a braided river flows across a plain with mountains in the background
Denali is a place where inhabitants and visitors alike enjoy the wild nature of the land.

NPS Photo

There are two kinds of wilderness inside the National Park system. The original two millions acres of Denali is designated wilderness. Designated wilderness has the highest level of protection offered by the Federal Government. The other four million acres added by the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act (ANILCA) is eligible wilderness. The National Park Service strives to manage eligible wilderness as if it were officially designated. This preserves the character of wilderness throughout the park.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 outlined five qualities of wilderness character, outlined below. Park staff created a Wilderness Character Narrative to describe the qualities specific to Denali. The narrative captures qualities that are essential to the park, but difficult to measure. This narrative serves as a guide for park staff in protecting Denali’s wilderness character. This character is what attracts Scientists, artists, and visitors from around the world to experience our unique land. These efforts help us fulfill our mission of leaving these lands preserved for future generations.

“The Denali Wilderness is a land of paradox. It is inviting and it is terrifying; accessible and remote. It is an essentially undeveloped wilderness with a road corridor through the middle that brings millions of people to its edge. It is untrammeled, yet managed. Some of the land within its boundaries is well known and studied, but much of it is full of mystery. It is a natural and intact ecosystem celebrated by scientists, writers, hunters, adventurers and artists alike.

As our world is beginning to experience dra­matic and widespread change, all wilderness is at a crossroads. Encroaching development and climate change threaten to dramatically alter these environments but also present a unique opportunity to preserve their excep­tional wilderness character and linkages to other conservation units in Alaska and Canada.”

Read the full Wilderness Character Narrative
2 caribou in the snow look towards the camera


Denali's wildlife and landscape exists free from the effects of modern civilization.

Fire burns through a spruce forest as smoke fills the air


Natural systems proceed without human intervention or manipulation.

the northern lights swirl through a night sky


Wilderness holds onto it's unique character without permanent human occupation.

two backpackers trek across a grassy valley

Solitude and Primitive Recreation

Wilderness provides outstanding opportunities for unconfined experiences of adventure, solitude and challenge.

fossilized theropod track in rock

Other Features of Value

Wilderness offers a variety of scientific, educational, scenic and historic resources.

a lynx jumps across a braided river channel

NPS Photo / Emily Mesner


The National Park Service's Wilderness Management Policies strive to keep our land “free from the effects of modern civilization.” Denali’s glaciers and rivers shape the landscape and a variety of plant and animals thrive in their natural habitats. Humans still use subsistence practices that have sustained them for generations. Despite our best efforts to protect the wilderness, climate change and pollution pose a threat to the natural systems at work. Life in Denali may change as glaciers melt, fire patterns change, and the climate shifts.

“Visitors to the Denali Wilderness have the opportunity to witness these plants, animals and birds in their natural habitats and in their natural states of abundance or rarity, depending on seasons and life cycles. The ready viewabil­ity of wildlife in Denali is an important result of ecological systems free from the effects of modern civilization.” Read the full Wilderness Character Narrative
wolverine tracks lead across a snowy plain towards mountains

NPS Photo / Jess Toubman


Denali strives to keep its wilderness untrammeled, or free from our intervention. Park managers generally do not interfere in the natural systems that make Denali unique. Fires burn across the landscape and rivers freely carve away valleys in the land. Predator-prey relationships adapt as they have for thousands of years. The untamed systems in Denali do face some challenges as time goes on. Calls for active management and research projects must be considered with this quality in mind.

“More threats to the untrammeled quality of the Denali Wilderness include poaching of wildlife – a rare occurrence – and the proliferation of research requests that call for the capturing and collaring of wildlife. Scientific value is an integral purpose of the area and the knowledge gained from these studies can help improve wilderness stewardship, but research must be bal­anced for its effects to the other qualities of wilderness character.” Read the full Wilderness Character Narrative
Fall leaves overlook a braided river channel with mountains in the background

NPS Photo


The Wilderness Act defines wilderness as an undeveloped area “without permanent improvements or human habitation.” Most of Denali’s development lies along the park road, and outside of the designated wilderness boundary. Despite this, human impacts still extend into the park. Managers must consider Denali’s undeveloped quality as the park evolves.

“Installations such as telecommunications equipment, weather stations, research stations and radio collars exist on Denali’s landscape with increased frequency. Managers are faced with the challenge of balancing their desire to answer scientific questions about the Denali Wilderness with their mandate of preserv­ing its wilderness character and its wildness. Increasing technological dependence and growing visitation could drive requests for more development and infrastructure within the Denali Wilderness.” Read the full Wilderness Character Narrative
a dog team pulls a sled and musher on a sunny day

NPS Photo / Jacob W. Frank

Solitude and Primitive Recreation

Adventurers from around the world come to Denali for the variety of opportunities the wilderness offers. Climbing peaks of the Alaska Range, enjoying day hikes, and running sled dogs are just a few examples of ways to experience the wild land of Denali. We refer to our Backcountry Management Plan to guide balancing recreation and protection of the wilderness.

“Denali’s wilderness is a year-round testing ground for human endurance, adaptability and spirit. As it was for 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century explorers, pioneers, miners and entrepreneurs, this landscape can be a cold, callous backdrop for personal challenge and discovery.” Read the full Wilderness Character Narrative
Female ranger holds a stone tool
NPS Photo

Charlotte Bodak

Other Features of Value

Denali’s wilderness has other tangible features of value. Scientific, historical, and cultural resources offer a window into the past. We search for prints left by dinosaurs that roamed the land. We piece together the lives of hunter-gatherers that crossed into North America 13,000 years ago. We remember the mining and settling stories of the past few centuries. The park carries on historical practices to honor and preserve the culture, traditions, and skills that have thrived in Denali.

“The Denali Wilderness preserves many features of scientific, paleontological, historical and cultural value. Here, the land contains memories. Imprints of time are recorded on the surface as stories and beneath the surface in layers of sediment and rock, layers of ice, and layers of cul­tural history.” Read the full Wilderness Character Narrative

Wilderness Stories

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    Wilderness Articles and Reports

    Source: Data Store Collection 3743. To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.

    Last updated: July 18, 2017

    Contact the Park

    Mailing Address:

    PO Box 9
    Denali Park, AK 99755


    (907) 683-9532

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