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Denali Wilderness

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Mount Denali and the autumn tundra along Savage River in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska Range.
Library image #2030: Mount Denali and the autumn tundra along Savage River in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska Range.


The United States Congress designated the Denali Wilderness (map) in 1980 and it now has a total of 2,124,783 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Alaska and is managed by the National Park Service.


Native Athabascans have always referred to Mount Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) as Denali, or "The High One." The mammoth mountain is the centerpiece of Denali National Park Wilderness, which comprises about one-third of Denali National Park and Preserve. Formerly known as Mount McKinley National Park, it was established first as a wildlife refuge in 1917, then designated Wilderness in 1980 at the same time the size of the park was tripled and the name was changed. At six million acres, the entire unit is now bigger than the state of Massachusetts.

The Wilderness encompasses the high heart of the Alaska Range, including Mount McKinley. At 20,310 feet (formerly evaluated to 20,320 feet using 1950's era technology according to the USGS), Denali is the highest point in North America and the tallest mountain on Earth when measured from base to summit. Mountaineers have long been irresistibly drawn to this fabulous land of perpetual snow and danger. The upthrust of the range creates its own weather, usually frigid and windy, with clouds that hide the mountains as much as 75 percent of the time. On the northern slopes of the Alaska Range, the Wilderness drops to tundra, a world of dwarf shrubs and miniature wildflowers adapted to the short growing season. Tundra gives way to taiga, a Russian word for "land of little sticks," and here scant tree growth lines many miles of river.

Tundra and taiga provide homes for 37 recorded species of mammals, including Dall sheep, caribou, grizzly bears, and moose. Smaller mammals include foxes, weasels, lynx, martens, marmots, pikas, voles, and lemmings. Flowering plants number more than 430 species, and 159 species of birds have been sighted, including the ptarmigan, which changes from brown to snow-white. Denali remains a subarctic Wilderness of unparalleled proportions.

Planning to Visit the Denali Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Denali Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.