To Make a Wild Dream Come True
Charles Sheldon had a dream. Standing on a rise in the Kantishna Hills in January 1908, he pulled out his field glassesmore important to him than his hunting rifleand looked around. Everything his eyes feasted on could one day be a premier national park, the Yellowstone of Alaska, preserved and protected for one reason above all others: to celebrate restraint as an expression of freedom, our rare ability to save a place so it will one day save us. He studied the ocean of land, storm-tossed by mountains and glaciers, waves of rolling tundra, a landscape like no other, vast, intact, winter-white. and holding its breath, so still yet dynamic, epic and epoch in its dimensions, the America that used to be. Such a grand ambition. More than a dream, it was a spark of idealism, a vision. Could Sheldon do it? Could one person with help from a few committed colleagues and friends successfully campaign for the creation of a national park?
Thomas Jefferson had said it would take 1,000 years for Americans to civilize their emerging continental nation and build cities on the Pacific coast as they had on the Atlantic. It took 50 years. The so-called "myth of superabundance"that we would never run out of fish and bison and bears and so much elsewas rapidly becoming just that: a myth. A Yale man who preferred to be in the wilderness, Sheldon decided to dedicate himself to the conservation cause of President Theodore Roosevelt. He journeyed to Alaska when the young US territory had no roads and only 30,000 people (fewer than five percent of what it has today), and found his way to the mountains.
Due south of him rose the icy granite massif that gold miners in Kantishna and Fairbanks called Mount McKinley but that Sheldon simply called "the mountain," or "Denali," the Athabascan name meaning "the high one." Certainly a mountain like that could take care of itself, being the highest in North America. But what of the magnificent wild animals that embroidered it, the grizzlies, caribou, wolves, moose, Dall sheep, and others that moved over the land with ancient grace? Market hunters were coming into the country with an aim to kill wild game to feed gold miners and railroad workers. It had to stop. Sheldon spent 10 months in the Denali region, then headed back east with one purpose: to make a wild dream come true.
Rethinking Wolves, Wilderness, and Wildness
Adolph Murie had a theory. Wolves were not bad or evil. They were keen predators that helped to maintain healthy populations of prey species by taking out the old, sick, and injured. Wolves, in fact, were beneficial. They made everything around them stronger, healthier, more agile, and alert. This was heresy in the 1930s, when books, films, and legends demonized the wolf, the wild dog that thousands of years ago had refused our obedience training yet remained our four-legged shadow, a ghost of the hunter we used to be. A wildlife biologist who had studied coyotes in Yellowstone, Murie found great inspiration when he came north to what was then Mount McKinley National Park.
Here was a dream come true, a park signed into law in February 1917 by Woodrow Wilson after nearly 10 years of campaigning by Charles Sheldon and other activists. Here was a once-upon-a-time land, the most accessible wilderness in Alaska, a park to protect wild animals by protecting the place where they lived, the first national park created after the creation of the National Park Service in August 1916.
The world was changing and Murie wanted to be part of it. "Ecology" and "wilderness" were beginning to find their way into the American vocabulary. Nature wasn't a commodity people owned, it was a community they belonged to. Over-civilized people needed naturebig, mysterious, wildto find themselves and lose themselves and find themselves again, to rewrite the definitions of progress and wealth, and be reminded what it meant to be truly alive.
For three years, 1939-41, Murie lived with his family in a cabin on the East Fork of the Toklat River, in the heart of the park, and studied Dall sheep, caribou, and wolves. His young daughter sometimes joined him on the tundra, field glasses in hand, like Charles Sheldon, to watch wolf pups play near their den. A single 90-mile-long road had been built through the park, and while traffic was light, it increased steadily and then jumped in 1972 after a highway was built between Anchorage and Fairbanks.
People were coming to see the once-upon-a-time land, the America that used to be.
As big as the park was, it wasn't big enough. Murie and others wanted to protect its ecological integrity. And so they campaigned, and hoped for a president one day who would be as conservation-minded as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
It took 40 years.
To Make a Wild Dream Come True
Jimmy Carter had a final act. In December 1980, with only weeks left in his presidency, he signed into law legislation that established over 100 million acres of new national parks, preserves, and wildlife refuges in Alaska. Mount McKinley National Park, enlarged from two million acres to six million, became Denali National Park and Preserve, with new boundaries to encompass entire watersheds and the home ranges of wildlife populations.
