Erin Gifford is a mother of four who writes about family travel at Kidventurous. She was recently a guest of Travel Michigan to explore Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and loved every minute of dog sledding, snowshoeing, snow biking and snowmobiling. However, all opinions expressed here are her own.
I’d never been dog sledding before I recently traveled to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In fact, I’d never even been to Michigan and certainly had no idea you could go dog sledding anywhere outside of maybe Alaska. I also didn’t know that kids as young as 10 could mush (i.e., drive) a dog sled. I had so much to learn from the moment my flight touched down in Sault Ste Marie to wheels up out of Marquette.
From Michigan to Colorado to Pennsylvania, dog sledding tours are a popular family activity when snow is on the ground. And really, you can only ski so many days in a row. So, let me tell you a little more about my recent experience, as well as three ways you and your kids can enjoy dog sledding.
1. Drive a Dog Sled: I still can’t believe it, but I mushed a dog sled. Mind you, I had an experienced guide driving a dog sled in front of me, but I had my own sled and my own team of eight dogs when I went dog sledding at Nature’s Kennel in McMillan, MI.
I was nervous at first, but it was fairly simple. Step up on the footboards when you’re ready to go. Step on the claw brake when you want to slow down (you can also call out “woah,” but since I had a guide in front of me, my dogs stopped when the sled in front of me came to a halt). Put in the snow hook when you need to stop to get off the sled (it’s kind of like a parking brake).
As I note above, kids as young as 10 can drive the dog sled if they want to do so and have enough weight to be able to slow the dogs with the claw brake. It’s truly an experience of a lifetime and one that older kids will thoroughly enjoy, but even if you only ride in the sled, it’s still worth the trip to a kennel.
2. Ride a Dog Sled: When we went to Nature’s Kennel, my new friend Nate of World Wide Nate drove the dog sled the first half of the course and I got to drive on the way back. So, I got to ride in the sled with the guide for 30-45 minutes to first experience dog sledding from that vantage point. I enjoyed being able to take it all in first as a rider before taking my turn at the helm of the sled. Here’s a short video clip of my view from the sled as I was tucked in under my warm blanket.
As a rider, you have the opportunity to ask the guide all about dog sledding and the dogs. It was interesting to learn how they choose which dogs to go on a team and how they name the dogs. At Nature’s Kennel, they keep it simple by naming all dogs in a litter along a theme, like candy bars, so look for sled dogs in this family named Snickers, Skor, Twix and Heath.
3. Spectate at a Sled Dog Race: While in Michigan, we traveled to Marquette for the annual UP200, a 200-mile sled dog race. The race started in town at 7 pm on Friday, February 14 and the winners rolled back into town mid-day on Sunday, February 16. I was there at the starting line to watch the 13 race teams take off into the wilderness and it was hard to tell who was more excited, the people who came out for the race or the dogs (definitely the dogs; they were seriously pumped).
About an hour later, the Midnight Run started as mushers, each with eight sled dogs, took off on a 90-mile race. As luck would have it, we went snow biking the next day through the finish line and saw the winner come in at around 10:30 am. It was neck-and-neck between the first and second place finishers. That rarely happens, so it was extra exciting. After the race, I chatted with the winner’s girlfriend. She couldn’t have been more excited for her boyfriend to win the event.
Dog sledding is an amazing adventure and I truly enjoyed driving, riding and then spectating at a sled dog race. It’s a unique experience that your family will enjoy and talk about for some time to come.