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. Email the kennels or call (907) 683-9586 for current conditions on the spring trail or elsewhere in the park. However, please keep in mind that from December until April, the park teams are often on patrol in the park, and we may be unable to give immediate advice on conditions.
Visitors who wish to explore Denali by dog team, but lack their own dogs should consider booking a trip with a guide. Two businesses are permitted to run guided mushing trips into Denali National Park and Preserve.
For single or multi-day trips:
Denali Dog Sled Expeditions
P.O. Box 89
Healy, AK 99743
Denali West Lodge
Tonya and Carol Schlentner
P.O. Box 40 AC
Lake Minchumina, AK 99757