Today, hundreds of thousands of park visitors travel by bus every summer on the single road through the park. The bus system (versus private vehicles) reduces traffic and roadside disturbances so you can better see what you come to see. A single wolf or a bear, breathtakingly close, is priceless. An entire bus goes quiet, cameras softly clicking, as a mother grizzly and her cubs eat blueberries only 20 meters away. Later, everybody talks with new animation, enchanted like children, alive with stories to last a lifetime.
Imagine. Here's a place we did not harvest or plunder or otherwise conquer but allowed it to enrich and to inspire us over many generations. Not only did we care about the place, we cared for it. We defended it, and still do.
There will always be a good economic argument to overcrowd an experience until we redefine what a good economy is. National parks don't happen by accident. They are establishedand preservedby great force of character, heroic at times, often tedious and downright hard. This is stewardship.
Challenges remain. Wolves are routinely shot and trapped in Alaska, some near Denali. The climate shifts, the air grows warmer, permafrost melts, habitats disappear. Every year thousands of people want to climb "the high one" or fly around it. Dedicated people rise to meet the management challenges, to save the wild essence and character of Denali: A Charles Sheldon here, an Adolph Murie there. A few committed citizens can bring about big, thoughtful change for the common good. It always works that way. Now it's your turn.
Texts by Kim Heacox
Alaska Native Place Names
Check the park website or our free newspaper to plan your trip and learn about park programs, safety guidelines, and regulations.
How To Get Here
By Road The main park entrance is 237 miles north of Anchorage and 120 miles south of Fairbanks via George Parks Highway, AK 3, open year-round. Bus companies provide service to the park in summer.
By Train The Alaska Railroad offers daily summer passenger service to the park from Anchorage and Fairbanks. Service is limited in winter. Contact www.alaskarailroad.com.
Transportation In summer private vehicles are restricted beyond Savage River (Mile 15). To protect wildlife viewing, Park Road traffic is limited.
The courtesy shuttle from the park entrance to Savage River is free. For a fee, transit bus service runs mid-May to mid-September from the Wilderness Access Center to Toklat River (six hours round-trip), Eielson Visitor Center (eight hours), and Wonder Lake (11 hours). You may get on and off along Park Road to hike, except in wildlife closures.
You may reboard as space is available. Walk-ins may face a wait time.
Expanded tour bus services include an interpretive program.
Reservations For all reservations of campsites, tours, and transit bus tickets, contact the park concessioner, Doyon/ARAMARK Joint Venture or www.reservedenali.com.
Food Service No food service is offered beyond the park entrance area. Bring food, drink, warm clothes, and raingear.
What To Do in the Park and Preserve
Be Prepared Most people visit between mid-May and mid-September. Summer is cool, wet, windy, and possibly snowy. Bring clothing for temperatures from 35 to 75°F. Hat, mittens/gloves, and raingear are essential. Sturdy footgear, insect repellent, binoculars, and a camera may also help.
During winter and shoulder seasons local services are limited. Riley Creek Campground near the park entrance is open all year. Park Road stays open to Park Headquarters at Mile 3.4 and could be open farther into the park depending on weather conditions. Reach the backcountry by snowshoes, skis, or dogsled. Check for road status, weather conditions, and backcountry permits at the winter visitor center.
Entrance Fee The $10-per-person fee is collected year-round and valid for seven days. Most fee money stays in the park to improve visitor services and facilities. The Denali Annual Pass and Interagency Federal Recreation Passes (Annual, Senior, US Military, and Access) are valid for entry.
Pets and Wildlife Pets may be walked along Park Road, in parking lots, on campground roads, along the Bike Path from the park entrance to the visitor center campus, and on the Roadside Trail between the visitor center campus and Park Headquarters. Pets must be leashed with a six-foot or shorter lead. Do not leave a tethered pet unattended. Owners must collect and dispose waste.
Wildlife activity may require areas to be closed to all entry for a few days to several months.
Biking Biking is allowed year-round in some areas of the park. Some buses have bicycle racks. Check the visitor center or park website for more information.
Hiking Denali has trails for novice and experienced hikers. Join ranger-led walks or take longer cross-country hikes on your own. Some of the best routes are on durable surfaces along ridgetops or gravel riverbars. Sturdy footgear is essential. Streams can be cold, swift, and dangerous to cross. Hikers are responsible for knowing current closures.
Overnight backpacking trips require careful planning and a backcountry permit, which is available only after an in-person orientation with a ranger at the Backcountry Information Center. There is a quota system for backcountry units. Descriptions of units are available online. Many units require hikers to use bear-resistant food containers (provided). Pack out all garbage.
Camping The park has six designated campgrounds. Stays are limited to 14 nights total. Group sites are available by reservation for nine to 20 people. Camping is prohibited in parking areas and on roadsides. Campfires are permitted only in certain campgrounds.
