Denali National Park, in the interior of southern Alaska, is larger than Massachusetts at more than six million acres. The park gets its name from the native moniker for Mount McKinley, the focal point of the park and the highest mountain in North America.
Conservationist Charles Sheldon first proposed the idea for a wildlife refuge in the region in 1918; the original tract of land was called Mount McKinley National Park. On December 2, 1980, President Carter reestablished the refuge as Denali National Park after a conservation act added on another four million acres.
For the serious hiker, there are very few designated trails in Denali National Park. (There are a few nature trails and short loops.) Hikers and backpackers have access to the park but will spend much of their time in the backcountry. Encountering brush, streams and wildlife while hiking are givens.
The lower elevations of Denali contain taiga forest, with mostly spruce and willow trees that form dense thickets. This makes hiking a challenge, especially deep in the park.
Two types of tundra await the visitor to Denali after leaving the taiga forest. The dry tundra at higher elevations has loose stone and seems barren, while the moist tundra has ground covered with spring mosses and low brush.
The possibility of encountering black bears and grizzly bears in the park is quite real and all hikers should take necessary precautions, such as learning how basic bear safety and using bear-proof food containers.