Journeys: Dog Sledding in Ely

With approachable beginner treks, dog sledding makes it easy to experience a true northern winter

A view from the sled in Ely, Minnesota. Photo by Lianna Matt.
A view from the dog sled (when I wasn’t driving) in Ely, Minnesota. When you’re all tucked away in the sled, you don’t get cold—it’s so comfortable and relaxing, you might even find yourself dozing off for a few.

Photo by Lianna Matt

The first overnight trip I went on with my fiance (then my boyfriend of a little over a year) was to Ely, Minnesota, to go dog sledding with White Wilderness. Dog sledding can certainly be intense—we’ve all seen photos of the grizzled and fit people at Antarctic bases or running the Iditarod—but rest assured, for people like myself who are looking for a fun intro experience, it’s a fun, at times almost meditative, experience.

The day trip option is currently on Groupon for March, but there are so many other options on the White Wilderness website for people looking to try out the sport. (Plus, there are probably still a few day trip slots open if you book through the organization directly.) A favorite option is the Premier Yurt Adventure, a three-day dog sledding adventure where you drive your own sled the entire time and camp at night in yurts. Other multi-day variations have you staying in lodges or tents, and to switch things up on the daytrips, you can opt for the trip that splits the time between dog sledding and ice fishing.

When I booked through Groupon five years ago, we went for the daylong sledding excursion where we would switch off who was driving our sled. We met up nice and early, the team made sure our group had plenty of warm gear and provided rentals when necessary. The day’s itinerary was a quick lesson, sledding, a fitting, a hot lunch of hot dogs cooked over a campfire, and then more sledding for the return. Simple, easy.

The beauty of Superior National Forest alone could certainly be the biggest appeal to some. For me, the crisp blue sky and the stretching, snow-dusted horizon combined with the smooth running of the sled made for an almost meditative state as everything passed by.

My favorite part of the trip were the Alaskan huskies, and I wish I had written down their names to rattle them off like an adoring fan. Buck, a brown dog, was one of two they put at the back of the sled; Cosmo was the white one at the front, paired with a black dog whose name I want to say was Delta or Blue or something of the like (not that those two names are similar in any way). They scampered down the trail in good spirits all day, and during the back half of the trip when it got warmer, they would half-lunge off to the side to snag bites of the snow for grab-and-go refreshment.

They got lots of love during our stops, and when we had a chance to hang out by the kennels and toss them all some doggy treats at the end of it, I had the same desire that almost every child has after a horseback ride: Let’s take one home. (For those who do have the means and a life fit for a doggy, just so you know, White Wilderness allows people to adopt their older dogs or those who aren’t a good fit for dog sledding.)

Especially because we’re not exactly having winter wonderland down in the Twin Cities—the holiday season was depressively autumnal for me—make sure to find your way to places that will give you that true northern winter. Although I didn’t go dog sledding this year, I found that snowy peace during a trip to visit my mom and stepdad near Danbury, Wisconsin. So whether it be dog sledding, a day trip north, or even a has-to-be-artificially-chilled-it’s-40-degrees outdoor ice skating rink, claim a piece of winter this season.