Food Storage Campers must store all food and scented items. including sealed cans and bottles, in bear-resistant food lockers found in campgrounds, or in closed, hard-sided vehicles.
Sport Fishing and Hunting Hunting and fishing are allowed in some park and preserve locations, regulated by federal and state law. Discharging weapons is strictly prohibited in many areas. You are responsible for knowing and complying with firearms laws and regulations. For firearms regulations check the park website. For more information check with a park ranger or at a visitor center.
Mountaineering Denali and Mount Foraker climbers must register 60 days prior to the start of their ascent and pay a special use fee. Contact the Talkeetna Ranger Station, Box 588, Talkeetna, AK 99676.
Emergencies call 911.
Summer Visitor Centers
At the Denali Visitor Center, 1.5 miles from the park entrance, you can explore the exhibits, talk to park rangers, and see the award-winning park film Heartbeats of Denali. A bookstore, the Morino Grill, and the Murie Science and Learning Center are nearby.
The Eielson Visitor Center, 66 miles inside the park, exemplifies the park's commitment to sustainable practices. You can reach the Eielson Visitor Center by transit bus.
Wilderness Safety Denali is true wilderness. Before you venture into the park, read the safety messages in the free visitor guide. Grizzly bears and moose are dangerous. Crossing glacial rivers can be treacherous.
Source: NPS Brochure (2018)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
A History of Mount McKinley National Park (Denali National Park & Preserve) (Grant H. Pearson, 1953)
A lichen species list for Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, with comments on several new and noteworthy records (Sarah E. Stehn, James K. Walton, Peter R. Nelson, Cecilia J. Hampton-Miller and Carl A. Roland, extract from Evansia, Vol. 32 No. 4, 2015)
A Study of Caribou Range Use and Potential in and near Denali National Park and Preserve (David R. Klein, R.D. Boertje and G.A. Schultz, May 15, 1983)
A system for monitoring impact of Denali National Park road traffic on wildlife USGS Biological Science Report 1997-0001 (Dale L. Taylor, Kenneth D. Vogt and Janet Warburton, 1997)
A Survey of Overnight Backcountry Visitors to Denali National Park and Preserve NPS Technical Report NPS/CCSOUW/NRTR-2002-04 (Jane E. Swanson, Mark E. Vande Kamp, Darryll R. Johnson, Robert E. Manning and Steven R. Lawson, April 2002)
Acoustic Bat Monitoring in Alaska National Parks 2016-2018 NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/AKRO/NRR-2020/2096 (Paul A. Burger, March 2020)
An Overview and Assessment of Archeological Resources, Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska NPS Research/Resources Management Report AR-16 (Kristen Griffin, September 1990)
Annual Wolf Reports: Denali Wolf Project
Annual Wolf Report: 2016 (2016)
Annual Wolf Report: 2017 (2018)
Annual Wolf Report: 2018 (2019)
Annual Wolf Report: 2019 (2020)
Annual Wolf Report: 2020 (B. Borg and K. Klauder, 2020)
Annual Wolf Report: 2021 (B. Borg and K. Klauder, 2021)
Anthropogenic Climate Change Trends and Scenarios in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska (Patrick Gonzalez, March 20, 2019)
Assessment of Vehicle Use and Wildlife Sightings in Denali National Park and Preserve: Summary Report 2006-2009 NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/DENA/NRTR-2012/600 (Laura M. Phillips, Bridget Borg and Melissa L. Snover, July 2012)
Bear-Human Conflict Management Plan, Denali National Park and Preserve (The Wildlife Team, June 2003)
Birds And Mammals Of Mount Mckinley National Park Fauna of the National Parks of the United States No. 3 (Joseph S. Dixon, 1938)
Bus Shuttle System Analysis: Denali National Park (John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, September 2013)
Climbing History Timeline (undated)
Conceptual Design of the Long-term Ecological Monitoring Program for Denali National Park and Preserve (Karen L. Oakley and Susan L. Boudreau, May 8, 2000)
Denali National Park and Preserve Landcover Mapping Project. Vol. 1: Remote Sensing Data, Procedures and Results NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/DENA/NRTR2001/001, Natural Resource Stewardship and Science (Jennifer L. Stevens, Keith Boggs and Jess Grunblatt, March 2001)
Denali National Park and Preserve Landcover Mapping Project. Vol. 2: Landcover Classes and Plant Associations NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/DENA/NRTR2001/002 (K. Boggs, Jennifer L. Stevens and Jess Grunblatt, March 2001)
