Combining this easy hike with the sled dog demonstration is a great way to spend half a day in Denali National Park.
Rock Creek Trail Guide
MAP: See the free map below. Trails Illustrated shows the whole park, but the free map at the park entrance is all you really need for this hike.
PERMITS: no permit needed, but there’s a $15 park entrance fee.
DESIGNATION: Denali National Park
BEST SEASONS: May through September
DISTANCE: 4.8 miles round trip
ELEVATION: visitor center 1,750ft – kennels 2,050ft – cumulative gain 400ft.
ACCESS: paved roads to the trailhead
DIRECTIONS: From the Park’s Visitor Center, the Rock Creek Trail is accessible via a half-mile mile hike up the Taiga Trail. You can ride the free shuttle bus back to the visitor center, return the way you came, or hike the Roadside Trail (2 miles one-way) to close a loop.
ROUTE: well maintained trail, signed junctions
GUIDEBOOK: Denali Guidebook has it all.
Here’s a schematic map showing the hiking trails in the general entrance area of Denali National Park, including the Rock Creek Trail and sled dog kennels. You can right-click on the image to view a larger version or download it.
The Rock Creek Trail is one of the few developed hiking trails in Denali National Park. At 2.4 miles (one way), it serves as an on-foot connection from the park’s Visitor Center to it’s popular sled dog kennels.
The trail generally follows the main park road, but trends about a half-mile to the north of it to avoid traffic noise. The best way to access the east end of the trail is via the Taiga Loop Trail from the Visitor Center.
The Sled Dog Demonstration
The culture of sled dogs and “mushing” is an interesting part of life in Alaska. The National Park Service in Denali has a kennel of sled dogs that they use for patrols and hauling supplies in the Park throughout the winter.
Motorized vehicles aren’t allowed in the wilderness areas, so the dogs give the rangers a solid, low impact means of transportation while simultaneously maintaining the culture and history of Alaska.
Every day throughout the summer season, park rangers give an interpretive talk about their sled dogs, followed by a demonstration at their kennel in the Park.
The rangers give a talk about the dogs, how they use them, their unique physical capabilities, their social structure, and other fun facts.
Then they hook them up to a sled, and the dogs pull it around a nearby loop trail. The best part of these shows is immediately before the dogs get hooked up to the sled. They all want to be picked to be on the day’s team, so dozens of dogs suddenly come to life, barking and crying and carrying on.
If you don’t have your own vehicle, it’s necessary to ride a dedicated park shuttle to the kennel. There’s also the option of walking the Rock Creek Trail to get there (Described above).
Earlier in season I’d also seen local Iditarod champion Jeff King’s talk at the nearby Husky Homestead. If you’re especially interested in the seeing more about dog mushing in Alaska, I highly recommend stopping by there, too.
My Trip Notes and Photos
September 8, 2014 was my last day off of work before leaving Alaska for the season. I had enough time, it was a gorgeous day, the foliage was at its peak, and I hadn’t yet done the Rock Creek Trail, so this day was a no-brainer.
Here’s the rest of the photos.