The majority of Alaska visitors arrive during the summer months, when sled dog teams are raising puppies, learning to work together, and taking more casual training runs through green birch and spruce forests, pulling a musher perched on a cart or four-wheeled-ATV. At mushing attractions, tourists ride similar carts for shorter distances to feel in real-time the dogs’ strength and enthusiasm. It’s not the same, however, as silently mushing along a snowy trail, icy wind biting at your cheeks and northern lights dancing overhead. It’s never the same.
If there was one reason to visit Alaska with children during the winter months, it would be to experience a sled dog team in their element, and facing the elements. It is my belief that children thrive in authentic environments well-prepared by adults, and the sled dog experience is one of the best to learn by immersion how much mushers love their dogs, and vice versa. Kids learn well by doing, and believe me, they’ll be doing. Riding the runners, harnessing dogs, cuddling puppies, the hands-on list is nearly endless. I’m sure kennel owners wouldn’t even balk if a kid wanted to scoop poop. It’s all part of a day as a musher.
Three mushing tours top my list for winter experiences, one in Fairbanks, two in Southcentral (Anchorage-MatSu Valley area). All offer experiental learning, patient explaining, and plenty of on-sled time for families.Sirius Sled Dogs, Fairbanks. Owned and operated by two of the hardest-working, coolest people on this earth, Josh and Nita, Sirius makes for serious fun, right from the moment you pull into their driveway way up on Murphy Dome just outside Fairbanks. Off-the-grid living means no electricity and woodstove heat in their cozy cabin, and plenty of room for their vocal kennel of dogs, all of whom have the run of the house on occasion. Cuddle dogs, harness dogs, drive dogs, repeat. It’s even an option to take a midnight sled ride to see the northern lights. Casual, delightful, and a great way to learn about the lifestyle of many homesteading Alaskans. A six-mile ride starts at $175/pp, ride and view the aurora borealis for $275, or attend a several-hour “mushing school,” also for $275. You won’t forget it. Transportation provided from Fairbanks.
Dream a Dream Iditarod Kennel, Wilow (Southcentral). When Iditarod veteran Vern Halter and his veterinarian wife Susan decided to dedicate their lives to educating visitors about the mysteries and histories of dog mushing, tourists responded with rave reviews. Now one of the most popular tours in Alaska, Dream a Dream visitors age 7 and up can take a “Dream Ride” for $189/pp, learn to drive on a “Lead Dog Tour” for $229/pp, or bring the whole family north for an all-day Group Tour with meals, snacks, and plenty of mushing time for $249/pp. Each tour includes a kennel tour of the ‘Pup Palace’, nature trails, and Vern’s excellent presentation about the challenges and triumphs of racing the Iditarod, the world’s “Last Great Race”, complete with gear, photos, and plenty of time for questions. Vern and Susan also have two bed-and-breakfast apartments available for those who wish to stay on-site during their visit.
Salmon Berry Tours Anchorage Dog Sled Tour, Anchorage. Only have a short time in Anchorage? Have younger kids? Salmon Berry Tours, one of our go-to companies for kid-friendly tours and trips, developed this tour with the help of Alaska Sled Dog Tours (operated by Dallas Seavey, Iditarod champion). With transportation provided to Anchorage ‘Hillside” trails, car seats included, kids will relish the few hours they get to spend riding the runners up and down and all around these close-in trails. Salmon Berry also provides snowshoes for some romping in the snow, and hot chocolate, marshmallows, and snacks for everyone. The total tour time is four hours, and makes for a great half-day outing. Adults cost $199/pp, kids $179/pp, and youngsters under two are free. Tours depart at 9:30 a.m. daily.
Remember to dress children (and yourself) in non-cotton layers, with warmer outerwear than you might think necessary. Sled dogs are fast, and the wind does indeed make faces and hands and feet very chilly. Bring neck gaiters or face guards, goggles, and hand-warmers for kids to provide maximum protection. Don’t forget the video camera, either. This is one experience you’ll want to record.
Mush on. It’s unforgettable.
Read a more in-depth description of our experiences mushing in Alaska: