How to go Dog Sledding in Alaska
Flying along through a snowy forest or over a glacier in a sled behind a dog team is a uniquely Alaskan thrill that should not be missed if you’re planning a winter trip to Alaska! If you’re visiting Alaska in the summer as most visitors are, there are still ways to experience dog sledding. I’ll be sharing all your options for dog sledding in Alaska, including how the experience is different in winter and summer, where you can go dog sledding and other things to know.
I lived in Fairbanks for four years and still visit regularly. Dog sledding, or dog mushing is a very popular sport in this part of Alaska. There are plenty of other places where you can try dog sledding, from Palmer to Seward to Skagway and Juneau. I’ll talk about all your options. This article is focused on day trips, but many tour operators also offer longer multi day trips so if you’re interested in that, get in touch with them to find out your options.
In addition to the thrill and uniqueness of dog sledding, you also have the opportunity to support local dog mushers, so a dog sledding tour is an excellent way to support local people on your trip to Alaska. This is a particularly fantastic activity to do with school age children, especially those who love animals.
- What is dog sledding?
- Is dog sledding in Alaska worth it?
- What months can you go dog sledding in Alaska?
- Where can you go dog sledding in Alaska?
- How much does it cost to go dog sledding in Alaska?
- What to wear dog sledding in Alaska?
What is dog sledding or dog mushing?
Dog sledding, or dog mushing as it is called in Alaska, is a integral part of Alaskan life and culture, going back millenia. A dog team of up to 12 or sometimes even more dogs are harnessed together and pull a sled with the “musher” (the human) on the sled or running next to it.
Dog teams have worked alongside humans to carry supplies, mail, gear and critical medical supplies for hundreds of years. Native Alaskans, white settlers and modern day Alaskans of all backgrounds participate in dog mushing.
Although mail runs and medical supplies are now carried by airplanes and snowmobiles, dog teams in Denali National Park assist rangers in backcountry winter travel. In remote areas of rural Alaska, dog teams are common for transportation and moving supplies.
Modern day sled dog racing is a unique and fascinating sport requiring mushers to be experts in dog nutrition, health and training, winter survival and logistics.
The Iditarod, which takes mushers and their dog teams over 1000 miles from Willow to Nome, is the most famous sled dog race, but there are many others. In addition to long distance races, there are also many shorter races for mushers and their dogs to compete in.
Is dog sledding in Alaska worth it?
A dog sledding experience is a very unique and unforgettable experience in Alaska and highly recommended as part of your Alaska experience.
If you’re visiting in winter, going on a dog sled tour is a necessity from my perspective. It’s such an important part of Alaska life in winter and will really help you feel like you’ve had an authentic Alaska experience.
In summer, visiting a kennel is an absolute must do for dog lovers and anyone who wants to dive deeply into local traditions and culture.
Glacier dog sledding in summer is very expensive, due to the helicopter trip to get there, but if you have it in your budget it’s absolutely worth it.
Dog sledding tours in Alaska are led by professional mushers and others who love dogs and know how to give visitors an amazing experience on their tour or kennel visit. These tours are universally excellent.
What months can you go dog sledding in Alaska?
You can participate in a dog sledding experience in Alaska any month of the year, though your options vary based on the season since dog sledding is a winter sport. To actually ride on a dog sled in summer, you’ll need to do a glacier landing dog sled tour.
Dog sledding in winter
If you’re doing a dog sledding trip in Alaska in winter, you’ll likely be doing that based in Fairbanks, Talkeetna or Anchorage. Fairbanks has the most options for dog sledding tours, since the sport of dog mushing is such a big part of culture and life in Fairbanks.
Winter is November through March, though there is not always enough snow in November for dog sledding. Sometimes dog sledding extends into early April, but this is not guaranteed. If it’s important to you to have a dog sledding experience on your trip, I recommend planning your trip for late February or early March, when there is plenty of snow but longer days of daylight and slightly less frigid temperatures.
If you are visiting Denali National Park in winter, you can visit the dog sled kennels there and interact with the dogs on weekends only.
Dog sledding and kennel visits in summer
As I mentioned above, dog sledding is a winter sport, but you can still get to know Alaska’s most famous sport during a summer visit.
Summer dog sledding experiences in Alaska usually involve meeting Alaskan dog mushers, playing with adorable and friendly dogs (sometimes even puppies!), learning about the sport and sometimes a short wheeled cart ride or demonstration.
In addition to the lack of snow, even moderate summer temperatures are too hot for dogs to run and pull a cart for more than a short distance. Alaskan dogs are prepared for cold weather, but summer weather can overheat them quickly.
