Part of a series of articles on winter activities available in Michigan.
Among the many wonderful winter activities Michigan has to offer, nothing compares to the thrill and excitement of dog sledding. And there are several places throughout the state, both Lower and Upper Peninsula’s that offers this unique opportunity. This is what Tasha Stielstra from Nature’s Kennel had to say on the subject:
What is the experience for someone who has never tried dog sledding? “There's really no experience to compare this to. There's a sudden rush when the dogs first take off, there's the serenity of moving under dog power along the trail, there's the crisp feel of cool weather, and there's the affection of the dogs who are so excited to see new people every day.”
Who can dog sled? “The experience can be for anyone of any age. Children need to be 10 years old and over to drive their own sled, and there is not an age cut off. We had one client who was 77 complete one of our overnight trips where he drove his own team.”
Where are some great places in Michigan to dog sled? “There are more than 2000 miles of dogsled trails in Michigan. The trails in the U.P. are fantastic up here; the snow is great and the scenery spectacular. The dogsled season in the U.P. is much longer because of the more reliable snowfall. The U.P. is also much less populated which means we have access to long distance touring and training trails.”
Dog sledding is a fairly simple concept. The driver, referred to as the musher, stands upright on the rear of a dog sled being pulled by a team of sled dogs, typically 12. These dogs have been bred specifically for this sport and trained to respond to a series of voice commands. With recreational sledding can there can also be room for a passenger to ride in the front of the sled. But even a person who may have no interest in trying the activity themselves will have fun watching a dog sled race. Michigan is also home to several dog sled races held annually. Tasha was asked:
Are there any dogsled races or events in Michigan? “One of the largest distance races outside of Alaska is the UP 200 which takes place in Marquette, MI on the 3rd weekend in February. This is a 260 mile race that runs round trip from Marquette to Grand Marais. There is also a race near us in Newberry, the Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race which is the first weekend in January. There is also the Copper Dog 150 mile Race in Calumet the first weekend of March. There's also a new race, the Ironline taking place in Iron River, MI on February 8-9th. All of the races are very spectator friendly and great family events. I highly recommend watching a sled dog race in person. There is also a group in Michigan called MUSH that has events throughout the winter and fall for recreational mushers.”
The UP 200 is one of America’s premier 12-dog, mid-distance sled dog races. Mushers say this is one of their favorite races, not only because of the challenging race, but because of the cheering crowds and warm welcome they receive in the Upper Peninsula. The UP 200 trail covers 240 miles of challenging terrain through the areas of Marquette, Grand Marais, Wetmore, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and finishes at Mattson Lower Harbor Park in Marquette. The start of the race is located in downtown Marquette and will be held this year (2013) on February 14-18. Visit their website for complete information.
There are some great places in Michigan to try recreational dog sledding:
Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing & Adventures in McMillan offers a variety of ‘drive-your-own-dog team’ adventures ranging from overnight trips to full day and half day trips. This year, they are also offering rides to view the lower falls of the Tahquamenon River, normally inaccessible in the winter time.
At the Last Chance Kennel at Russ-Stick Acres you’ll feel like you’re experiencing an amazing Alaskan experience without ever leaving the state. Guests to this rustic farm in Mancelona will explore the history of dog sledding, while gaining ‘hands on’ experience.
Near Cadillac, there are several places to check out the fun. Shemhadar Kennels offers hourly rides for the whole family through northern Michigan’s scenic trails. If you head a bit north, check out S & L Arctic K9’s Sled Dog Adventures, where customized training and tours are available.
At the Otter River Sled Dog Training Center & Wilderness Adventures in Tapiola, dog sled experiences include a three mile ride, a half day adventure, overnight camping, and an opportunity to drive your own team.
Tasha Stielstra has this advice for someone who might want to try dog sledding. “Find an outfitter that you trust and give it a try. I'd highly suggest driving your own team as that is the ‘true’ experience. However, also be honest with yourself and if that just seems a bit too intimidating, then take a ride with the dogs.”
Click here for Dog Sled Trail Listings in Michigan.