to cover this largely diverse and primal ecosystem. Mt McKinley, at 20,320 feet is so enormous that it creates its own micro-climate and, despite towering over the area, visitors are considered lucky to actually see it, as a swirl of clouds cling to it almost permanently. The landscape of the park is rugged and breathtakingly beautiful, with some of the most pristine geography on earth. With a range of elevations and vegetation zones, the mountain expands through the entire park, interspersed with tundra and stunted spruce forests, known as ‘taiga’ (pronounced ‘tiger’) forests.
Run by superb management, the wildlife of the area roams free and unfenced, and human-animal encounters are kept to a minimum, despite being one of the most visited parks in the state. other than the grizzly bears, you may also spot roaming herds of caribou, wolves, moose, dall sheep, foxes, Arctic ground squirrels or even lynx or wolverines, although these are very elusive in nature. Denali is renowned for its bird population with the striking golden eagle in abundance, and other predatory birds such as hawks and gyrfalcon. You may also see Arctic warblers, pine grosbeaks waxwings and wheatears.
Getting yourself lost in the Alaskan wilderness here is easy. Initially it was only accessible by rail, however in 1950 the Denali Highway was built, and then in 1960 the George Parks Highway ran through the park, connecting Fairbanks and Anchorage. To keep human pollution to a minimum, you cannot bring your own vehicle into the park and activities are monitored. A huge attraction here are the grizzly bears, and Kantishna Roadhouse puts you in a great location for this. From here you can also get a taste for history by panning for gold, or even watch a dog-mushing (a form of dog sledding) demo.
There are beautifully wild walks and hikes, as well as biking, fishing and flight-seeing.