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Dog Sledding in the Rockies

Have you ever wanted to go dog sledding in the Rockies?

It’s January – and there’s a lot of winter left in the Rockies. One way to enjoy it is to embrace it and try new activities.

Last weekend my husband and I tried something entirely new; we spent an afternoon of dog sledding in the Rockies, not far from Canmore, Alberta with Howling Dog Tours.

"Clipping in our 7 dogs"

Clipping in our seven dogs

Dog sledding has been on my bucket list for quite some time. I always associate dog sledding with the far north – thinking of the Iditarod and Yukon Quest races. But dog sledding is gaining in popularity and it’s a fun way to spend some time outside in the winter. Out of Canmore, Alberta alone, there are three dog sledding companies.

"Itching to go"

Itching to go

Howling Dog Tours is the company we chose to go with. They’ve been around for 15 years and now have a kennel with close to 200 dogs. The dogs are either Alaskan Huskies or purebred Siberian Huskies. The Alaskan Huskies are not actually a breed but a type of dog, bred to pull sleds. They are typically a cross between a Siberian Husky and either a greyhound or setter type dog. That surprised me. I expected to see all Alaskan Husky dogs. Seven of their dogs have competed in 1,000 mile plus races, including Gizmo, one of the dogs that pulled our sled.

"Along a trail near the Spray Lakes"

Along a trail near the Spray Lakes

Typically there are seven dogs pulling one sled with two adults and up to two kids depending on weight. If the track is fast and icy then only six dogs are used and if it’s slow and mushy then eight dogs are put to work.

These dogs love to run. That’s not to say that the guides (mushers) don’t try to give them a break on the hills by hopping off and running beside the sled – an exhausting activity I might add.

"The dog sled ahead of ours"

The dog sled ahead of ours

The tour we were on was two hours in length – plus a very scenic narrated drive of half an hour on either end to get up to the Spray Lakes from Canmore. Typically the company runs four tours a day – at 10 am, noon, 2 pm and 4 pm. The dogs run twice a day and have a rest in between. In any given week the dogs may run on three to five days.

"The sled dog Honda, and a guide"

The sled dog Honda, and a guide

"Tundra and Wayco"

Tundra and Wayco

"Me with one of the very loving dogs"

Me with one of the very loving dogs

The actual tour starts with harnessing the dogs and if you’re interested, you can help. Then each dog is put on the line while one person sits in the sled – to prevent it from taking off – and another holds the line. In a matter of minutes you’re ready to go.

Initially we both sat in the sled, covered with blankets. It’s a real thrill when you first take off; that’s followed by pure enjoyment of being outside in nature with the wind in your face and the enthusiasm shown by the dogs.

About 20 minutes into the ride, John decided it was time to hop on the back of the sled. That’s where the real fun and the hard work lies. On the hills you typically try and help the dogs by jumping off and pushing the sled and then quickly hopping onto the runner before you take off flying again. Exciting to say the least on the downhill or on a curve.

"Break time for the dogs - while we have hot chocolate and cookies"

Break time for the dogs – while we have hot chocolate and cookies

"You can see where Howling Dog gets its name"

You can see where Howling Dog gets its name

"One blue, one brown eye"

One blue, one brown eye

I tried my luck on the back of the sled after our hot chocolate-cookie stop. Great fun and where I’d like to spend more time. I have a new appreciation for the shape that dogsled racers must be in.

"Waiting to take off again"

Waiting to take off again

At the end of the 10 kilometre loop the dogs are given a big bowl of water and chicken bits to prevent dehydration. Without the chicken bits, the dogs might not drink. Then you can show them some love and give them a biscuit.

"Dogs drink a water-chicken bits mixture at the end of a run to prevent dehydration"

Dogs drink a water-chicken bits mixture at the end of a run to prevent dehydration

"A well deserved rest in the truck"

A well deserved rest in the truck

"Truck used for transporting dogs and sleds"

Truck used for transporting dogs and sleds

 I was surprised by many aspects of dogsledding. 

  • the size of the dogs – much smaller than I thought they’d be.
  • the fact that greyhound is part of what makes up many an Alaskan Husky
  • the friendliness of the dogs; they loved any and all human attention and were very loving themselves.

This dog sledding tour has just whetted my appetite for more. Now I’d like the real wilderness multi day experience, camping out under the stars.

If you decide to go dog sledding

– Wear clothes in layers and make sure you have a scarf or neck warmer to protect your face from the wind.
– Bring hand and toe warmers if you’re prone to frozen extremities.
– Be prepared to smell a bit doggie by the end.

The price of Howling Dog’s two hour tour is $149 plus tax per person. It’s excellent value when you consider how much goes into keeping these dogs healthy and happy – and the shear number of bodies needed to run a dog sledding company.

If you’re visiting in the Calgary – Banff corridor or if you’ve got a case of the winter blahs and you’re up for trying something new, then I really do recommend a dog-sledding tour.

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Candice says:

    I LOVE huskies, and I want to do this so badly! Amazing pics. I’m jealous.

  • Easy Hiker says:

    Sounds like great fun. Interesting to know about Alaskan Huskies having Bloodhound in them. The rest probably is wolf, eh? Huskies are quite impressive and I know they thrive well where there’s snow and the cold, which is why I’m surprised when I see them being kept as pets in cities, like Paris.

  • Barry says:

    Many years ago, my wife and I were awarded a dog sled trip as a prize and we took adavantage of the opportunity near Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. When everything was ready I was seated at the back of the sled with my partner tucked in front of me with a warm blanket around us. Cozy. The driver mushed the dogs; they quickly became organized and off we went. About a hundred yards later, everything stops and we enjoy a bird’s eye view of a group dump. That done, off we go again. I am heavier and slung lowest in the sled s I am recipient of the unique feel of the sled passing over frozen dog poop. What a riot. It still makes me smile many years later. The overall experience was uniquely fantastic in spectacular scenery and I would recommend it to anyone. BTW, outstanding photos. Thx for sharing.

  • Barry – There was a certain amount of pooping going on; the musher usually stopped the sled so they could finish their business. Afterwards the poop is all picked up by one of the employees so the trails are kept clean.
    Still I agree – a wonderful experience.

  • Alex S says:

    Oh man! This looks amazing! We didn’t make it to Canmore on our month long adventure on the Powder Highway but we did make it as far east as Banff. That region is seriously one of the most beautiful on the planet. Heaven on Earth. From the images Canmore looks like one of most scenic places you could ever do dogsledding on. Definitely worth a try especially if you’re an animal lover.

  • kamel says:

    huskies is my favorite dogs ,and i want to try dog sledding

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