Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park

Mt. McKinley
Click photo by Kirsty Knittel,

Name Controversy

Mount McKinley is also commonly known as Denali, which means “the great one” in the Dena’ina language, and which is also the official name currently recognized by the State of Alaska. In 1897 the Mountain was officially named Mount McKinley, after the popular U.S. president William McKinley. As the decades progressed Indian-rights activists began increasingly to view this renaming as colonial and disrespectful. Denali is also the name preferred by the mountaineering community. There have been several campaigns to officially switch the federally recognized name of the mountain back to “Denali”. However, the name “McKinley” is well-known and has support as well. In particular, at the first session of each Congress, Ralph Regula, the congressman from President McKinley’s district, introduces legislation “to provide for the retention of the name of Mount McKinley,” which effectively blocks any effort at a name change.

Click photo to hear Denali Legend

Chief Mitch Demientieff of Nenana, Alaska, tells an Athabascan legend about the origins of Denali, the Great One.

Audio segment and photo from U.S. National Park Service

The First attempt to climb Mount McKinley was by Judge James Wickersham in 1903, via the Peters Glacier and the North Face, now known as the Wickersham Wall. This route has tremendous avalanche danger and was not climbed until 1963.

This video segment is from the video Kantishna Hills Pioneers that is a Historical Documentation of the Gold Rush Era in 1905 in the Kantishna Hills of Alaska. Gold was discovered in the area as a result of Judge Wickersham leading an exploring party up the Kantishna River to make the first attempt to climb Mt. McKinley, Denali.

KANTISHNA HILLS PIONEERS is a 30min. DVD Video Production produced as a project of Doyon Tourism and Doyon Foundation. Videos may be purchased by contacting:

First ascent of the main summit of McKinley came on June 7, 1913 by a party led by Hudson Stuck. The first man to reach the summit was Walter Harper, an Alaska Native. Harry Karstens and Robert Tatum also made the summit. They ascended the Muldrow Glacier route pioneered by the earlier expeditions, which is still a popular route today.

Mount McKinley or Denali in Alaska is the highest mountain peak in North America at a height of approximately 20,320 feet (6,194 meters). It is the centerpiece of Denali National Park.


Mount McKinley is located in the central portion of the Alaska Range, which spans much of south central Alaska. It is approximately 130 miles (210 km) north-northwest of Anchorage and 155 miles (250 km) southwest of Fairbanks. The summit is approximately 35 miles (56 km) from the nearest major road, the George Parks Highway

Notable features

Mount McKinley has a larger bulk and rise than Mount Everest. Even though the summit of Everest is 9000 feet higher, measured from sea level, its base sits on the Tibetan Plateau at about 17,000 feet, giving it a real vertical rise of little more than 12,000 feet. The base of Denali is roughly a 2,000 foot plateau, giving it an actual rise of 18,000 feet.The mountain is also characterized by an unusually severe risk of altitude illness and extremely cold weather due to its high latitude and its proximity to the jet stream. At the equator, a mountain as high as Mount McKinley would have 47% as much oxygen available on its summit as there is at sea level, but because of its very high latitude, the pressure on the summit is much lower.

Layout of the mountain

Mount McKinley has two significant summits: the South Summit is the higher one, while the North Summit has an elevation of 19,470 feet (5,935 m) and a prominence of approximately 1,320 feet (402 m). The North Summit is sometimes counted as a separate peak (see e.g. the List of United States fourteeners) and sometimes not; it is rarely climbed, except by those doing routes on the north side of the massif. Five large glaciers flow off the slopes of the mountain. The Peters Glacier lies on the northwest side of the massif, while the Muldrow Glacier falls from its northeast slopes. Just to the east of the Muldrow, and abutting the eastern side of the massif, is the Traleika Glacier. The Ruth Glacier lies to the southeast of the mountain, and the Kahiltna Glacier leads up to the southwest side of the mountain.

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The Denali Park Road is closed at Mile 43 and beyond. Due to this road closure, Kantishna Wilderness Trails is not in operation. To learn more about our fly-in backcountry lodge deep in Denali National Park and Preserve, please visit

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