Denali visitors can most closely approach the spirit of the park in Alaska on the back of a sled, behind a team of dogs. On a good day trails can be well established, and dogs may cover 30 miles or more while the musher mostly stands on the sled runners. On days after or during a snowstorm, the trails may be completely obliterated, and mushers move out ahead of the team to break trail.
The National Park Service maintains a sled dog kennel at Denali, and rangers continue the tradition of dog team patrols that begun by the first rangers in the 1920s.
Where to Start Your Adventure
You're welcome to recreate with your own sled dogs in the park. Travel is easiest along the trails already put in by rangers, but you may set your own path if you wish.
You have two places to easily tie off your dog teams:
1. Headquarters -- At Mile 3.1, you'll find a flagpole and parking lot, with a gate barring vehicle access beyond that point. You can drop dogs at your vehicle and take off through the opening in the gate, or tie to the gate itself and take off from there. This is great for day trips.
2. The Kennels -- Just beyond the Headquarters flagpole and parking lot, a side road winds downhill to the kennels area. Tie offs are available for dog teams and you'll find a short connecting trail that leads either back up to the main road, or to our Spring Trail, which runs parallel to the park road, but through the woods downhill of it. This starting point is best for long trips, or for accessing the Spring Trail once we begin plowing the park road in mid-winter.
Also, you must acquire a backcountry camping permit if you wish to spend one or more nights in the wilderness.
Snow can fall any time from September onward, but conditions are often poor until mid-November or even early December.
The main trail is largely on, or near, the Denali Park Road. Typically, the eastbound lane of the road is packed with a six inch base of snow, while the westbound late is left soft and un-groomed. Often, you'll find ski tracks in the powder of the westbound lane.
Generally, there isn't enough snow to use the Spring Trail until later in winter. Use extreme caution on this trail - it is never wide enough for dog teams to pass head-on, and is heavily forested. Ice domes and sections of exposed rock can also occur.
In the map below, red trails are either extremely challenging or haven't been traveled recently and conditions are unknown. Orange trails are difficult, but have been traveled recently. Yellow trails are the best, but keep in mind that here, even the best trails are still moderately difficult since nothing is machine-groomed, and since our snow depth can be highly variable.