MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Need info on dog sledding

I need info on dog sledding, please, and also info on where to stay. Thank you. - Kathy, Oviedo, Fla.

In the winter, mushing your own sled-dog team is pretty much the most fun you can have. You have to be in decent shape, since you're expected to jump off the sled and run up hills, rather than make the dogs pull you.

If you're not in great shape, you can also ride in the sled's basket, or take turns mushing the team. And most programs also teach you how to harness and care for the dogs.

However, mushing your own team with an outfitter is expensive. If you're on a budget, check out the following non-profit environmental-learning centers, which offer all-inclusive weekends that include mushing.

Treehaven, operated by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the woods between Tomahawk and Rhinelander, offers Introduction to Dog Sledding Jan. 8-10; mush your own team and learn from veteran mushers. Cost is $155.

On Minnesota’s Iron Range just north of Virginia, Laurentian Environmental Center offers a Dog Mushing weekend Feb. 13-15 that includes skiing, snowshoeing and skijoring. Cost is $250.

The fine non-profit outfitter Wilderness Inquiry, based in Minneapolis, runs dog-sled/ski trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, some just for women and all open to people with disabilities. A three-night trip is $395. 800-728-0719.

The northern Minnesota town of Ely, four hours north of the Twin Cities, is best-known for sled-dog mushing. For more on winter in Ely, including places to stay, see Playtime in Ely.

The North Shore of Minnesota also has great mushing; see Where to stay on Minnesota's North Shore. Try to go during the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, Jan. 31-Feb. 3, or even volunteer. For more, see Chasing the Beargrease.

Across the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin, Bayfield has an outfitter. For more, see Bayfield in winter.

Below is information taken from our story Dog days of winter.

When to go: In the north woods of Minnesota, Wisconsin and the U.P., the season lasts from November through March and even April, if there's enough snow.

What to wear: If you're in good shape, you'll want to run alongside the sled and jump up and down snowbanks to make it easier on the dogs, so dress to sweat, in wool or polypropylene. If you're just going to ride, you'll need to pile on the warmth.

Choosing a trip: It's most fun to mush your own team, though that's also most expensive. An experienced outfitter will assess the fitness and confidence of a client, giving a timid musher fewer dogs for less power.

Some outfitters offer trips with two people per sled. Some cater to families, and some offer women-only trips. People who want to go on a multiday trip can stay at a lodge, a yurt or in a tent. Most outfitters offer shorter rides as well as day trips and vacations.

Where to look: There are sled-dog outfitters wherever there's snow — Ely, the Gunflint and the North Shore in Minnesota; the Bayfield Peninsula and north woods of Wisconsin; the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.

Call local tourist offices or check the list at Sled Dog Central. Many outfitters also supply the dogs and guides for trips offered by resorts and such organizations as Wilderness Inquiry, Outward Bound, Elderhostel and the International Wolf Center in Ely.

Reserve a trip as early as possible for the best choice of dates. Here are a few of the many local outfitters.

In Ely, polar explorer Paul Schurke's Wintergreen Lodge, which offers multi-night sled-dog trips that are very popular, especially with people unfamiliar with the north woods. 218-365-6022.

Also near Ely, Minn., White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures, run by Beargrease musher Peter McClelland and wife Chris Hegenbarth, offers multiday excursions as well as the six-hour Premier Day Trip, during which clients drive their own sleds. Cost of $245 includes a hot lunch. 800-701-6238.

On the North Shore near Grand Marais, Minn., Arleigh and Odin Jorgenson's Sled Dog Adventures offers three-hour mushing trips with your own team of five to six dogs, $220, $210 for three people or more; and 6½-hour trips with lunch, $320 or $300. Call 800-884-5463 (Jorgenson is the Dr. Phil of mushers; if you're interested in husky psychology, be sure to read his essays under "Weekend Updates").

Fifteen miles north of Duluth, Outdoor (Ed)Ventures offers a six-hour day of mushing that includes runs of 20 miles or more across Island Lake and Boulder Lake reservoirs and Cloquet Valley State Forest, $300, $190 for children under 12. Two-hour family tours are $250 for four. 218-391-0147.

Near Bayfield, Wolfsong Adventures offers four-hour morning adventures in which guests handle and harness Siberian huskies and drive the sled, $225 weekends, $180 weekdays, and 2½-hour afternoon adventures, $165-$132. Adventures with two days of four-hour runs are $405-$325. 800-262-4176.

Classes: At the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Nancy Lang teaches Dog Sledding 101 classes that include a hour's ride from Arleigh Jorgenson's kennel, $150, $125 for children 8-12. Dates in 2010 are Jan. 14, Feb. 11 and March 4. Reserve at 888-387-9762.

Races: Distance races include the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon from Duluth to the Gunflint Trail, late January; Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race in Bayfield, early February; the Mid-Minnesota 150 in Aitkin, Minn., in February; and the UP 200/Midnight Run in Marquette, Mich., February.

Sprint races include the Perkinstown Mush in Medford, Wis., the Falcon Ridge Sled Dog Race in North Branch, Minn., and Paul Bunyan Sled Dog Challenge in Bemidji, all in February,  and the Snowflake International Classic Skijoring and 4 Dog Sprint in Duluth, March.

Last updated on December 6, 2009