Outfitter: Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge
Price: from $750
If you think dogsledding is something better left to masochistic Norwegians or to the confines of Jack London novels, think again. The sport is growing in popularity, as more people discover the joys of sledding through the snowbound wilderness, pulled by a team of friendly, untiring dogs.
You can shell out thousands of dollars to go on multi-day dogsledding trip in Scandinavia or Alaska, but why bother, when one of the world's top-rated outfitters, Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, is based a few hours' drive from Minneapolis and offers trips for far less money than some other providers.
"We're the oldest and most experienced (28 years) and we're also the only lodge devoted solely to dogsledding," says founder and venerated Artic explorer Paul Schurke. "For other operators, dogsledding is an off-season sideline to supplement their summer resort operation. For us, dogsledding is all we do—and we do it very well."
On Wintergreen's "Classic" five-night dogsled camping trip, you'll take a day and a half to learn about dog care, winter camping, and cold weather safety, and then head out on a four-day dogsled trek into protected pine forests and across the frozen lakes of the Minnesota North Woods. Typically, two guides go out with groups of six participants, each person with a team of four dogs. Working with Wintergreen's special breed of dog, pure-bred Canadian Inuit dogs, tends to be a highlight for many. "The dogs were amazing," says Julie Mickelberg, who went on the trip with her husband this past March. "I enjoyed learning about them as well as watching them work and connecting with them."
On a typical day out on the trail, guide Jason Zabokrtsky says you'll "awake snug and warm in one of our -60 degree sleep systems, have a hearty breakfast over a fire, and dogsled for the day with a break for a trail lunch or time at a scenic overlook. After more dogsledding, we'll set up camp, have time for some snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, and then eat dinner around the campfire."
"I think the most important thing for people to know is that if you are looking for something different that will challenge you, but in a very safe and controlled way, this trip is the best choice," says Mickelberg. "I don't think we could have better spent our vacation budget. If a friend or family member ever hinted at the idea of winter camping, I would insist they use Wintergreen. They are able to provide a participant with the necessary gear, they have respect for the animals they use—really a love for them—and they have the most experience. It's a class-act operation."
The trip price is all-inclusive, covering lodge and camping accommodations, dog teams, all necessary dog-sledding and winter camping equipment, meals, guides, trail fees and taxes, and tickets to the local International Wolf Center. Lodge-to-lodge (no camping) and more advanced trips are also available. Trips run early December through late March. The lodge is based in Ely, Minnesota, about 250 miles north of Minneapolis.