Caribou of Denali National Park

Caribou, Denali NP, Alaska

The great state of Alaska boasts a healthy population of caribou. During a visit to Denali National Park in central Alaska, we saw caribou several times.


A large ruminant mammal in the deer family, Rangifer tarandus are the North American species; they occupy a substantial range in Alaska and Canada (see maps below).


Denali NP, Alaska

Equipped with large antlers for shoveling snow and specialized nasal passages that warm incoming frigid air, this mammal lives in the coldest areas of North America.


Upon first setting eyes on the caribou, it is the antlers that command your attention–an impressive rack. The caribou shed the rack very year, so the Denali Visitor Center had discarded racks out for viewing; they were so heavy I could barely pick up one by myself.


In this species, unlike all the other mammals in the deer family, both genders grow antlers.


Other interesting facts about the Denali caribou:

  • Their color varies, the coat changing with the seasons
  • Their coat consists of two layers, for thorough insulation
  • Size: 4′ tall at shoulder (1.22 m); 8′ in length (2.5 m)
  • Weight: Bulls 350-400 lbs (159-182 kg); Cows 175-225 lbs (80-120 kg)
  • They migrate in large herds, usually through adverse conditions


Denali NP


Denali herd info here


Wikipedia overview here. 


We occasionally came upon them while hiking, and although their size is intimidating, the caribou are gentle animals. We let them graze, and they let us marvel at their beauty and strength.


Some caribou subspecies have gone extinct or are diminishing for various reasons. In America, for example, it is very rare to see a caribou unless you go to Alaska.


According to Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game, there are 32 herds in Alaska/Canada, estimating 950,000 individuals.


In Denali National Park, the 2013 census count recorded 2,230 caribou. In the park they are, in general, protected.


Other parts of Alaska, however, allow regulated hunting and harvesting of caribou.

Denali Alaska

While caribou live in many parts of the world, we call them different names depending on where one lives. In the U.S., this mammal is called a caribou; unless they are domesticated, in which case they are called reindeer. In Europe, caribou are called reindeer.


Whatever you call them, they are a strikingly beautiful mammal with a hardy lifestyle and elegant antlers.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander

North America Caribou Range Map, courtesy Feldhamer, Thompson, Chapman; Wild Mammals of North America


World Caribou/Reindeer Range Map, Courtesy Wikipedia


71 thoughts on “Caribou of Denali National Park

    • Thank you, Ingrid. Denali often requires hard-sided vehicles to overnight visitors in the back-country; when we were there it was due to wolves. So we rented an RV in Anchorage. That’s your expertise, and we were not nearly as well-oiled at it, but it was really a lot of fun. Many thanks for your visit and comment, always appreciated. 🙂

  1. wow! i didn’t know that their antlers shed and regrow each year, Jet! thanks for another informative post. i think the caribou look stately with their antlers. they are beautiful animals! stunning pictures as always. happy july 4th weekend! 🙂

  2. Well, I never actually realised a caribou was the same as a reindeer. I have come across domesticated reindeer, in Finland and also at Christmas time in our local towns! But it would be wonderful to see them in the wild.

    • It is breath-taking to come upon the caribou in the wild. They’re so very large when you’re on foot and miles away from other people. Truly awesome. I liked hearing about your reindeer, Andrea. My thanks~~

    • Wonderful comment, Teagan, I appreciate it. I like virtual vacations too, because the world’s just so big and incredibly beautiful, we cannot possibly see it all in person. Hugs to you, too, my friend~~

  3. Beautiful post Jet&Athena, as always! When visiting Nova Scotia(Canada), I learnt that caribou was extincted years ago in the province due to some unfortunate reason. Hopefully there is still enough caribou population around the world🙂

    • Caribou are not thriving in populations like they did eons ago, but fortunately we still have them roaming freely on this earth. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Christie, thank you for stopping by.

  4. Thank you Jet, for sharing information and pictures of caribou in its nature. When we were in Jasper NP last week, there were many signs warning about caribou crossing the roads. We saw not a single caribou for the 10 days we were there. Your post is very timely. Now I can worry about the moose.

    • Hi Keng, this does sound timely for your adventure, I always like hearing about your adventures. When we were in Yellowstone we saw disappointingly few large mammals, and I think it had to do with the enormous amount of people swarming all over the park. Human mammals in that great quantity probably drive the residents deep into their hiding spaces. I have not been to Jasper, so this may not be the case there. I hope you see a moose and caribou and bear and all our furry friends. Have fun!

  5. They are strikingly beautiful animals! Denali NP is also strikingly beautiful as depicted in Athena’s photographs. What an adventure to hike there and see the caribou as they should be.
    Thanks for another wonderful post, and have a wonderful weekend!

