Do you dream of adventure? Do you fantasize about what it must have been like to walk the forest paths of the American wilderness prior to European settlement? If so, don't despair, those days are not quite gone. The American wilderness still exists. The interior of Alaska has been called one of the last great frontiers. Perhaps, nowhere can this be better appreciated than in Denali National Park.
As far back as the beginning of the twentieth century, the need to conserve this area for future generations (of animals) was recognized. In 1908, the naturalist, conservationist, and hunter, Charles Sheldon, along with other like-minded individuals, began a campaign to get legal protection for the wilderness area around Mount McKinley. Long before the white man came, Alaska's native Athabascans had lived around this mountain, calling it Denali, 'the high one'. For this reason, Sheldon suggested this name for the proposed park. In 1917, a park was established. However, rather than honor the name the native people had used for so many years, the park and mountain were named after a former senator, and eventual president, William McKinley. The boundaries changed over the years, but it remained Mount McKinley National Park until 1980, when the name was officially changed to the Denali National Park and Preserve.
Today, the park encompasses six million acres, an area larger than the state of Massachusetts. The showpiece of the park is Mount McKinley. At 20,320 feet, it is the largest mountain in North America. This mountain has more than 20 glaciers (longer than five miles) flowing down its slope, one of which, Muldrow Glacier, covers 2,000 square miles, and ends near the Eielson Visitor Center. The park is managed as three separate areas, Denali Wilderness, Denali National Park additions, and Denali National Preserve, each of which has its own rules for how visitors and local people can use the land. The park protects a variety of large mammals, including caribou, moose, grizzly bears, wolves, and dall sheep, a relative of the bighorn sheep. Smaller mammals, such as red squirrels, ground squirrels, shrews, voles, lemmings, foxes, weasels, wolverines, lynxes, martens, snowshoe hares, hoary marmots, pikas, porcupines, and beavers are also among the 37 mammal species living in the park and preserve. In addition, there have been 156 species of birds seen in Denali, some of which migrate as far south as the bottom of South America or Antarctica. The taiga and tundra areas of the park are also home to a fascinating variety of plants, many of them dwarf scrubs and miniaturized wildflowers. Over 650 species of flowering plants can be found here, as well as various types of mosses, lichens, algae, and fungi.
There are many ways to experience the peace and tranquility of this northern wilderness. If you want to truly see the wilderness, why not try backcountry camping in the park? Overnight stays in the backcountry require a permit, but these are issued free of charge at the Visitor's center, or at the park's Headquarters in the winter. These permits are only issued a day in advance, so it's not possible to make reservations. It's also important to keep in mind that campfires are not permitted in the backcountry, so you'll need a stove and fuel. Bears are prevalent in the park (that's kind of the point), so you'll want to be familiar with what to do if you should see one. Denali's website has an abundance of helpful information about this and other matters of interest. The park requires the use of bear-resistant food containers, which they will let you borrow free of charge.
If camping deep in the wilderness is a little too much adventure for you, Denali also has seven campgrounds. These have a total of 291 sites, some of which can accommodate an RV. You're allowed to stay a total of fourteen days in these park service campgrounds. If even RV camping is too adventurous for you, I suppose you could go to this last untamed piece of wilderness, and stay in a hotel. Inside the park, lodging is available at Camp Denali, Kantishna Roadhouse, and Northface Lodge. Lodging is also available in a number of the local communities surrounding the park.
Whether you are interested in hiking, fishing, camping, or just relaxing in a quiet setting, why not consider visiting the 'high one' and its surrounding wilderness, one of the world's last great frontiers?