Denali National Park and Preserve Year in Review: 2017 Visitation NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/DENA/NRDS-2017/XXX (Rose Keller, November 2017)
Denali NPP Wolf Research Review Panel (Final Report, May 22, 2002)
Denali's Merlin Research (Scott Wilbor, 1992)
Effects of Dust Palliative Use on Roadside Soils, Vegetation, and Water Resources (2003-2016), Denali Park Road, Denali National Park, Alaska NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/DENA/NRR-2018/1580 (Sarah E. Stehn and Carl Roland, January 2018)
Element concentrations and trends for moss, lichen, and surface soils in and near Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska USGS Open-File Report 92-323 (J.G. Crock, L.P. Gough, D.R. Mangis, K.L. Curry, D.L. Fey, P.L. Hageman and E.P. Welsch, 1992)
Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Denali National Park and Preserve NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR-2010/244 (T.L. Thornberry-Ehrlich, September 2010)
Giardia in Denali National Park: A preliminary study (William L. Saltonstall, 1988)
Glacial Transport of Human Waste and Survival of Fecal Bacteria on Mt. McKinley's Kahiltna Glacier, Denali National Park, Alaska NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/AKR/NRTR-2013/784 (Michel G. Loso, Katelyn Goodwin, Haley Williams, Rich Johnson, Dustin English and Matthias Braun, August 2013)
Glacier Monitoring in Denali and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, 2016-2021 (Michael G. Loso, January 2022)
Habitat Use and Movement Patterns of Grizzly Bears in Denali National Park Relative to the Denali Park Road NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/DENA/NRTR-2012/563 (Rick Mace, Laura Phillips, Thomas Meier and Pat Owen, April 2012)
Handbooks for Researchers, Denali National Park and Preserve (October 28, 2008)
Historic Furnishings Report: Pearson Cabin, Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska (David H. Wallace, 1995)
Historic Structure Report: Mt. McKinley Park Headquarters Historic District & Wonder Lake Vol. 1 (Dave Snow, Gail Evans, Robert L. Spude, Paul Gleeson, January 1, 1987)
Historic Structure Report: Mt. McKinley Park Headquarters Historic District & Wonder Lake Vol. 2 (Dave Snow, Gail Evans, Robert L. Spude, Paul Gleeson, January 1, 1987)
Historic Structure Report: Mt. McKinley Park Headquarters Historic District & Wonder Lake Vol. 3 (Dave Snow, Gail Evans, Robert L. Spude, Paul Gleeson, January 1, 1987)
History of Planning in South Denali (undated)
History of the Concession at Denali National Park (Formerly Mount McKinley National Park) (George S. Stroud, March 1985)
Hydraulic and channel characteristics of selected streams in the Kantishna Hills area, Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, 1982-84 USGS Open-File Report 88-325 (J.L. Van Maanen and G.L. Solin, 1988)
Insect Pollinators of Denali National Park and Preserve: A Survey of Bees (Hymenoptera: Anthophila) and Flower Flies (Diptera: Syrphidae) NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/DENA/NRR-2015/952 (Jessica Rykken, April 2015)
Integrating the Denali Long-Term Ecological Monitoring Program (prototype) into the Central Alaska Network Vital Signs Monitoring Program (Maggie MacCluskie, Guy Adema, Karen Oakley and Sara Wesser, June 10, 2002)
Kantishna Hills/Dunkle Mine Study Report (May 1984)
Long-Term Ecological Monitoring, Denali National Park & Preserve, FY2002 Revised Work Plan (undated)
Moose Habitat and Populations in Mount McKinley National Park, Alaska (Jerry O. Wolf and Joanne Cowling, 1979)
Monitoring Dust along the Denali Park Road: Summary Report 2007-2009 NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/DENA/NRDS-2014/692 (Bridget Borg and Laura M. Phillips, August 2014)
Monitoring Indicators of the Visitor Experience and Resource Conditions in the Denali Backcountry: Summer 2011 NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/DENA/NRTR-2011/480 (Peter J. Fix and Heidi Hatcher, August 2011)
Monitoring Passerine Birds in the Central Alaska Network: 2015 and 2016 Summary Report for the Central Alaska Network Inventory and Monitoring Program NPS Natural Resource Report Series NPS/CAKN/NRR—2017/1478 (Laura M. Phillips, Carol L. McIntyre, Jeremy D. Mizel, Emily J. Williams and Greg M. Colligan, July 2017)
