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.
For late fall and early winter, you have two places to easily tie off your dog teams:
- 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.
- 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.
In the late winter, plowing begins on the park road. Once the road is open to Mountain Vista, Mile 12.5, you are welcome to drive there and park just beyond the rest area to start a trip. Consult the conditions map lower on this page, or download a printer-friendly map of the Mountain Vista area.
At Mountain Vista, there is one tie-off spot (three large cement blocks), and you have two options for starting a trip. We strongly recommend you take 15 or 30 minutes to check out the two possible routes and assess your comfort with conditions.
- Head down the park road - If there's enough snow, start straight down the park road and look for an access trail off to the left (south), a short way after the entrance to Savage Campground.
- Turn into Savage Campground - If the road has no snow, consider turning immediately into Savage Campground. Follow the main campground road south and exit the campground heading west.
Also, you must acquire a backcountry camping permit if you wish to spend one or more nights in the wilderness.
Trail Conditions & Maps
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:
- Yellow: Indicates a route our teams have traveled recently (in the past two weeks). Only minor hazards or difficulties should be expected.
- Orange: Also a route our teams traveled recently, but with more significant hazards or challenges
- Red: Either a route we have not traveled recently, or a route with extremely difficult hazards or challenges.
- Download the trail routes: KML trail routes (for use in programs like Google Earth) | GPX trail routes (for use in a GPS device)
(Note: These files are general routes; there is no current status information associated with them, and the actual trail you find in the park may deviate slightly in course and location).
- You might prefer to download a print-friendly winter trails map