The Unique History of the Denali Puppy Cam Sensations

Katherine RivardNPF Blog
Jacob W Frank/NPS

Anyone who has enjoyed its heartwarming puppy cam from afar or visited the Alaskan gem in person can confirm that Denali National Park & Preserve’s iconic mushing dogs are some of the most endearing inhabitants in our national parks. Bouncing with energy, fur thick and grins stretching across their faces, the dogs attract interest from near and far. But these aren’t your average dogs...

The History of Sled Dogs in Your Parks

A sled dog with snow on its face and its tongue partially out at Denali National Park & Preserve
Daniel A Leifheit/NPS

Denali National Park & Preserve is home to the only working sled dog kennel in the National Park System. The kennel was established in 1922 and gained greater importance after the 1964 Wilderness Act. This act set aside land where no permanent roads may be built, nor any motorized equipment or mechanized transport may visit. Therefore, in protected wilderness areas, the traditional mushing teams provide a natural and historical way for rangers to travel.

Not Your Average Dogs

A team of sled dogs pulling a sled running around a curve at Denali National Park & Preserve
Tim Rains/NPS

These freight-style dogs are playful and strong — born and bred to mush. Each year, two dogs are chosen to parent the next batch of pups, replacing those that will retire (the dogs retire after 9 years of service, at which time they are given up for adoption). Rangers monitor the performance of the dogs year-round to select the parents of the next batch of pups. They look for characteristics like confidence, friendliness, leadership, thick fur, and more.

Puppies with Purpose

A sled dog and a puppy sled dog cuddling and sleeping at Denali National Park and Preserve
National Park Service

The gestation period lasts between 60-65 days, and then… puppies are born! A litter can be between 1 and 16 pups, though the park only keeps 3-4 pups. The remaining puppies will eventually be adopted by other sled dog kennels, where their breeding can be used to keep the dogs working and happy. Each pup is given a short name, which is usually related to Alaska or Denali. The names are selected by retiring park rangers of the year, so that they might continue to have a presence in the park.

The pups are born without any sight or hearing, making them completely reliant upon their mom for the first couple of weeks. Once they’re ready, rangers slowly start working with the puppies, giving them “stress” tests to help prepare them for their future job. These tests include holding them upright, spreading their toes, and other simple movements. Once they’re a bit older, they’ll begin going for short runs and long walks to help get them into shape.

More Than Pets

A group of sled dogs walking through deep snow at Denali National Park & Preserve
National Park Service

Rangers travel with their pack throughout the winter, patrolling poachers and helping with scientific research in remote areas of the park. They also help with heavy hauling projects: transporting equipment, assisting mountaineering rangers as the need arises, and assisting with trail crew maintenance. Some of these projects involve multi-day journeys to leave the land better preserved than it previously was, like this project in the May Lake Wilderness Area which removed 7 corroding oil barrels left by the Department of Defense over 65 years ago.

Visiting the Dogs

A sled dog demo with a ranger holding a sled dog on a leash in front of an audience at Denali National Park & Preserve
Claire Abendroth/NPS

Each summer, approximately 50,000 visitors come to the park’s kennels to learn more about the dogs. The park welcomes visitors to the historic kennels throughout the year, though the dogs are usually busy travelling throughout the park’s 6 million acres during the winter months. For a chance to spend time with the pups, visit in the warmer months. A free shuttle at the main visitor center will transport you to the kennels. Be sure to board at least 40 minutes before a scheduled demonstration. Otherwise, you can drive or hike the 1.5 miles to the kennels. Just remember not to bring any pets!

Born and bred to thrive in the Alaskan climate, these sled dogs are unique in their complete devotion to their jobs – excited and up for challenge each day brings, whether that means travelling miles through Alaska’s snowy tundra in the dead of winter, or welcoming hundreds of visitors to their home at the kennel in the summer. Even the staunchest of cat people will feel their hearts melt as they meet these playful work dogs. Get to know some of the dogs online, then #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque in person to pet them in person!

Comments

My family and I will be visiting Denali May 13-14 and would like to be able to go to the kennels. We all have Sr. Citizen passes to the National Parks. Are there set times that we will be allowed to visit with them? Extra charge? Shuttle times?
Juani
Kelly

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