23 Nov Dashing Through the Snow
Arguably one of the most memorable and iconic winter experiences of my life thus far was zipping through the Montana wilderness on the back of a wooden sled. Quietly being pulled over ice and snow by an enthusiastic and joyful team of dogs — with Douglas fir trees whizzing by and my teenage son tucked in the basket — was both intensely thrilling and infinitely peaceful. It was everything I’d imagined. And much more.
Dog sledding had long been at the top of my winter adventure bucket list, so I was ecstatic when my in-laws gifted me a guided trip from Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures for my birthday last year. At a base camp that’s located a few miles off of Highway 191, between Big Sky and West Yellowstone, my family and I were greeted by a blazing campfire and the barks and yips of excited dogs.
As we later learned, many of the hard-working dogs are rescues and, without a doubt, they seemed more than up for the task, and also grateful for a forever home where playing outside isn’t just a daily activity, but a duty. Along with handing out extra-warm mittens, owner and outfitter Jason Matthews gave us an overview of what to expect for the day. And, after introducing us to the team of dogs, it was time to ride.
I started out in the mushing position — one foot on each runner at the back of the sled — while my son snuggled into the basket and covered himself with a sleeping bag. The dogs took off quickly, and almost immediately their yaps and barks were replaced by total silence as they followed a trail through trees and meadows. Since the dogs run these trails regularly, they don’t need much input from the musher beyond an occasional “whoa” and pressure on the brake.
By circling in and out of trees and up and down hills, we created our own little breeze. The lead dog set the pace and direction, so I was free to watch the others in action and appreciate the natural surroundings. Going around a corner, I glimpsed at the sleds behind me, only to find happy faces on riders and dogs alike.
After our ride, we returned to base camp, snuggled with the dogs, and thanked them for a magical experience. We toasted cups of hot cocoa and apple cider over the fire, warming up from the inside out before heading home.
Dog Sled Adventures Near You
These days, there’s no need to venture to northern Canada, Alaska, or Siberia to ride a dog sled. Here are some outfitters that are offering guided adventures right here in the Northern Rockies:
Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures
Big Sky, Montana
Tucked into the North Fork of Taylor Creek, Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures provides a wild outing from start to finish. With several different packages available, they allow guests to ride, drive, or do both; yellowstonedogsledadventures.com.
Dog Sled Adventures
Dog Sled Adventures offers a 12-mile trail run through the foothills of the Whitefish Range in the Stillwater State Forest, just west of Glacier National Park. Guests can relax in the sleds and often see wildlife, which is plentiful in the area; dogsledadventuresmontana.com.
Base Camp Bigfork
Base Camp Bigfork’s interactive trips invite participants to help harness the dogs, and in each group of two, one is the rider and the other the musher. They offer half-day, full-day, and overnight trips; basecampbigfork.com.
Spirit of the North Sled Dog Adventures
Big Sky & West Yellowstone, Montana
Spirit of the North offers dog sled rides out of Big Sky and — during the winter holidays — West Yellowstone. Big Sky trips are in Moonlight Basin, featuring views of Lone Mountain and the Spanish Peaks. West Yellowstone sled teams travel through the Gallatin National Forest northwest of town. Participants may drive the sled or ride; huskypower.com.
Jackson Hole Iditarod Dog Sled Tours
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole Iditarod provides scenic rides up a snow-covered road to Granite Hot Springs. Guests can ride in the sled or mush the team themselves. Although they run half-day trips, the full-day outings go all the way to the hot springs and include a soak; jhsleddog.com.
Tips & Tricks
- Make sure to book trips early, as many tours fill up months in advance.
- Bring sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes from the sun, winter storms, and snow that’s often kicked up by the dogs.
- Apply sunscreen, as sunlight reflects off the snow even on cloudy days.
- Bring hand and toe warmers to help you stay toasty.
- Bring a small backpack, if allowed, with a water bottle and a snack.
- Dress in layers, as the weather can change quickly.
- Remember a camera: The sled dogs and scenery make for great photos.