Category Archives: Denali National Park

The Sled Dogs of Denali National Park

By Linda Cole

Photo by NPS

Sled dogs have always had a place in the wilds of Alaska. Snowmobiles may have replaced dogs in Alaska for the most part, but mushing is still a good way to get around in winter, and it’s the only mode of transportation allowed in Denali National Park’s inner two million acres of designated wilderness. The National Park Service maintains their own kennel and still uses sled dogs to patrol the wilds of one of the most awe inspiring national parks we have. And this year, the Park Service has installed a puppy cam so we can watch their newest pups as they grow!

The word Denali means “the high one” and comes from the Athabascan Indian vocabulary, Alaska’s largest native inhabitants. Mt. McKinley, located in the park and known as Denali by Alaskan residents, is 20,320 feet above sea level and is the highest mountain peak in North America. Denali National Park, which includes a preserve, was set aside as a national park in 1917 in an effort to protect wildlife. The park covers 9,492 square miles – six million acres of awesome and stunning wild lands that draw visitors from all over the world.

Dog sleds have always been the most reliable way to travel the wilderness of Alaska. Charles Sheldon was a naturalist who studied Dall sheep around Denali during the 1907-1908 winter, and he hired a dog musher by the name of Harry Karstens as a guide. Sheldon was so impressed with the beauty of the land and wildlife, that when he returned to his home on the east coast he began lobbying Congress to establish the land as a national park and preserve. Because of his efforts, Mount McKinley National Park was established in 1917. In 1921, Harry Karstens was named the first park ranger and was tasked with the job of getting pouching under control. Karstens understood the important role dogs played in the wilds of Alaska, and he was the person who built the first kennel to make sure he had healthy and well-trained dogs he could depend on to effectively do his job.

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