Dog Sledding in Pure Michigan

Dog sledding, a historic form of transportation is also a fun way to get out and enjoy the winter months. With more than 2,000 miles of dog sledding trails, 11,000 frozen inland lakes and a number of snow-covered national forests, Michigan is a great destination for a dog sledding adventure.

With dog sledding being one of the activities in the Pure Michigan winter video series, we spoke with Tasha Stielstra of Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures to learn more. See her answers below and be sure to check out the video at the bottom of the post!

For more information or to plan your winter vacation, visit michigan.org/winter.

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into dog sledding?

A: Ed and I have owned sled dogs for about 20 years and have been operating our touring and racing kennel on a full time basis for 10 years.  Ed got into the sport with a family friend just after college (at MSU) and I met Ed while I was working in Ludington one summer.  Neither of our families owned or worked with sled dogs.  Needless to say, they have been very patient through all our crazy adventures as we quit our full time careers, raced sled dogs around the world, and built a successful touring business.  We’ve grown in ways we’ve never imagined and now have a full time winter staff of four guides in addition to ourselves, 160 sled dogs, and a successful Iditarod racing team.  It’s a lot of hard work and long days, but we would not have it any other way!

Q: Why do you love dog sledding? 

A: We, of course, we like working with and training the dogs.  Now that our business has really grown, we almost spend more time managing dogs and staff and entertaining guests than actually getting to run dogs.  One reason Ed likes to run the Iditarod is that he’s alone with his dogs for 1,000 miles for 10 days and does not have to deal with any of the day to day concerns of the kennel while he is on the trail.  We also like teaching new people about mushing.  There’s something magical about watching a novice learn the sport and fell so good about what they have accomplished.

Q: Describe the experience for someone who has never tried dog sledding. 

A: The experience can be for anyone of any age.  Children need to be 10 years old and over to drive their own sled, and there is not an age cut off.  We just had one client who was 77 complete one of our overnight trips where he drove his own team.  There’s really no experience to compare this to.  There’s a sudden rush when the dogs first take off, there’s the serenity of moving under dog power along the trail, there’s the crisp feel of cool weather, and there’s the affection of the dogs who are so excited to see new people every day.

Q: Are there any dogsled races or events in Michigan?

A: Yes, there are many MI races and events.  One of the largest distance races outside of Alaska is the UP 200 in Marquette, MI, which takes place on the third weekend in February.  This is a 260 mile race that runs round trip from Marquette to Grand Marais. There is also a race near us in Newberry, the Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race which is the first weekend in January.  There is also the Copper Dog 150 mile Race in Calumet the first weekend of March.  There’s also a new race, the Ironline taking place in Iron River, MI on February 8-9th.  All of the races are very spectator friendly and great family events. I highly recommend watching a sled dog race in person.  There is also a group in Michigan called MUSH that has events throughout the winter and fall for recreational mushers. 

Q: Where are some great places in Michigan to dog sled?

A: Of course we are biased to dog sledding in the UP.  The trails are fantastic up here, the snow is great, and the scenery spectacular.  We simply have more reliable snowfall than Lower Michigan which means our season is much longer.  The UP is also much less populated which means we have access to long distance touring and training trails and we don’t have any neighbors who live close by would be bothered by 160 dogs singing their good night song.  We are also trying something new in the UP this year, and that is giving people rides to view the lower falls of the Tahquamenon River.  There are some places up here that just are not accessible in the winter time, and the lower falls are one of them.  We have a new agreement with the DNR that we will take people in by dog team to view these spectacular water falls!  Now, after all the hype about the UP,  we also love our relationship with Boyne Highlands near Harbor Springs.  Boyne is also in a great location for reliable snow and we transport our dogs there every weekend for sled dog rides.  It’s nice to have this option for guests as it’s a bit closer to home for many people and the resort is a great place for many winter activities.  We give rides only at Boyne, we don’t offer the drive-your-own team option.

Q: Is there anything that people don’t realize about dog sledding?

A: People who come to our place are commonly surprised at how small and friendly the dogs are.  We have Alaskan Huskies and they all look very different from each other but all are very social and loving.  Many of our dogs we use for tours are our retired racing dogs or dogs who will be the next generation of superstars.  Dog sledding is something that people of all ages and abilities can participate in.  We’ve given rides to children as young as six months and adults as old as 90.  We can also lift people into our sleds if they have difficulty walking or have other limitations. 

