Discover Just How Tall Mount McKinley Really Is

Alpen glow on Denali at sunrise
© Elizabeth M. Ruggiero/iStock via Getty Images

Written by Rob Amend

Published: December 6, 2023

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North America is home to one of the three tallest mountains in the world. Asia has Everest, which is 29,031.7 feet tall. South America has the 22,837-foot-tall Aconcagua. North America has Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, which stands 20,310 feet3.84 miles—tall.

Mount McKinley

Denali (also known as Mount McKinley) - Alaska - USA

Just how tall is Mount McKinley?

©SteveAllenPhoto/iStock via Getty Images

Mount McKinley, now known as Denali, is part of the Alaska Range of mountains. It is located in Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. The Alaska Range is in the North American section of the American Cordillera. A cordillera is a system of mountain ranges. The American Cordillera runs from Alaska along the western portion of the Americas to Antarctica. The mountain is west of Anchorage and sits over the Denali Fault. This fault runs in an arc from British Columbia to central Alaska.

Denali is a Koyukon word meaning “tall.” When Russia claimed the territory, it was known as Bolshaya Gora, or “big mountain,” a Russian translation of Denali. It wasn’t until 1896 that a gold prospector dubbed the mountain McKinley, naming it after the future President William McKinley. It was made official in 1917 upon President Wilson signing the Mount McKinley National Park Act.

How Does Mount McKinley Compare With Other Mountains?

Denali is the largest of Alaska’s mountains.

©Dara J/Shutterstock.com

Mountains in Alaska

Most of the tallest mountains in the United States are in Alaska. The five tallest mountains are found in three ranges: the Alaska Range (which has Denali), the Saint Elias Mountains, and the Wrangell Mountains.

Mountain PeakRangeElevation
DenaliAlaska Range20,310 feet
Mount Saint EliasSaint Elias Mountains18,009 feet
Mount ForakerAlaska Range17,400 feet
Mount BonaSaint Elias Mountains16,550 feet
Mount BlackburnWrangell Mountains16,390 feet

Others in the U.S.

Throughout the U.S., the tallest mountains are in the west. Below is a comparison of Denali with the tallest mountains in four other states: California, Colorado, Washington, and Wyoming. As you can see, the second through fifth tallest Alaskan mountains are still taller than any of the mountains in the lower 48.

Mountain PeakStateMountain RangeElevation
DenaliAlaskaAlaska Range20,310 feet
Mount WhitneyCaliforniaSierra Nevada14,505 feet
Mount ElbertColoradoSawatch Range14,440 feet
Mount RainierWashingtonCascade Range14,417 feet
Gannett PeakWyomingWind River Range13,809 feet

Wildlife You May Encounter on Mount McKinley

Dall's sheep, Alaska

Dall’s sheep live on the sides of Denali.

©iStock.com/mlharing

On the slopes and near the peak of Mount McKinley, you may find mammals such as Dall’s sheep, thinhorn sheep, moose, and caribou. Predators include the brown bear, grizzly bear, red fox, coyote, and gray wolf. Other mammals include American beavers, red squirrels, arctic ground squirrels, collared pikas, muskrats, hoary marmots, and North American porcupines.

Birds that roost in the trees and soar the skies over Mount McKinley include bald eagles, willow ptarmigans, rock ptarmigans, spruce grouse, Wilson’s warblers, Canada jays, and Savannah sparrows.

Wood frogs live near the foothills of the mountain, but the climate is not exactly hospitable to reptiles and amphibians.


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About the Author

Rob Amend is a writer at A-Z Animals, primarily covering meteorology, geology, geography, and animal oddities. He attained a Master's Degree in Library Science in 2000 and served as reference librarian in an urban public library for 22 years. Rob lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and enjoys spending time with his family, hiking, photography, woodworking, listening to classic rock, and watching classic films—his favorite animal is a six-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey.

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