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Ecology of Denali National Park and Preserve

All of the geologic evolution discussed on the "Geology in Denali National Park and Preserve" page has, in turn, affected what kinds of plants and animals are able to thrive in the park.

Forget Me Not
Alpine Forget-me-not is the Alaska State Flower.

Within Denali National Park and Preserve there are known to be two major climates, one on either side of the Alaskan Range. North of the range, winters are known to be very long and very cold as that climate is greatly affected by Arctic pressure systems. This also leads to very low precipitation. As a result, certain vegetation is more suitable to the south than the north, such as spruce trees which grow in greater numbers north of the range and also grow over permafrost. These conditions are subalpine and alpine in elevation, so scrub vegetation and spruce trees are the dominant vegetation. While many people do not think of wildfires occurring in such a cold area, wildfires from lightning storms are common north of the range. Due to the frequent fires clearing trees, a majority of the Spruce are less than 120 years old. The most common shrubs north of the range where it is drier are grasses, sage brush, juniper, and other herbaceous perennials. The very tops of the high alpine segment of the park are unvegetated and composed only of bare rock. The upper limit of plant growth is about 7,500 ft and the growth above this point is typically only small lichens.

South of the Alaska Range there is less permafrost than north of the range, and the snowfall is very high. This climate is more suitable to lush vegetation than the harsh north. The forests here have greater variety in species and are much denser, less scattered forests. There are also many lowlands within the park that are dominated by black spruce, white spruce, and birch forests that became fully established after the last glacial period. Rivers and warmer south facing slopes can sometimes support herbs, aspen, and poplar. Other shrubs in the area include willow, blueberry, dwarf birch, rose, grasses, lupine, cow parsnip, bell heather, and brush cranberry.

Denali National Park & Preserve- Bell Heather
Denali National Park & Preserve- Bell Heather
Grey Wolf
Denali is famous for its wolves- depicted here is a Grey Wolf spotted near the main entrance of the park.


There is abundant wildlife to be found in Denali National Park & Preserve, including bears, caribous, wolves, moose, and Dall sheep. Smaller animals coexist within the park as well, in fact the dark has 39 different species of mammal.  Caribou within the park travels as a heard as is currently the largest heard in North America that is not allowed to be hunted (provided they remain within the parks bounds). The parks wolves are some of the most studied animals within the park and the park is known for being one of the best places in the world to view wolves in the wild.

Human Settlement

The two primary settlements nearest Denali National Park & Preserve are Nenana Canyon and Talkeetna. Talkeetna is a railroad town whose name means “where rivers join” in the Athabascan language. It is also the base camp for climbers looking to summit Denali, taking a plane to the nearby Kahiltna Glacier before starting their trek. Nenana Canyon is on the opposite side of Denali and known for having a great variety of hotels, shopping, and rafting companies.