Q: What are sled dogs like? How are they the same and how are they different than a family pet?

A: They are not different from family pets.  The love attention, they want to be scratched behind the ears, they love to eat, and if you let them, they will sleep on the couch.  BUT, they also LOVE to pull.   It’s something they are born and bred to do.  It’s very instinctual, like a beagle that chases rabbits.  We retire our dogs into family homes at about 7-8 years old and they make great family pets.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who might want to try dog sledding?

A: Find an outfitter that you trust and give it a try.  I’d highly suggest driving your own team as that is the “true” experience.  However, also be honest with yourself and if that just seems a bit too intimidating, then take a ride with the dogs.  Like I said, be sure to ask a lot of questions like:  “If I drive my own team, is there a guide in front and how many dogs would I have?”  “If I ride in the sled, will the guide be driving the sled?”  “What is the maximum number of guests you have with each guide?”  “Do you provide any gear if I’m unsure if my clothing is adequate?” 

Q: What do you love about a Michigan winter?

A: Snow, of course!  Our lives would be miserable without it! 

Q: What is your favorite thing to do after dog sledding? 

A: Share the experience and stories with others. 

Learn more in Dog Sledding | A Pure Michigan Winter below, from the Pure Michigan winter video series.


Tasha Stielstra is co-owner of Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures in McMillan, MI.  Her husband, Ed is a 7-time Iditarod finisher.  They own nearly 160 Alaskan Huskies and two small children, Fern and Nate. Tasha does the marketing and managing for their touring business, chases puppies down the trail, and spends a great deal of time playing with monster trucks (with 2-year old Nate). Nature’s Kennel can be found online at www.natureskennel.com or on Facebook at Nature’s Kennel.

 

Cross Country Skiing in Pure Michigan

The start of a new year means new goals and for many of us, getting in shape is on the list.

A Michigan winter provides the perfect terrain and scenery to get in shape outdoors while enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. One activity that is great for families, beginners and experienced athletes alike is cross country skiing. You can burn up to 500 calories per hour while enjoying the peaceful Michigan winter landscape far away from the crowds at the gym.

Michigan cross country skiing trails stretch over 3,000 miles and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources grooms various state forest pathways to provide trails across the northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas. It is also a great way to observe wildlife – from tracks in the snow to seeing birds and animals up close, it’s an experience that you can only get outdoors.

With cross country skiing being one of the many activities featured in A Pure Michigan Winter, we compiled a list of just a few trails to check out this winter. For a complete list of cross country skiing trails in Michigan, visit Cross Country Ski Trails in Michigan State Parks and Recreation Areas.

Cadillac Pathway has 11.3 miles of groomed trail with varying terrain that allow users to determine the length of trail and degree of difficulty they desire. Trailhead parking lots are located five miles northeast of Cadillac on 13th Street and on Seeley Road, north of Boon Road.

Bring your skis, snowshoes or just your hiking boots to Van Riper State Park for enchanted evenings of fun in the snow from 6-9 p.m. on Saturdays, Jan. 19 and Feb. 16. Experience the beautiful lit trail at Van Riper with your family and friends or make it a romantic date night.  The trail will be lit from 6-9 p.m. For details, call the park, 906-339-4461. The park is located at 851 County Road AKE in Champion, Mich. 49814 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Enjoy an evening ski or snowshoe along a lantern-lit trail through the snow covered forests of the Upper Falls at Tahquamenon State Park during one of their Lantern-Lit Cross-country ski and strolls. Events take place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Saturdays, Feb. 2, 9, 16 and 23. Warm up by the bonfire with refreshments along the 1-mile loop. A limited number of snowshoes are available to borrow at no charge. Participants must provide their own cross country ski equipment. A headlamp is recommended during overcast evenings. Meet at the Upper Falls Fact Shack.  The park is located at 41382 W. M 123 in Paradise, Mich., 49768 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For details, call 906-492-3415.

Pine Baron Pathway, southwest of Gaylord, provides beginners and intermediate skiers with nearly 9 miles of well-groomed trail that meanders through beautiful woods. The trailhead parking lot is located on Lone Pine Road. Three of the four loops are fairly level, and the remaining loop has several good downhill runs that will interest the intermediate skier.

