Meet the Huskies Who Call Denali Home

Among its many claims to fame (oh, you know, the tallest mountain in North America), Denali National Park is also exceptional in this fun way: It's home to the only working sled dog kennel in any U.S. national park.

More than a hundred years ago, a conservationist named Charles Sheldon traveled to Alaska to go exploring. It was the year he spent wandering in the area's vast backcountry with a sled dog team and local guide that inspired his successful efforts to create what became Denali National Park.

Harry Karstens, that local guide of Sheldon's, was the park's first ranger. He established a kennel with seven Alaskan huskies in 1921. Now more than 50 dogs strong, today Denali sled dog teams travel the six-million-acre park, haul scientific equipment and maintenance supplies, and monitor backcountry conditions for the safety of winter visitors.

Denali sled dogs circa 1936.

What’s a Sled Dog’s Life Like?

Run. Sleep. Play. Eat. Sounds pretty great, right?

Like all Alaskans, a Denali sled dog's life revolves around the seasons. They go to work in the winter (in Alaska that's as early as October) as the waterways freeze and the snow falls. Teams embark on long trips, hauling loads and patrolling the park for days at a time. Younger pups take their first training runs, learning to pull a skier as they build their skills and strength.

Come summer, the sleds are stashed and the kennel shifts into visitor season. When they're not greeting tourists, these tireless athletes go out on long daily walks with park volunteers. Or rather, they drag volunteers on walks...sled dogs aren't much for heeling. Come fall, the exercise kicks into high gear again as both rangers and dogs get back into shape for the long winter to come.

Sled dog kisses for a favorite Denali ranger.

How to Visit the Denali Sled Dogs

Denali, the mountain, is elusive at best. But these sled dogs? They're a sure bet. The kennel is generally open 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM daily in the summer. Visitors can come by anytime to walk through the dog yard, talk with rangers, and learn more about mushing in Denali. The kennel rangers and pups also put on special demonstrations during the peak summer season at 10 AM, 2 PM, and 4 PM.

Can’t Get Enough of Alaskan Sled Dogs?

Visitors can join a guided sled dog tour to meet young pups and learn about the famous Iditarod race from mushers who've successfully run the thousand-mile course. Check out the DogGoneIt Denali Kennel Tour.

Puppies and smiles on the DogGoneIt Kennel Tour.

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Posted in: Alaska Parks, Best Things to Do