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Denali's canine rangers connect the past to the present. Sled dogs and rangers continue to work together to protect the wilderness of the park as they have since the 1920s.
The Denali National Park Kennels harnesses the spirit of sled dogs to forge lasting bonds between people and wild places.
In a modern world filled with high tech solutions for "everything", it can be hard to comprehend why we would still actively choose to use traditional dog team travel rather than any of the modern alternatives. In fact, there are many reasons to choose sled dogs.
The history of sled dogs in Denali National Park reaches back over 100 years, to 1922. While 100 years is a long time, in Alaska, sled dogs have been a part of the landscape for many more hundreds of years. Prior to the introduction of mechanized transport, almost every family had a few sled dogs that served as transportation for trapping, trading, and traveling to neighboring villages. Native Alaskans hold generations of knowledge and stories that have contributed to the National Park Service's use of safely and effectively managing sled dogs in Denali's Wilderness.
Our first Superintendent, Harry Karstens, purchased the park's first seven sled dogs for patrolling the newly established park boundaries. The park has maintained working dog teams ever since. Their job has evolved over time and while they are no longer patrolling for poachers, they are still performing essential and inspiring work in protecting and preserving the unique character of Denali.
The dogs, and the kennels where they live, represent important pieces of the American story. These are the only sled dogs in the United States that help protect a national park and the wildlife, scenery, and wilderness therein, and it has been this way since the birth of the park.
Sled dogs have hearts and brains that machines such as snowmobiles and airplanes do not. Every kennels ranger has a story of wise lead dogs helping them navigate to a patrol cabin in a white out or to avoid dangerous ice obscured under snow. The dogs know this landscape well and they can provide invaluable wisdom that machines cannot. While a team of sled dogs is obviously far slower than an airplane or a snowmobile, they are arguably more reliable to operate in the extreme conditions of a sub-arctic winter.
Similar to summer’s backcountry rangers, kennels rangers on dogsleds contact winter recreationists and provide information on trail conditions, offer assistance, and monitor use in a low-impact style that preserves the wilderness spirit essential to Denali. The mushing routes made during winter field operations are used by winter recreationists who want to explore Denali on skis, snowshoes, or with their own dog team. When most of the park road is closed in winter and vehicle access to the park becomes limited, traveling on these winter mushing routes becomes one of the best ways to experience the vast backcountry of Denali.
Federally Designated Wilderness
There are over 2 million acres of designated Wilderness in Denali. This is the highest level of federal protection for public lands and the sled dogs of Denali play a huge role in protecting and preserving the unique wilderness character of this park. Learn more about the connection between our sled dogs and designated Wilderness.
All About Denali's Dogs
Last updated: March 28, 2023