Join other cross-country skiers for a magical winter evening from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9 when the snow-covered forest at  Hartwick Pines State Park is warmed by the glow of lantern light. Skiers can traverse the 1.25-mile, groomed cross-country trail, guided by more than 75 lanterns along the way. Meet at the Hartwick Pines Logging Museum. It is recommended that skiers be of intermediate skill to participate in this event.

Wildwood Hills Pathway, a three-looped trail covering approximately 9 miles of beautiful rolling hills in Indian River near Petoskey, offers a more challenging course for the intermediate skier.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, located on the south shore of Lake Superior near Silver City in Ontonagon County, is offering cross-country skiing and snowshoeing by lantern light in late December, and on Saturday evenings in January and February. Nearly 80 old-fashioned kerosene lanterns will illuminate a 1-mile trail for a unique and memorable experience. Stop halfway around the loop at the warming shelter and join the park naturalist for a campfire and refreshments.

Blueberry Ridge, just south of Marquette, has the bumps for advanced skiers, the flats for beginners and is very well maintained. There are 12 miles of groomed trails. The three north loops have side-by-side diagonal-groomed tracks so people can ski next to each other. The 1.7-mile lighted central loop is groomed for both diagonal-stride and ski-skating, as are the south two loops.

Algonquin Pathway, located south of Sault Ste Marie on 16th Avenue West. This pathway has 15 km (9 miles) of groomed trail that is laid out in three loops. The 1.6 mile lighted trail is the first loop off the trailhead parking lot. This pathway straddles old beach ridges and passes through mixed-age aspen intermixed with pine and hardwood.

Learn more in Cross Country Skiing | A Pure Michigan winter, from the Pure Michigan winter video series.


Do you have a favorite cross country skiing trail in Michigan? Share with us below!

Sledding and Snow Tubing in Pure Michigan

The first sign of winter weather means a variety of wintertime activities for kids and families to enjoy quality time outdoors.  One of the most popular and well-known wintertime activities is sledding and snow tubing. 

Similar to sledding, snow tubing has grown in popularity over the past few years, with some ski resorts offering slopes and hills specifically for the activity. Imagine yourself flying down a snowy hill, racing your friends or family members to the bottom, and taking in the scenic Michigan winter wonderland on your way back up to the top. 

With snow tubing being one of the many activities featured in A Pure Michigan Winter, we compiled a list of just a few places to go tubing in Pure Michigan. 

Do you have a favorite sledding or snow tubing hill that you want to share? Tell us in the comment section.

Timberlee Hills
Snow Tubing at Timberlee Hills is the perfect way to spend the day in Traverse City this winter. Tubing at Timberlee is all the fun of sledding – without hiking back up the hill! There’s no hassle, huffing or puffing. Snow Tubing is one of the fastest growing winter recreational activities in America – and Timberlee is Michigan’s largest snow tubing hill. For more information visit their website.

Mount Zion Recreational Complex
If you’re looking for affordable family tubing head to Mt. Zion in the Upper Peninsula! Mt. Zion is well known for very reasonable rates, their tubing park and learn to ski and snowboard programs. For more information visit their website here.

Gladstone Sports Park
Another tubing spot in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the Gladstone Sports Park. Known for their intermediate downhill ski area Gladstone also boasts a tubing area that includes three runs and the only return lift in the Upper Peninsula. For more information on the park contact parks@gladstonewireless.com.

Treetops Resort
Treetops Resort in Gaylord offers all of the amenities of a full service resort including skiing, snowboarding, a spa, and extreme tubing! Treetop’s extreme tubing run is adjacent to their ski slopes and offers a fun and exhilarating ride down the hills of Northern Michigan. For more information to start planning a family tubing trip see the website here.

Hanson Hills Recreation Area
Snowtubing is a main attraction at the Hanson Hill Recreation Area. This 1000 acre winter/summer sports park features family recreation at reasonable rates including a terrain Park, 11 downhill skiing runs, 35 km cross-country skiing, snow tubing, biking, softball field, hiking & walking trails, and rental facilities. More information is available on their website here.

Boyne Highland and Boyne Mountain
Boyne has two resorts in Michigan that feature some of the best tubing parks around. Take a break from a day of skiing and snowboarding for the most fun you have on have sitting down riding the tubing lanes! For more information visit the Boyne website.

Learn more about snow tubing in Michigan in Tubing | A Pure Michigan Winter, from the Pure Michigan winter video series.