Dog sledding is an ancient art, first developed by indigenous people in North America and the Arctic as a way to travel and survive in brutal winter conditions. Jack London’s tales of the Alaskan frontier put the mushers, and more so the dogs, in the forefront of the American imagination. And The Last Frontier’s famed Iditarod, that epic mid-winter trek from Anchorage to Nome, continues the tradition of Alaskan dog sled racing and pits humans and dogs against other teams and the whims of nature.
But dog sledding does not have to be extreme. At its most basic, it’s a family friendly winter activity that reconnects kids with nature and creates a powerful bond between people and our ancient canine companions. And it’s easier to access than you think. To that end, we give you five operations across the U.S. where you and your family can experience mushing — and maybe even try it — on trips short and long. The following guides not only offer safe, fun trips, but they also have proved that they care about and for the animals who do the work.
1. YMCA of the Rockies, Snow Mountain Ranch — Winter Park, Colorado
Tucked deep in the heart of Colorado’s high country, Snow Mountain Ranch property of the YMCA of the Rockies is an all-inclusive winter playground for families. Not only does it offer 120 K of groomed cross-country skiing (as well as rentals, lessons, and races for all ability levels), arts and crafts, indoor archery, a pool, and a full dining hall — it’s also one of the easiest places to experience a dog sled ride. Near Winter Park Resort and less than two hours from Denver, the facility gives you a taste of what it feels like to ride behind a team of Siberian huskies with quick 15-minute and 30-minute ride options. Or the kids can just come by and see the dogs and talk to the mushers.
2. Nature’s Kennel Dog Sled Adventures — McMillan, Michigan
The Wolverine State’s Upper Peninsula is one of the few spots in the Lower 48 the has the rugged feel of Alaska — both in the raw, isolated landscape and in the gumption of the people. So it’s no surprise to find dedicated mushers here. But don’t think its too much for the family, the crew at Nature’s Kennel Dog Sled Adventures specializes in family excursions with 10-mile trips that are sure to ignite the imaginations of kids of any age. Better still, kids over the age of 10 can hop on the overnight trip. Not only do the dogs run the family out to a backcountry yurt for the night, but each participant also gets to spend time with and learn to care for one of the dogs on the team. Bonus: If you really like the dogs, Nature’s Kennel also offers up retired sled dogs for adoption.
3. Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours — Jackson, Wyoming
Frank Teasley has competed eight times in the legendary Iditarod and he’s passionate about sharing the thrill and love of dog sledding. The deep reaches of the Bridger-Teton National forest, part of the massive Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where he operates his tours through Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours approximate the wildness of Alaska — without the commitment and danger, making this an ideal place for families to experience a ride with the huskies. A full day trip gives you the chance to see plenty of wildlife and soak in the developed pool at Granite Hot Springs, which is only accessible by snowmobile, fat bikes, or dogsled in the winter.
4. Muddy Paw Dog Sled Kennel — Jefferson, New Hampshire
Muddy Paw is a place where the care of the pups is wrapped into the mission of getting families out on sled rides. The place houses more than 60 dogs, some of which are bred here to work the sleds and others that have been rescued. The kennel tours give kids (and grown ups) the chance to bond with and learn about the animals and can be perfect for children who aren’t quite ready for a sled excursion. Furthermore, this is the home of the nonprofit New Hampshire Dog Sled Rescue, History and Education Center, where you can learn more about both the animals and the long tradition of the sport in the Granite State. When you are ready to get out on a ride the facility offers up 90-minute and three hour trips and gives guests over 12 years old the opportunity to take classes to learn how to mush — an incredible opportunity to help a tween build self confidence and comfort in the wild. When summer rolls around, the kennel continues to run trips on dry land with wheeled sleds.
5. Alpine Air Alaska — Girdwood, Alaska
Obviously, Alaska, home of the famed Iditarod and so many Jack London adventure stories, is an ideal spot to go for a ride and learn something about the sport of dog sledding. Though not all families can afford to make the trip or want to risk getting out in a bitter Alaskan winter. So come in the summer. Alpine Air Alaska, in the resort town of Girdwood about 45 miles from Anchorage, adds a special twist. You fly in on a helicopter to meet the sled team on the glacier above the ski resort where conditions are ideal for sledding when the snow has melted down below. From up here, you get the chance to bond with the dogs before heading out on an adventure with the option to learn how to lead the team or just sit back and enjoy the ride. This is the epicenter of dog sledding so of course all the guides have a solid pedigree, trained by three-time Iditarod champ Mitch Seavey who trains on the glacier in the summer.