Dog sledding is an iconic Alaskan experience that should be on everyone's bucket list! Silently flying through snowy landscapes, dog sledding provides an exhilarating experience that few other activities can match. As you are considering or preparing for a dog sledding experience, you likely have many questions. In this post, we will break it all down to help you know what to expect before going dog sledding in Alaska.
When & Where to Go Dog Sledding in Alaska
Dog sledding in its truest form requires snow. This means that it's best to experience dog sledding in the winter (yes, all the snow does melt in Alaska in the summer, with the exception of tall mountains and glaciers) so plan your trip between mid-November and early April for the best snow conditions.
If you're northern lights hunting, learn more about When to See the Northern Lights in Alaska here.
Alaska is home to many mushing and dog sledding outfitters, making it easy to find one that fits your needs. You'll likely want to book a tour with an experienced guide as this will provide you with the best experience out on the trails as well as ensure that ethical dog sledding practices are observed. Check out our complete list of All the Places You Can Go Dog Sledding in Alaska here.
What Does it Cost to Go Dog Sledding?
The price of dog sledding in Alaska can vary greatly, depending on your destination, duration of the trip, time of year, and additional services included. Other factors that may impact the cost are the level of service provided by the tour company, their commitment to sustainability initiatives, and the quality of care provided to the dogs. Below are some quick examples to give you an idea on pricing.
½ Day Tours
Duration: 30 minutes to 4 hours
Price Range: From $89 to $140 per person for self-driven sled rides to the kennel, up to $550 per person for helicopter access dog sledding with lunch.
Duration: 4 to 10 hours
Price Range: Starting from $500 per person
Cabin and Lodge-based Multi Day Dog Sled Tours
Duration: 2 to 10 days
Price Range: $2,799 for a 2-day stay at rustic cabins to $18,000 per person for a 5-6 day luxury lodge experience accessed by small plane.
Read more about the Cost of Going Dog Sledding in Alaska here.
Do you tip for dog sledding?
Yes. Tips are expected. If you think your guides did a great job, a tip of 10-20% of the trip price is standard in the outdoor guiding industry (and very much appreciated). You can either tip the lead guide, who will split the tips, or individually Venmo or pay cash to your guides.
What to Wear When Dog Sledding in Alaska
We get it — Alaska in the winter can seem intimidating — so we wrote a whole post about What to Wear Dog Sledding in Alaska. It covers common questions about dressing for dog sledding, offers you some local tips and tricks, AND includes our ultimate packing list for dog sledding in Alaska!
What is it like to ride on a Dog Sled?
Dog sledding offers a unique way to explore the winter wilderness in Alaska. Dog sleds can carry 1-2 passengers, depending on the size of the sled, the number of dogs on the team and the terrain. If you are doing a sled ride, you will be seated facing forward in the sled’s basket and your guide will stand on the back. The basket usually has padded seating, but little back support. If you are doing a 'drive your own dog team' experience, you will be standing on the back of the sled, on the runners. If you sign up for a “tag sled” experience, you will be towed behind the lead musher on a separate second sled, or stand behind the lead guide with your own handlebar on extra long runners.
Is dog sledding bumpy?
While dog sledding may seem bumpy as you travel over snow, it's surprisingly smooth - for the most part. The smoothness really depends on the terrain. If you're sledding on groomed trails, it will be very smooth. If you're mushing along a snowmobile track it can be more bumpy. It's not usually bumpy enough to make you fall off though!
Is dog sledding scary?
Being afraid is very subjective and is dependent on your personal past experiences. If you're scared of dogs, don't have proper cold weather gear, or are afraid of going 10 miles per hour, then yes, dog sledding could be scary. We wouldn't recommend doing a dog sledding experience if you're very afraid of dogs.
If you like dogs, winter, and going faster than walking, then no, dog sledding isn't scary.
How fast can sled dogs run?
Sled dogs can run at speeds of up to 10-20 miles per hour, meaning you can cover several miles on your sledding adventure. Sled dogs are swift, strong, and experienced at traversing snowy terrain, making them the ideal winter travel method. Most dog sled tour operators are running their dogs at speeds of 6-8 miles per hour on average.
How physically demanding is dog sledding?
Dog sledding can be physically demanding, particularly if you have opted to drive your own dog team. There may be times when you need to help the dogs by getting off the sled and pushing up a hill or walk through deep snow. Most people who opt to drive their own dog team find the hardest part is bending over to hold onto and harness the dogs. It does take some arm and core strength to hang onto a wiggly dog.
How fit should you be to go dog sledding?
To enjoy a dog sled ride, you do not need to be very fit. You should be able to get down on the ground and back up again, sit upright and ensure your arms and legs stay in the sled for the duration of the ride.