Mountaineering Summaries (Annual): 1979 • 1980 • 1981 • 1982 • 1983 • 1984 • 1985 • 1986 • 1987 • 1988 • 1989 • 1990 • 1991 • 1992 • 1993 • 1994 • 1995 • 1996 • 1997 • 1998 • 1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004 • 2005 • 2006 • 2007 • 2008 • 2009 • 2010 • 2011 • 2012 • 2013 • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 • 2020-2021
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Forms
Mount McKinley National Park Headquarters District (Gail Evans, December 1985)
Patrol Cabins, Mount McKinley National Park (Gail Evans, December 1985)
Native Place Names Mapping in Denali National Park and Preserve Draft Final Report (James Kari, August 1999, revised December 1999)
Native plant revegetation manual for Denali National Park and Preserve USGS Information and Technology Report 2000-0006 (Roseann V. Densmore, Mark E. Vander Meer and Nancy G. Dunkle, 2000)
Natural Resource Condition Assessment, Denali National Park and Preserve NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/WRD/NRR-2011/424 (Barry Drazkowski, Andrew Robertson, Kathy Kilkus, Greta Bernatz, Courtney Lee, Eric Iverson and Jeff Knopf, July 2011)
Park Headquarters: Cultural Landscape Report, Denali National Park and Reserve Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation (Margie Coffin Brown, Eliot Foulds, Debbie Dietrich-Smith and Joel Smith, 2008)
Park Newspaper (Alpenglow)
Resource Brief: Historic Storms in Denali (December 2021) (January 2022)
Resource Stewardship Strategy: 2008-2027: Denali National Park and Preserve (September 30, 2009)
Review of the Denali National Park and Preserve (DENA) Long-Term Ecological Monitoring Program (LTEM) WEST Technical Report 98-7 (Lyman McDonald, Trent McDonald and Donna Robertson, September 30, 1998)
Road Design Standards (Draft), Denali National Park and Preserve (1995, revised 2006)
Road Design Standards, Denali National Park and Preserve (1995, revised 2007)
Satellite Map: Denali National Park & Preserve, AK Scale: 1:24,000 (USGS, 1986)
Science at Denali (February 2003)
Snapshots from the Past: A Roadside History of Denali National Park and Preserve (Jane Bryant, 2011)
State of the Park Report, Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska State of the Park Series No. 27 (2016)
Stream and Floodplain Restoration in Glen Creek, Denali National Park and Preserve NPS Technical Report NPS/NRWRD/NRTR-94/17 (Kenneth F. Karle and Roseann V. Densmore, February 1994)
Synthesis and Evolution of the Prototype for Monitoring Subarctic Parks: 1991 to 2002 Perspective, Long-Term Ecological Monitoring Program, Denali National Park and Preserve (Susan L. Boudreau, c2003)
The Complete History of the Great One! The Historical Geology of Denali National Park (Phil Brease, May 1989)
The Gypidulid Brachiopod Genus Carinagypa in Late Emsian (Latest Early Devonian) Strata of the Shellabarger Pass Area (Farewell Terrane), Denali National Park & Preserve, South-Central Alaska (Robert B. Blodgett, Vincent L. Santucci, Valeryi V. Baranov and Montana S. Hodges, from New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin No. 82, 2021, ©New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, all rights reserved)
The Wolf Problem in Mount McKinley National Park / A Review of the Mountain Sheep Situation in Mount McKinley National Park, Alaska, 1945 (Newton B. Drury, January 4, 1946 and Adolph Murie, October 9, 1945)
The Wolves of Mount McKinley Fauna of the National Parks of the United States No. 5 (Adolph Murie, 1944)
Topographic Map: Denali National Park & Preserve, AK Scale: 1:250,000 (USGS, 1986)
Tree Hazard Policy and Management Plan for Denali National Park and Preserve Draft (Laura Hudson, 1997)
Water Resources Assessment of the Toklat Basin in the Vicinity of the Stampede Trail Alignment, Denali National Park and Preserve NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/WRD/NRR-2006/018 (Kenneth F. Karle, November 2010)
Water Quality of Camp Creek, Costello Creek, and Other Selected Streams on the South Side of Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002-4260 (Timothy P. Brabets and Matthew S. Whitman, 2002)
Wildlife and effects of mining in the Kantishna Hills, Denali National Park and Preserve NPS Research/Resources Management Report AR-2 (Kenneth Kertel, 1984)
Wildlife Research Update: February 2007 (February 2007)
Wolf Monitoring Protocol for Denali National Park and Preserve, Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve NPS Natural Resource NPS/CAKN/NRR-2009/168 (Thomas J. Meier and John W. Burch, December 2004 revised August 2009)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 24-Jun-2022