A winding road leading to Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska.

5 Things You Should Know about Mount McKinley

Mount McKinley is nestled in Alaska’s famous Denali National Park, which lies 130 miles north-northwest of Anchorage and 170 miles southwest of Fairbanks. Each year an average of 1,275 people attempt to reach the mountain’s summit and approximately 14 climbers a year find themselves in serious trouble and need to be rescued.

Before you attempt to take on this marvellous adventure, there are a few things you should know about Mount McKinley.

The Mountain Has Two Names

In 1896, William Dickey, a gold prospector, dubbed the mountain Mount McKinley in honor of President William McKinley. However, the Athabascan natives of the area have long called the mountain Denali – meaning “The Great One.” Over the years there have been many efforts to return the mountain to its original name, Denali.

The national park that serves as the home for the mountain was established in 1917 as Mount McKinley National Park. In 1980 the name of the park was changed to Denali National Park and Preserve. The official name of the mountain, though, remains Mount McKinley.

Mount McKinley is the Centerpiece of Denali National Park

McKinley mountain in Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park is home to nearly 12,000 lakes. Glaciers cover around one-sixth of the park, which covers roughly one million acres. More than forty of the glaciers in the park are named, leaving tens of thousands of glaciers unnamed. Some extend from 800 feet above sea level and reach as high as 19,000 feet. Explore the beauty and wildlife of this vast landscape on a Denali National Park tour.

The Tallest Mountain in North America

Elevation of Mt. McKinley
McKinley Summit” via. USARAK / Used Under CC / Cropped From Original

Mount McKinley is the tallest mountain in North America standing at 20,232 feet above sea-level. Of the Seven Summits (each of the seven continent’s highest mountains), it ranks third highest. A mountain is measured from base to peak, but when sea level is factored into the equation a geographically “high” mountain may not be as “tall” as a mountain, which is at a lower elevation. Such is the case here. The highest mountain (measured from the top to sea level) is Mt. Everest.

Reaching the Summit is an Epic Challenge

Top of Mt. McKinley

The severe cold and treacherous glaciers are not the only challenges that climbers have when trying to reach the summit of Mount McKinley. Located at 63 degrees north and 151 degrees west – this far northern latitude causes the area to have an extremely low barometric pressure.

This effect is even more pronounced on Mt. McKinley than on other high mountains in the world. Only about 50 percent of people who attempt to reach the summit are successful.  If you want to face the ultimate challenge of this massive mountain, the experts say the best months to do so are April, May, and June.

Its Climate is Not for the Faint of Heart

Mountaineer in Mt. McKinley

The weather on Mount McKinley’s peak can be a frigid -75 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of -118 degrees Fahrenheit. These harsh temperatures can freeze a human being in a matter of seconds. Snow and glaciers cover the entire top half of the mountain. A weather station is positioned at 18,700 feet on the mountain and constantly records temperatures and the mountain’s climate.

Mount McKinley is Mother Nature at her finest, but also at her harshest and least forgiving. Come experience a thrill like no other and truly feel alive as we explore Denali National Park on this 11-Day Alaskan Wildland Adventure.

Adam Lackner
Adam Lackner
The backcountry is a place of enjoyment for this outdoorsman. Adam spent five years in the Marine Corps before heading for seasonal guiding positions in Alaska, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, Mexico, and now Wyoming. “Being where the mountains are big keeps the complaints small!”
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