To enjoy driving your own dog team, you'll want to be able to walk through deep snow, bend over comfortably, be able to stand on the runners of the sled for an hour or so at a time, lift the sled back upright if it tips over, and walk or jog with the sled to help the dogs up hills. You are responsible for keeping your sled on the trail and maintaining the speed the guide sets.
The biggest concern for driving your own team on a multi day trip in more technical terrain is your ability to take a hard fall. A technical trail will likely have you tipping over, dragging, or worse case: having your sled slip out from under you, slamming your body onto ice. You need to be strong enough to hold onto a tipped-over sled until the dogs stop (this is for the safety of the dogs).
Is there a weight limit for dog sledding?
There are a few factors such as the sleds payload capacity, number of dogs and conditions to consider so max weight can vary by kennel.
At our kennel, we set our max guest weight at 250 lbs to drive their own dog team. We will make exceptions for very fit persons. This is because we run only 4-6 dogs per team and our trails are more technical than a day tour.
Can I bring my kids dog sledding?
Yes, most kennels allow kids to go dog mushing. Shorter tours like 2 hour tours are best for kids since they usually have to ride in the basket and can get cold if they are not moving or prepared with proper cold weather gear.
On long tours, young kids may not be able to go so always check with the tour provider. Here is more about bringing kids on Arctic Dog Adventure Co trips.
What are the sled dogs like?
What kinds of sled dogs are used in dog sledding?
Depends where you go sledding, but some common breeds used for dog sledding are;
Siberian Huskies (the Best, in our not-so-humble opinion)
Alaskan Malamutes (the strongest)
Alaskan Huskies (the most popular - can also be used for competitive racing)
Greenland/Inuit Dogs (used most commonly in Northern Canada and Greenland)
Why are sled dogs tied up?
You'll often see sled dogs chained to dog houses or otherwise tied out and not inside kennels or dog runs. This is because sled dogs, huskies especially, are notorious escape artists!
The method of outdoor dog management varies by kennel and is subject to personal preferences, the dogs' personalities, and the acreage available. There are pros and cons to each style of housing for dogs. At our kennel, we've stuck with the 'chained to the dog house' method because it is the safest for our dogs. Siberian Huskies will dig, tear and fight their way out of kennels and hurt themselves, as well as potentially run away and get hit by a car, trapped by a trapper, or killed by wildlife. When they are tethered, they are secure and less likely to hurt themselves or run away. It is also a very social way to keep dogs, as they are able to interact with their neighbors, while also having their own private, safe space to retreat to.
Do sled dogs get tired?
Yes, of course, they do. Sled dogs are endurance athletes, but like all animals, they do get tired. It's important to set a steady pace for the teams of sled dogs so they don't overdo it. This is why, when you go dog sledding, there will always be a guide in the front, to set the pace for the group.
If you take a longer trip, such as a multi-day hut-to-hut tour, we take rest breaks and the dogs get meat snacks and dog food to stay fueled. The dogs get to sleep 10-12 hours each night and we set a steady trotting pace for the whole trip so they can jog comfortably for 4-6 hours each day.
How long can sled dogs go without stopping?
In our opinion, sled dogs shouldn't go more than a couple of hours without a break. Just like people or horses, they need to stop and rest when out for a big day. Pulling sleds loaded with people and overnight gear is hard work! But a highly trained and well conditioned long distance racing dog sled team is easily able to travel 100 miles in a day.
Are sled dogs aggressive?
Sled dogs are not typically aggressive creatures. They are highly social and responsive to pack dynamics (of which their musher is the “alpha”). Sled dogs are extremely people oriented and do not have the protective instincts of say, a German Shepherd Dog. They are typically well socialized with different types of people and trained to be friendly and gentle. Also, they're used to being handled by people, so it's rare to see a sled dog display aggressive behaviour towards humans. That being said, huskies can have very high prey drives and may not be safe around small children (which they may not recognize as human – as anyone who has had a toddler can probably commiserate with). But seriously, never trust huskies (or any dog for that matter) around small children.
Do sled dogs fight each other?
Just like groups of people, there is always someone who's a troublemaker or two dogs who do not like each other. So yes, sled dogs can fight but it's usually not a problem at professional kennels, where measures are taken to prevent such interactions. Dogs who are professionally trained are socialized with other dogs and people to ensure the safety of everyone.
In conclusion, dog sledding is a unique and exhilarating experience that allows you to connect with nature on a completely different level. From knowing the nitty-gritty of dog sledding to understanding the behavior of sled dogs, professional kennels ensure the highest standards of safety and enjoyment for everyone involved.
Just remember, no matter your fitness level, there's a sledding experience to suit you, and the sled dogs are always ready to make your journey a memorable one!
Is there anything we missed regarding what to expect while dog sledding in Alaska?
Comment below and share your questions with us.