We're going on a dog sledding adventure through beautiful Ontario, Canada with award winning travel bloggers The Planet D.
The snow was coming down when we arrived at our resort in Northern, Ontario. The grey and dirty slush of Toronto faded away as we drove farther north, and the scenery transformed before our eyes to a winter wonderland.
My wife Deb and I travelled to Haliburton to not only enjoy a week-long winter escape filled with the activities like snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and enjoying the heated indoor water spa at Sir Sam’s Couples Resort, but to also try our hand at what we think is the epitome of winter adventures: dog sledding.
And who better to go with than two-time Yukon Quest and Iditarod finisher Hank DeBruin of Winterdance. His all Siberian husky team is the only Siberian husky kennel in Canada and his dogs are known as the prettiest team on the circuit. When doing an excursion, you may find that you have a beautiful retired race dog leading your sled.
Winterdance offers full and half-day tours or you can do as we did and combine several dog sledding adventures over a multi-day tour where you can stay at their lodge or a local resort. We went for the multi-day adventure because we knew one day would never be enough.
We met our guides and team of dogs at the trailhead to the entrance of Haliburton Forest; an 80,000-acre hardwood forest filled with trails weaving through the backcountry.
The dogs were taken one-by-one out of their cozy kennels and hooked to their sleds. The frenzy and excitement began. If you weren’t excited about dog sledding beforehand, the energy of the dogs will wake you up and have you itching to get on the trail. They couldn’t wait to start running and neither could we!
Our quick introductory session consisted of our guide showing us the basics of how to stop and control our sleds and to get to know our dogs. We were told that the more you interact with them, the more comfortable they’ll be with you and they’ll work harder for you. If they don’t like you, well, you’ll be doing a lot of pushing.
We gave all our dogs a lot of love as we pet their bellies and rubbed their scruffs. They seemed happy to see us and we had a feeling we were in for an exciting day.
As more dogs were put on the line, the others grew louder. With each dog added, they knew they were getting close to starting their run. It was difficult to keep them calm. They wanted to run to sniff and say hi to the other dogs and they were whining and barking so much we could barely hear ourselves speak. It was a welcome relief when our guide finally took off with his team and our dogs followed with a strong jolt.
We set off with a bang, but it was short lived. Just like humans, dogs take time to warm up and even though they were excited, they quickly relaxed and settled down. During our first ascent up a steep hill, they stopped to mark their territory, eat some snow, and say hi to the other dogs. They looked back at us a lot as if to ask, “Hey are you going to help us out or what?”
It wasn’t just a question, it was an order and soon I was off the back of the sled running up the hill. Deb was sitting on the sleigh wrapped in a warm blanket and I was already breaking a sweat as I ran up a slippery hill trying to keep up to the dogs. In my rare act of chivalry, I offered my wife first dibs at sitting on the sled as I lived my dream of being a professional dog musher.
We were told that we’d have to work on this adventure and they weren’t kidding. If anyone thinks sled dogs are overworked, they have never taken a dogsled excursion. These dogs will run when they want to run and stop when they’re tired. They definitely have a mind of their own.
Lucky for us, it was only about fifteen minutes before their muscles warmed up and they said hello to everyone they wanted to. In a flash I was standing on the back of the sled enjoying the scenery and catching my breath as we raced through the snow covered forest.style="text-align: left;"
The half-day excursion is a perfect introduction to dogsledding. The group is broken up into teams of two and each person takes turns driving the sled. The person riding sits on a cushioned seat bundled up in a cozy blanket as the driver tests their skills.
It is an extraordinary feeling being a dog musher. The dogs pick up the speed going downhill and you have to control the sled with your footbrake. You can never relax and when you go uphill, you need to run behind the sled to give the dogs a hand.
Our tour lasted three hours with a break for hot chocolate and snacks. The dogs were given their treats of hotdogs and they loved receiving high praise for their hard work.
The difference between the full day and half-day tour is that you go deeper into the forest and you stop for a hearty lunch by the campfire. Guides dig a deep hole in the snow for shelter and the dogs settle in for an hour-long nap. The full day tour feels like a true adventure. You’re miles away from civilization and you hear nothing but the crack of ice and the wind whipping through the trees.
If you want to take the adventure one step further, try your hand at a moonlight run. This is where you truly feel what it’s like to compete in an Iditarod race. Imagine a solitary rider sweeping across the Alaskan tundra. Hank DeBruin himself runs the moonlight tour and you’ll be mesmerized listening to his stories of competing in the most difficult race on the planet.
The Iditarod is considered the last great race on earth covering 1000 miles of tough terrain. More people have climbed Mount Everest than have finished the Iditarod. Hank is one of the few in the world that has completed both the Yukon Quest (which is considered to be the harder of the two by professional mushers) and the Alaskan Iditarod. So make sure to ask him a lot of questions, you are travelling with a true legend.
This moonlight run gives you a sense of what it’s like for the solitary musher working together with his team of dogs to make it safe and sound to the finish line. It’s just a taste, but it’s enough to gain huge respect for the dogs and mushers as the ultimate adventure athletes.
Whether you choose the full, half-day, or moonlight tours, you are in for a great adventure. When winter comes around, make sure to add dog sledding on your list of winter escapes. You won’t regret it.
About the authors: Dave and Deb are well-known travel personalities in both online and mainstream media. Their highly acclaimed website, The Planet D, won the 2014 Gold Medal for Best Travel Blog by the Society of American Travel Writers. Dave and Deb founded ThePlanetD in 2008 after cycling the continent of Africa and since then they’ve travelled to more than 100 countries on all 7 continents. Follow The Planet D on Twitter /// Instagram /// Facebook.
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