    • In Denali, visitors are required to take “the green bus” to explore, a park shuttle. They drop you off anywhere, and we were completely alone out in the middle of these mountains. That doesn’t happen too often. But oh, the wildness and the beauty was astounding. What a pleasure it is to share this with you, pc, I always appreciate your attentive visits and kind words. Americans are celebrating their independence holiday this week, including us. I’m making cupcakes for a dinner event and putting little toothpicks with American flags in each cake. Kinda funny. Cheers, and my best wishes to you and Mrs. pc. I have the feeling this week your school is finally out — I hope so.

  6. I’m sure they’re very useful however I wouldn’t want to carry around those antlers every day! Denali is kind of like Shasta, isn’t it? Kind of a mystical looking place.

    • I can see you set your writer’s imagination onto what it must be like to carry heavy antlers around all day every day. whew! I’m with you, Jan. I love Mount Shasta, majestic and immense. But Denali is like one hundred Shastas. My best to you for a Happy Fourth, Jan~~

  7. Thank you for this lovely post on these delightful critters. I think I just managed to get my “like” button back! (Which posts your post over there in the right column! Yay!!!), but now I really need to get back to packing, sorting, cleaning, weeding…. all that sort of stuff!

    Still… the break here was a good refresher! 😀

  8. I’ve seen them in Alaska and Canada when I was younger. They’re pretty cool. They say we have a few hangers on in the Idaho Panhandle, but I’ve never been able to see one here.

    • I saw on the range map they’re supposed to be in the Idaho panhandle, and wondered about that. I like knowing you’ve been there but haven’t seen them there, though I wish you had. Am really glad you have had the chance to run into these beauties elsewhere in the wild, Craig.

  9. Great post Jet! These are good looking animals, I haven’t been to Alaska nor have seen a caribou in person. Thank you for the info my friend. 🙂

  10. Oh my!!!! What a beautiful post. The photos are stunning especially the first one!! The antlers are so dramatic! And they have their own built in snow shovelers… who knew? Love that they can warm the air that comes into their nostrils… thank you Jet for a beautiful and interesting and informative post !

    • Thanks so much, Peta, for this lovely comment. I really like that first photo, too; you can see the “velvet” layer on the antlers and the immensity of those handy but heavy antlers. Always a treat to hear from you~~

  11. Your words and Athena’s photos certainly captured the beauty of these animals and Alaska! How amazing it must have been to hike in this area and come across the caribou or their antlers (I loved that photo). Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Denali is the most open place I have ever hiked–endless landscape on all sides, and it was indeed an enormous experience. I’m happy to share it with you, ACI, and appreciate your warm comments. Happy Fourth to you–

  12. Jet you teach us something new in every post. I just asked Dave if he knew Caribou antlers are shaped so as to be able to shovel snow? Neither one of us knew that. What incredible photos! The lead one looks straight out of Nat Geo. such beautiful country. What an experience and thank you for sharing it with us!

    • I was a teacher for many years and I enjoy sharing information. It’s interesting to root through the masses of facts and come out with memorable gems, so hearing that I reached the right facts and you both have a new understanding of caribou antlers is a treat, Sue. Always a joy, my friend.

  13. Very sad by this information why the caribou decreases their population 😦
    Too bad if they exist there is no more. Your post is very important to us. Thank you Jet. Amazing photos, credit to Alexander.

  14. Interesting post. Esp enjoyed seeing the map and where the different species are located. And impressive photos, as usual! Amazing photo of Denali w/out the usual cloud covering!

    • Wonderful to know you enjoyed the caribou post, Nan. You know the challenges of Denali and its own weather pattern, and the difficulty of seeing the mountain as a result. Yes, we felt very fortunate to have had several days in our week there, of actually seeing the mountains. Many thanks!

  15. I had no idea they would be that docile as long as you leave them alone…what an incredible experience…as always…very informative and great pics! Add that to my list of travel spots…Thanks Jet!

    • What a pleasure to share the beauties of Denali with you, Kirt. Visiting Alaska has its challenges, because it is cold there most of the year. For the same reason, the state is very remote, and growing foods and other relatively simple services are a challenge; so food and lodging are very expensive. And with only three basic months for attracting tourists, there is a tendency to over-charge tourists. You have to really want to visit Alaska, and we did, and we were delighted. I am sure you would enjoy it. Always a joy, my friend, thank you~~

    • Nor I, Jo, but then I/we cannot imagine killing living beings. Thanks so much for your visit, I always enjoy your feedback and warmth; and I love going to your site to see what great walk “we’re” going on next. 🙂

  16. Fantastic post, Jet!! Incredible pictures! And those racks! OMG! Truly magnificent as are the caribou. Alaska is one place I will probably never personally see so I really thank you for this post!! Have a great day! 💝

    • Yes, they are indeed an impressive animal; I’m happy this post reminded you of your Denali adventures. I remember your posts of your Alaska trip, you and your husband saw and did so much. 🙂

  17. I love your caribou photos and enjoyed learning more about them in your post. When we visited Denali a few years ago we never got to see them up close. Thanks for giving me a few up close views of them.

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