Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in North America at 20, 320 feet, is at the heart of Denali National Park and Preserve. Towering 18,000 feet above the neighboring lowlands, the mountain, otherwise known as Denali, an Athabaskan Indian name meaning the "The High One", rivals the vertical relief of the world's greatest mountains. Mt. McKinley is possibly the highest granitic pluton in the world, which is undergoing continual tectonic uplift. The majority of the rest of the mountains and rocks in the park are sedimentary, a testament to the millions of years that central Alaska was an open seaway.
A major fault system, known as the Denali Fault runs in an arc through the Alaska Range and is the source of thousands of earthquakes that rumble through the area each year. These earthquakes, although frequent in number, generally go unnoticed by humans due to their remote location.
The surrounding peaks of the 600-mile long Alaska Range are no less impressive than McKinley itself, and provide the scenic backdrop to the six million acres of pristine wilderness that make up Denali National Park. From the Alaska Range's perpetually snow covered flanks glaciers flow radially, spilling out of the mountains like ribbons of ice. Descending down from the realm of rock, snow and ice, you encounter open tundra expanses dotted with small lakes and ponds, remnants of a glacier covered landscape. Large turbid glacial rivers, run in wide, braided floodplains with clear water streams flowing in from lower tundra covered hills north to the Yukon River or south to the Susitna River. At lower elevations in the park the boreal forest, a mixed spruce forest with aspen and birch, winds its way up into valleys and along river corridors. The interior mountains support complex and diverse habitats resulting from variation in elevation, geology, slope, and exposure.