Dog Sledding in Northern Minnesota

Winter 2018-41.jpg

Alex and I headed up north (basically Canada) to celebrate our 3 year anniversary at the end of December. We stayed in Ely, MN - a small town in the Boundary Water Canoe Area, a million acre area of wilderness in the Superior National Forest that holds over 1,000 lakes. In the summertime these lakes are a popular destination for canoe camping, but in the winter, the majority of the lakes are frozen and covered in snow. Which makes them perfect for ice fishing, cross country skiing, or in our case, dog sledding.

To celebrate our anniversary, we skipped on the gifts, and instead used that money to go dog sledding. Dog sledding has been on our bucket list ever since moving to Minnesota, and with only a few more months left in this state before we leave, I am happy that we were finally able to check off that item! We did our dog sledding adventure through Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge (which we highly recommend). We did one of their day trips, but they also offer multiple day lodge trips, camping trips, and even Arctic trips.

We only had 5 people in our group - a family of 3, Alex, and myself. After learning the Do’s and Don’ts of dog sledding we made our way down to the nearby frozen lake to meet our dogs. As we approached the lake, the dogs must have sensed it, because they began loudly hollowing non stop, eager for the next team of people to take them out.

All of the dogs are Canadian Inuit dogs, which is the oldest breed of domesticated canine dogs and the closest cousins to the timberwolves. Each “sled” had a team of dogs - all of which LOVED to be pet. We got to know each of our 5 dogs, because like all good dog sledders know, you need to know the names of your dogs. We had one dog names Whoopsy (not kidding, haha) and she was my favorite because she had a strong tendency to always be leaning to the left.

Once all of the teams were set up, one of our guides, Tristan, began cross country skiing in the lead. (For best results, the dogs need someone in front of them to follow). With a “Ready, hike!” our sled launched forward as the dogs started running, but then they settled down into a steady trot. We traveled across numerous frozen lakes, frozen marsh land, and through the forest.

There were a lot of things about dog sledding that came as a surprise to Alex and me, especially in learning that it is much more active than we thought. Which to be fair, they do warn you about that on their website, but when I read that I admittedly rolled my eyes wondering how standing on a sled was physically exerting. Boy was I wrong. Whenever going uphill (and I am talking about any kind of upward incline, no matter how small), our tour guides asked us to hop off and run alongside the sled and help the dogs pull the sled up. Whenever we weren’t on the wide open frozen lakes, we were on narrow trails with frequent sharp twists, which required us as the drivers to utilize core and arm strength to stay on. And of course, in order to keep our bodies warm during the easy, straight portions on the lake, we were told to run alongside the sled to get our blood flowing if need be. I have terrible circulation to my hands and feet in the cold, so I was running often. And let me tell you, when a thick layer of snow is involved with all of these activities, it adds another layer of difficulty.

But one of my favorite aspects about the adventure was the quiet (not counting the times the dogs were howling with each other because they were anxious to get going whenever we had stopped to regroup). Ever since our first winter adventure, the quietness of being out in the open, snow covered wilderness gives me so much peace and happiness. Once the dogs started going all we heard was the snow crunching beneath the dogs’ paws and our sled. With minimal auditory sensory input, it seemed as if that allowed our visual input to only heighten. The landscape that we explored was stunning. It was lightly snowing during the entire 3 hours we were out, which was so magical. And after a cloudy day all day, the clouds finally parted at sunset to show a beautiful sky. Overall, it was an experience that was even better than we could have imagined.