Nothing says "Alaskan Adventure" like Sled Dogs
The Iditarod Sled Dog Race is a long-distance sled dog race through through harsh winter conditions in Alaska. It is perhaps the most famous dog-mushing event in the world and dates back to 1925, when mushers rushed to deliver a diphtheria antitoxin to Nome. You can experience a modern version of this tradition without having to train for the Iditarod itself by taking your very own dog sledding adventure in Alaska.
Tracing Its Roots
Alaska Natives pioneered the use of dogs as pack animals centuries before the Iditarod ever existed. Using three-dog teams hitched in a fan formation, the musher ran ahead of the team to guide them. After "first contact" with Alaska in 1732, the Russians added their own adaptations to mushing, which began to resemble what you see in races like the Iditarod today. This setup involved more dogs harnessed in single file behind a lead dog and handlebars on the sleds that allowed a musher to ride instead of running.
Here's how to get a taste of this history through different tours around Alaska.
Iditarod Trail Race
Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
Your first introduction to the mushing tradition should begin with the Iditarod itself. While running the Iditarod race takes years of training and preparation, every year a few lucky travelers get to to participate in the race's ceremonial start. There, they can ride in mushers' sleds on a fast, 18-kilometer tour through the city of Anchorage. These passengers are known as IditaRiders, and they win their spots by bidding in an online auction that takes place in December and January. International travelers are welcome to register and bid for free, although they must pay their own way to make arrangements to get to and from Alaska.
If you'd rather watch the dog mushers than ride with them, a number of tour companies offer packages that include travel to checkpoints along the Iditarod trail, as well as a trip to the city of Nome to watch the finish. These trips often involve air travel - if you want to work with long-time locals that know this sort of flying the best, book with beloved Alaska-based flight services like Talkeetna Air Taxi or Sheldon's Flying Service.
Dog sledding in Alaska
One-Day Sled Dog Adventures
When visiting the big city of Anchorage, you can sign up for a Salmon Berry Tours adventure. This eight-hour excursion includes a tour of an Iditarod champions kennel and an eight-kilometer dog sled ride under the watchful gaze of Denali, North America's highest mountain peak. You'll even get to practice driving a "tag sled" that is hauled behind the main sled. Golden Heart Dog Tours of Fairbanks offers shorter trips ranging from twenty minutes to an hour and a half. You'll ride in the basket of the sled while your expert guide takes the team through frozen sloughs, river ice and sandbars.
One-day dog-sledding excurion
Overnight Sled Dog Tours
For the truly adventurous, several companies — like Paws for Adventure and Arctic Winter Adventures — will teach you to drive your own sled dog team on an overnight adventure. These trips last from two to seven days as you trek through gently rolling terrain covered in a trackless blanket of white snow, marveling at Alaska's pristine night sky. You might even see the northern lights, which are at their best from September through April.
Most overnight tours will teach you to drive your own team of dogs. Every night, you'll sleep in a surprisingly cozy backcountry tent, cabin or lodge.
Overnight dog-sledding adventures
A Chance to Cuddle Sled Dog Puppies
Families always enjoy touring the working sled dog kennel in Denali National Park, where the dogs are still used for long-distance patrols during the winter. However, they're almost always around to be petted during the summer. You can visit any time the kennels are open, or you can time it to take in a 30-minute ranger demonstration of driving a team, which you can watch instead of riding yourself.
Working sled dog kennels
Glacier Dog Sled Tours
Even if you visit Alaska in the summer, you can still ride a real dog sled by taking a short, exciting helicopter ride to a snowy glacier. There, you choose between riding in the body of the sled or standing on the runners for a one-hour mushing tour. Summer in this state means lots of sun and wildlife, so bring your sunglasses and keep your eyes open for animals like black bears, Dall sheep and mountain goats.
Glaciers in Alaska
Travel Planning and Transportation
There is very little mass transit between Alaskan cities during the summer and almost none during the winter. You should plan to be responsible for your own transportation from the major airports of Anchorage, Fairbanks or Juneau to your final destination. The easiest way to travel from Anchorage or Fairbanks is to rent a car. If you're visiting Juneau, you'll probably travel by ferry or cruise ship instead.
Have you seen all the best Alaska has to offer? Consider adding one of these spectacular national parks to your itinerary.