Dog Sledding Through Minnesota’s North Woods
By Candyce H. Stapen
Dog sledding combines three things I love-- happy animals, wind-swept back country and spirited adventure. The jubilance of the dogs is infectious as is the chance to savor the wilderness without the noise of snowmobiles or the work of long-distance hiking.
The basic rules for dog-sledding are like those for good parenting: praise, patience, and no yelling. To keep the gang line, the long chain that links all the dogs to the sled, taut, you need only ask your huskie/ shepherd/ malamute mix to “tighten up.” When accomplished, say “good dog,” and your four-footed friend runs faster and in better formation.
Two Great Places:
Gunflint Lodge, adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe area, is located lakeside in Minnesota’s North Woods near the Canadian border. Framed by rocky cliffs and towering pines laced with snow, and fronted by the frozen Gunflint Lake, the lodge appears almost magical, especially when the sun glints off the ice.
At the Gunflint Lodge, Minnesota, guests go on hour-long dog-sled trips. When not being pulled by the dogs, try ice fishing and cross-country skiing, go snowshoeing to a frozen waterfall, and hike across fields in search of moose antlers.
Gunflint’s cabins, while not designer chic, are spacious, especially the two-bedroom units. Some even have saunas. The food is good, certainly some of the best in northern Minnesota.
Wintergreen Lodge, Ely, owned by well-known musher and adventurer Paul Schurke, offers multi-day, lodge-to-lodge dogsled trips. More strenuous than Gunflint’s outings, these adventures challenge you to lead your own team 11-14 miles each day through woods and across frozen lakes and marshland. Also, Schurke’s sleds carry gear not people. That means you stand for up to six hours a day, holding onto a sled in the chilling Minnesota winds.
That’s why I bought really good ski underwear and rented the lodge’s specially insulated boots—a must. At Wintergreen Lodge, there’s lots of interaction with the dogs. I learned to harness the team, understand their personalities, and figure out how to keep them under control.
The easiest stretches for sledding are across the frozen lakes; the hardest parts are the woodland hills. The dogs jumped nimbly over exposed roots and rocks, but unless the mushers hold tight, they fell off,landing in the snow. More than one dog team came up a hill with their mushers running behind them. That happened once to me too.
The lodging on the trip varied. Some accommodations are nicer than others, but all are serviceable. And if you want to try the adventure of winter camping, available at certain times, opt to spend a night in an outdoor tepee or an igloo.
Gunflint Lodge, www.gunflint.com
Wintergreen Lodge www.dogsledding.com