Michigan is well-known for winter fun from snowmobiling to downhill skiing and a host of other activities, but did you know dog sledding in Michigan is possible as well?
Dog sledding is a lesser known sport that all should try at least once in their lifetime. It involves slushing through the woods with some lovable canines and the thrill of being pulled through the wintry landscape by these energetic creatures is one you will never forget.
Dog Sledding- A Brief History
Historians attribute the creation of dog sledding more than four centuries ago to the Inuit indigenous culture who still reside in the Nunavut territory of Northern Canada. However, a special breed of dog called ‘gimmiit’ can be traced back to this area nearly a millennium who were later prized by the Inuit for their ability to hunt and pull sleds called ‘quamutiit’.
Dog sledding served as the primary mode of transportation across a frozen landscape with one dog and a driver pulling small supplies of wood or other necessities. As communities grew, more dogs were required to pull larger freights, but still didn’t surpass more than six dogs per sled. Transport by sled was a trusted vehicle for settlers throughout Canada and the Northern United States well into the late 1800s.
Dog sledding began its transition into a sport in 1908 with the first recorded race held in Nome, Alaska. The town now serves as the end point for the world famous 1,000 mile sled race called the Iditarod. It’s a grueling race for the competitors (often called mushers) which takes between 8-15 days to complete where frostbite, severe weather, sleep deprivation are a few of many challenges faced in the Alaskan wilderness.
Michigan didn’t enter the racing scene fully until the early 1990s. Now, the state’s Upper Peninsula boasts three major sled dog races called the Superior Crown Sled Dog Series. These events are held between January to March every year offering mushers and fellow enthusiasts plenty of opportunities to get in on the action.
Even though Michigan doesn’t possess the bragging rights that a 1,000 mile race bestows, these competitions aren’t a walk in the park. The serious mushers train in the off season keeping their cardio in top shape either running, biking or a combination of both. They also need to take good care of their canines throughout the year training, feeding and ensuring they remain healthy till race time.
However, you don’t have to be a hard core musher in order to experience the thrill of dog sledding. There are plenty of ways for you to go dog sledding in Michigan through a beautiful winter wonderland with these amazing furry mammals.
Explore more of the state. Here are our favorite things to do in Michigan on a family vacation.
Take a Quick Dog Sledding Sprint at Treetops Resort or Shanty Creek Resort
Trying any sport for the first time can be intimidating, especially with young children. So consider taking your family on a short trail ride with an expert guide. The Treetops Resort in Gaylord and Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire both offer one-mile dog sled excursions.
Either trip only lasts between 10-20 minutes, but will give you a taste of what the experience is like to get you ready for more adventures in the future. The guides also provide instruction on the basics of the sport as well as information on the amazing dogs who pull the sleds.
Both Treetops and Shanty Creek are popular resorts with plenty of skiing, tubing and other winter activities so plan on reserving a weekend to enjoy it all..
Immerse Yourself in the Sport at Husky Haven or Nature’s Kennel
For those seeking to live the musher life for a day, there are 10-mile and 20-mile tours available for deeper level instruction and exposure to more of Michigan’s natural landscape.
Husky Haven Kennels specializes in 8-10 mile tours for newcomers giving you a half day immersion into dog sledding in Michigan. It starts with a kennel tour to learn about the dogs, the history behind the sport and basic instructions on how to handle the dogs before the sled run.
Nature’s Kennel offers even more extensive options with a choice of either 10-mile, 20-mile or overnight tours. The 20-mile run is approximately six hours and includes a traditional Upper Peninsula (UP) pasties lunch. This tour is best suited for adults and children over 12.
The overnight tour is truly a one of a kind experience. It involves two days and one night of fun mushing through the UP. You not only learn the basics, but also get the chance to sleep in a cabin or yurt.
The journey starts in the morning at Nature’s Kennel with the required training and history lesson on dog sledding. Then, you make a 20-mile trek to Musher’s Village where you have lunch and choose between a self-guided snowshoe hike or dip in the sauna for the afternoon. As night approaches, you prepare dinner for yourselves as well as the dogs enjoying a campfire meal under the stars. After a hearty breakfast the next morning, you make the trek back to Nature’s Kennel by mid-afternoon.
Be a Spectator and Enjoy the Mushing Community
If jumping on a sled just isn’t possible, you can still witness the sport in action by visiting the Upper Peninsula during race season. Here are a few to consider including in your itinerary for the next visit:
UP 200, Midnight Run & Jack Pine 30
Around the 3rd weekend of February, these three events take place near Marquette, MI drawing thousands of visitors each year. They are scheduled in a way that allows you to witness some portion of each race throughout the weekend.
Kick off the race by cheering on the mushers at the beginning of the UP 200 Friday night in downtown Marquette. They begin their 228-mile trek at 7pm and experience a journey through arduous trails towards Grand Marais.
Prior to the start, there are plenty of activities to enjoy such as the Dog-Tail Gate where you can watch the mushers prepare for the race. Then, head over the Marquette Welcome Center or spots nearby to view the dog sled teams whoosh by.
Stick around for the Midnight Run which starts in the same location 30 minutes after the last UP200 musher leaves the starting chute. The race is an 82 mile journey with a required 5 ½ hour layover period that begins around midnight.
On Saturday, you have a number of fun activities to choose from throughout the day. If you stay in Marquette, sign your little ones up for the Kiddie Mutt Race for a fun tutorial on mushing. Then, you can head to Baraga, MI to cheer on the Midnight Run finishers.
Another option is to head to the town of Gwinn (just 21 miles south of Marquette) for the Jack Pine 30. The Jack Pine is the shortest race of the three enabling you to witness a start and finish all in a half day’s time.
You get an opportunity to meet the dogs and mushers before the 10am start time. Explore the local shops and enjoy a nice lunch before venturing to the finish line around 1pm to cheer on the returning competitors.
If you want to follow the trail of the UP200 teams (albeit in the less challenging method by car), take the two-hour drive to Grand Marais. This is the main checkpoint for the dog sled teams before turning back around towards the finish in Marquette. They arrive between late morning/early afternoon giving visitors the perfect opportunity to see and take photos of dogs up close.
The town also has plenty of events planned for the day including bake sales, raffles and cardboard sled races for the kids.
Finish up the whole experience by welcoming the UP200 dog sled teams back in Marquette on Sunday. Similar to the Jack Pine 30, teams are required to make stops throughout the race totaling 16 hours of rest time. This means they usually start crossing the finish line by late morning or early afternoon.
Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race & CooperDog 150
If you can’t make it in February for all the festivities of UP200, there are two more opportunities to witness a sled dog race.
The Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race takes place in Newberry around the first weekend of January each year. It includes 4 different races that all start on Saturday. The three-mile youth race kicks things off at Muskallonge Lake State Park.
The pros compete across the two days in the 41- or 67-mile events. There are a few lodging options near town, but will likely fill up quickly running up to the event. Finding a spot in Marquette is a solid backup as it is just under a two hour drive away.
For those late winter travelers, the CooperDog 150 is the perfect choice as it is usually held in Calumet on the first weekend of March. This one takes place over two days as well with 150-, 80-, 30-, and 15-mile sled dog races. Lodging near town will be limited here too so Marquette is your fallback option again being just over a two-hour drive away.
No matter how you choose to jump into the dog sledding experience, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has plenty of ways for your family to enjoy this unique sport.