Dog sledding in Alaska is a true once-in-a-lifetime thrill that’s worth the splurge. If you’re a dog lover, adventure seeker, or just want some amazing scenery, these epic excursions are great choice for families. These insider TravelingMom tips will help you select the best Alaskan dog sledding experience. Then check that item off the bucket list!
Dog Sledding in Alaska: Worth the Splurge
When looking for a unique Alaskan experience that combines outdoor activities with historical tradition and natural splendor, consider booking a dog sledding tour with experienced Iditarod dog sledding mushers. Alaska is to dog mushing what Kentucky is to horse racing – no trip here would be complete without this dog team and dog cuddle experience that Iditarod sled dog tours are able to provide.
Why Dog Sledding?
Before snowmobiles and airplanes entered the picture, teams of dogs provided transportation for rural Alaskans. Kennels of dogs were often on hand throughout Alaska. These important dogs were trained in mushing schools to be racers and active participants in dog sled teams. Alaska dog sledding teams were trained to cross ice fields in cities such as Anchorage, Seavey, Denali, Seward, Skagway, Fairbanks and everywhere in between. Today, you too can feel like an Iditarod champion with your own dog sled tour and mushing experience.
My family had the pleasure of going on two distinct, rave-worthy dog sledding excursions during our trip to Alaska this summer. The glacier dog mushing tour (which involved a helicopter tour and a visit to a dog camp) and the summer dog sled ride (which involved a hilarious jeep ride and a visit to a dog camp with lots of puppy cuddles) we booked were totally worth the splurge. Both trips brought smiles, excitement, and family fun all around.
Mendenhall Glacier Dog Sledding and Helicopter Excursion
Glacier tours are one of the more popular excursions available for dog sledding in Alaska. The exhilarating helicopter ride to the Mendenhall Glacier really elevated this Temsco Helicopters tour to the next level of bucket list experiences. The helicopter ride also elevates this type of tour to a whole different level of expense, but it’s worth every penny.
TravelingMom Tip: Know there’s a chance the tour may be weather contingent. The sky may not be clear enough to fly for the glacier tour. While the Girwood tour goes rain or shine, there’s still a chance that you may have to reschedule due to inclement weather. Tours cancelled for inclement weather are fully refunded.
TravelingMom Tip: Take your charged-up cell phone for pictures, but leave the heavy camera and large bags behind. TEMSCO has a no bag policy, but they have lock boxes for your belongings. Both dogsled rides were a bit bumpy and limited in weight, the lighter you travel the better for all.
History and Inspiration
This tour even had a fun historical component since we got to chat with Shaynee Traska, a professional musher from Michigan, and hear about how she trained to compete in the annual 1,150-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She decided she wanted to participate in the Iditarod when she was nine years old. My 12-year old son got a lesson in putting a little sweat and grit into making dreams come true.
We learned that the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race commemorates the twenty teams of dogs and mushers who delivered a supply of anti-toxin serum to the town of Nome during the 1925 diphtheria epidemic. The word Iditarod is derived from the Athabascan Indian word haidotarod, meaning “a far, distance place,” which is a fitting description of this tour’s scenic backdrop.
TravelingMom Tip: Dress in layers and don’t forget the bug repellent and sunscreen. You should also bring rain gear in addition to a hat, gloves, sunglasses, and sunscreen. The weather can be unpredictable when dog sledding in Alaska, so be prepared for fluctuating temperatures.
The views of the icy Mendenhall glacier from the helicopter were otherworldly, white snow and ice for as far we could see. The 25 minutes we spent mushing with the dogsled really made this tour the crème de la crème of fun and excitement. Everyone in our group got to take turns directing the dogs with Shaynee. We also got to see the mushers’ camp and cuddle with a puppy that was spoiled with love. My son couldn’t believe that the mushers had to live there without the Internet!
TravelingMom Tip: Listen to the dog mushers, and listen carefully. Prepare your kids to be really respectful of these passionate mushers and their dogs.
While it’s remarkably fun and thrilling, this tour may not be appropriate for young children (due to helicopter ride, noise and expense) and senior citizens (due to icy conditions, even thought we had been given footwear protection it was a bit slippery feeling). And because of the price ($539/person), this tour may be better for a select few rather than the whole family.
Summer Alaska Dog Sled Ride Tour on the Historical Iditarod Trail
The three-hour Summer Sled Dog Adventure is another alternative for your dog sledding in Alaska experience. This tour is far more accessible to many in price ($148/adult; $98/child 5-12; under 4 free) and less weather contingent than the glacier tours since it goes out rain or shine. It’s based out of the charming, quaint town of Girdwood, which is situated around 45 minutes south of Anchorage. The tour began with a scenic journey in an open air Pinzgauers van up the mountain. We got to meet 8-time Iditarod musher Nicholas Petit, observe his dog handling techniques, and interact with the dogs by putting them in their harnesses.
Another aspect that distinguished this tour from the glacier tour was you could bring children and grandparents alike. It’s not too extreme on the adventure scale. On our trip, one couple had their two-year-old son with them in a car seat.
Nicholas leads the group on graveled out trails that people of just about all ages can enjoy. Once your turn on the cart is done, you leave the cart and others get their turn. My 12-year old son did say that the 8-mile sled ride felt short. He was surprised it went by so fast.
Unlike the glacier tour where everyone on the group got a chance to lead, Nicholas guided the sled while we stayed seated. We did get to check out his Iditarod memorabilia, including his trophies and racing gear. It was inspiring to see how many races he competed in and how he kept improving year after year.
TravelingMom Tip: Let your kids know beforehand that no dog is coming home with you under any circumstances. No, you can’t have Alaskan huskies at home. Tell your kids they are not souvenirs.
Overall, in addition to the dogsledding, a huge highlight of this tour was getting the opportunity to interact with approximately 10 to 15 puppies. These little ones will eventually be trained to be sled dogs. Who doesn’t love being surrounded by a glorious pack of puppies? This trip provided adventure, inspiration and abundant puppy love from dogs destined for greatness.
TravelingMom Tip: Keep in mind some of the tours do have age restrictions. The Summer Sled Dog adventure was all ages, but the minimum age for the TEMSCO tour was 12.
Alaska was a great family travel experience. Our time in both Anchorage and Juneau on these dog mushing tours were highlights. For more ideas on what to do in Juneau and Anchorage, check out 4 Fun Things to Do in Anchorage as a Family.