If you do want to dog sledding on snow in the summer, you’ll need to do that on a glacier dog sledding helicopter tour, since that’s where the ice and snow are. You can do this in Skagway and Juneau in Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage (either on your own or as a cruise ship shore excursion). You can also do this in Girdwood, Palmer and Seward.
If you are heading to Denali National Park, make sure to catch one of their summer dog sled demonstrations, where you learn about the only Bark Rangers in the National Park system! The dogs are busy all winter helping rangers do their work, but have time to delight visitors on summer days.
Where can you go dog sledding in Alaska?
The most important factor in where you can go dog sledding in Alaska is the time of year. In winter, Fairbanks is an ideal place to do it, there are so many options! In the summer in Fairbanks you can visit the kennels and learn about the sport and interact with dogs, but there is no snow in Fairbanks in the summer or glacier helicopter operations.
In summer, the Southeast Alaska towns of Juneau and Skagway offer helicopter tours for glacier dog sledding. You can also do glacier dog sledding by helicopter in Palmer, Girdwood and Seward.
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Dog sledding in Fairbanks
There are many incredible places to try dog sledding in Fairbanks. You cannot go wrong with any of the excellent options.
Most tour operators offer winter dog sled rides and summer kennel visits or other opportunities to interact with dogs.
I particularly love Chena Outdoor Collective for dog sledding, a small company of professional mushers who bring their dog teams to the Chena Outdoor Collective base and teach you all about the sport and take you for a beautiful ride through the forest. You’ll get to interact with and (in winter) ride with teams that have competed and will compete in famous long distance races like the Iditarod! Chena Outdoor Collective is about a 45 minute drive from Fairbanks on Chena Hot Springs road in the small community of Two Rivers.
If you’re looking for something a bit closer to town, Paws for Adventure is another excellent option with tours in winter and opportunities to interact with dogs and learn about the sport. Paws for Adventure is about half as far from downtown Fairbanks (about 20 minutes), if you don’t have a car you could take a taxi here.
Dog sledding in the Anchorage area and the Kenai Peninsula
If your winter trip to Alaska is based out of Anchorage, you have a few options for dog sledding. Salmonberry Tours offers a tour to Seavey’s Ididaride in Talkeetna, a couple hours away. Tours are on limited days, so make sure to find out the date options and make sure you are in Talkeetna on one of those dates.
If you’re going to the Anchorage area in summer, there are several options for a dog sledding experience. Glacier landing dog sledding by helicopter is offered in Palmer with Alaska Helicopter Tours (transportation from Anchorage can be arranged for an additional fee) as well as in Girdwood and Seward.
Inside Passage cruise ports
Both Juneau and Skagway have helicopter tours that take you up to a glacier landing and dog sled camp, where you can experience dog mushing on a summer day.
If you’re taking a cruise, you can book these excursions on board and if you are visiting Juneau or Skagway on your own, you can book them directly through Temsco helicopters (May through September).
How much does it cost to go dog sledding in Alaska?
The cost of dog sledding in Alaska varies widely depending on many factors, including how long the tour is, what time of year it is and whether or not there’s a helicopter involved.
Summer kennel visits are usually around $100 per person, and winter dog sled rides are usually about the same for a short tour (30 minutes) and more for a longer ride.
Glacier dog sledding by helicopter in summer is usually between $400-$700 per person depending on the location and duration of the trip.
The sled dog demonstration in Denali in the summer (mid May through early September) and the winter weekend kennel visits are free.
What to wear dog sledding in Alaska
If you are doing a kennel visit in summer, you don’t need to pack or wear anything special, although I would recommend closed toe shoes since it can be muddy or dusty and a bit messy around the kennels.
If you are doing a glacier landing flight in summer, the most important thing to wear is sunscreen and sunglasses! The sun is really intense on glaciers so be ready for that. Beyond that, you’ll want a warm layer as well as gloves, a hat and a waterproof jacket and shoes. Tour companies will also give you boots to wear for the time on the glacier.
For winter dog sledding adventures, the most important thing to think about is that there will be wind, since you’ll be moving. This makes it colder than the normal air temperature. The dog sled usually has a sleeping bag or other cover to put over you, but you still need to dress warm. Make sure to have a hat, gloves (I like to wear gloves and mittens), snow pants, a warm coat and snow boots. I also recommend a buff or other covering you can pull up over your nose, mouth and face.
If you’re looking for specific items to purchase or pack for your trip to Alaska in all seasons, check out all my advice about what to pack for Alaska here.