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.

 

Pure Michigan February Events Roundup

February in Pure Michigan means winter fun, food and family events. From award winning musicals to winter sporting events, there’s something for everyone this month.  For more suggestions of things to do this month in Michigan, visit michigan.org.

 Southeast

Southeast

African American History Day
February 4, 2012, Detroit
Join in the celebration of African American history and culture as the Detroit Historical Museum kicks off Black History Month with this annual event. Find gifts from our Artists Market, learn from historical organizations and neighborhood organizations in the area, and bring kids to enjoy entertainment and a caricature artist. Renowned storytellers Ivory D. Williams and Shanta and the Kidz Art Zone will provide enthralling experiences for children. For more information, visit the event website or call (313) 833-1805.

Toy Collectible Show
February 4, 2012, Jackson
The Toy Collectible Show will take place on the Jackson Fairgrounds, inside the heated fair events center.  Attendees can browse more than 155 tables featuring toys from Nascar, Hotwheels, Star Wars, Pez, Matchbox and more. Show information is available by calling (517) 524-8899.

Love, Loss and What I Wore
February 8 – March 4, 2012, Detroit
Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore, an intimate collection of stories covering some of life’s most poignant moments and their corresponding wardrobe, will appear at Detroit’s historic Gem Theatre this month. The evening of vignettes, which is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Ilene Beckerman as well as personal reminiscences from the Ephrons and their friends, will feature a cast of five powerful actresses. Tickets are on sale at the Gem Theatre and Fisher Theatre box offices, at all Ticketmaster locations, online at ticketmaster.com and by calling (313) 963-9800 or (800) 982-2787.

Detroit Boat Show
February 11 – 19, 2012, Detroit
The Detroit Boat Show is the original, biggest and best boat show in the state of Michigan, featuring the premiere showing of hundreds of new 2012 and non-current model boats, motors, trailers, accessories and more. For more information call the Cobo Center at (800) 338-7648 or (313) 338-7648.

Motown Winter Blast 2012
February 11 – 13, 2012, Detroit
Motown Winter Blast is a unique combination of hip and fun winter events that are centered on Campus Martius Park. This year we are celebrating Motown with a fun celebration you will not want to miss. For more information, please visit the event website.

Storytelling Festival
February 18 – 19, 2012, Ann Arbor
Each year The Ark revives the oldest of all the arts with the February Storytelling Festival, featuring talespinners from far and wide. Sunday’s program features kid-oriented stories from 2012 Storytelling Festival artists. For more information, visit the event website or call (734) 761-1800.

Fire & Ice Fest
February 24 – 26, 2012, Rochester
Downtown Rochester’s much-anticipated winter festival features ice sculptures, ice skating, a tubing run, fireworks, and a taste fest inside the warming tent featuring beer and wine provided by Rochester Mills Beer Company. For more information, contact (248) 858-5437.

Shrek The Musical
February 28 – March 11, 2012, Detroit
Shrek the Musical, which tells the story of a swamp-dwelling ogre who goes on a life-changing adventure to reclaim the deed to his land, comes to the Fisher Theatre at the end of the month. Joined by a wise-cracking donkey, this unlikely hero fights a fearsome dragon, rescues a feisty princess and learns that real friendship and true love aren’t only found in fairy tales. For more information on this performance, visit the website or call (313) 872-1000.

Southwest

Southwest

Ice Breaker 2012
February 3 – 5, 2012, South Haven
Come Enjoy “The Four Seasons of South Haven” Ice Breaker 2012, where the Lake Michigan resort community of South Haven will heat up as it celebrates the 19th annual Ice Breaker festival. A major focus of the event is the sculpting of more than 50 blocks of ice, weighing 300 pounds each, into dazzling displays themed by “The Four Seasons of South Haven.” For more information, visit the event website or call (269) 637-5171.

Winter Blues Festival
February 11, 2012, Marshall
Winter Blues are usually a bad thing but not at this event! This is your chance to enjoy some great live blues music, enjoy dinner (catered by Roma’s Corner Café), or participate in several workshops offered. For more information, visit the event website or call (269) 789-9677.

Kalamazoo Live Green Fair & Home Show
February 18 – 19, 2012, Kalamazoo
The Live Green Fair and Home Show helps families live a healthier life, while saving money and energy too! The show offers products and services from over 60 exhibitors to help families live a greener life. For more information, visit the event website or call (734) 320-5322.

Great Scrapbook Show
February 24 – 25, 2012, Kalamazoo
Shop a large selection of paper crafting products at this scrapbooking and stamping show. For more information, visit the show website or call (810) 287-7711.

Upper Peninsula

Upper Peninsula

International 500 Snowmobile Race
February 4, 2012, Sault Sainte Marie
Mark your calendar for the first Saturday in February and get ready for the thrill of a lifetime, and get ready to see drivers accelerate to speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour on the straight-aways! For more information, visit the event website or call (989)808-5266.

Michigan Ice Fest Family Activities
February 4, 2012, Munising
Different family events throughout the afternoon include the annual cardboard classic, a 5K snowshoe relay, children’s activities and games, food and beverages and a free shuttle to the Michigan Ice Fest climbing activities. Activities are in and behind the American Legion. For more information on this event call (906) 387-2138.

UP Snow Softball Tournament
February 11 – 12, 2012, St. Ignace
Come join the fun as teams compete against each other in the UP Snow Softball Tournament! Teams of 9-12 players will battle the elements as they vie for top honors. This game gives new meaning to the phrase ‘sliding into home plate.’ For more information, call (800) 338-6660.

UP 200 Dog Sled Races
February 16 – 20, 2012, Marquette
The UP 200 is one of America’s premier 12-dog, mid-distance sled dog races. Mushers say this is one of their favorite races, not only because of the challenging race, but because of the cheering crowds and warm welcome they receive here in the Upper Peninsula. Come join in the excitement for the start of the race located in downtown Marquette, MI.  For more information on this event, visit the website or call (906) 228-3072 or (906) 869-2640.

West Central

West Central

Camper, Travel, & RV Show
February 2 – 5, 2012, Grand Rapids
This show will fill every square inch of the beautiful DeVos Place with the latest motor homes, fifth wheels, travel trailers, campers, accessories, campgrounds, and vacation destinations. For more information, visit the event website or call (616) 742-6500.

Animal Adventures: Growing Up Wild
February 6, 2012, Grand Rapids
Enjoy an evening of warmth and wonder and discover fascinating things about four animals – a mammal, a reptile, an amphibian and a bird. Watch live animal presentations, enjoy animal story time, explore the Tropical Conservatory by flashlight, or become engrossed in animal art activities. Reservations required by calling Meijer Gardens at (616) 974-5239 or John Ball Zoo at (616) 336-4310.

Nordic Nights Gourmet Dine & Glides
February 11, 2012, North Muskegon
Don’t miss out on one of the best culinary experiences in Michigan this winter. This event includes a four course dinner, ski pass and entrance to heated tent with live music. There will be three stations offering delicious food, featuring a blazing fire placed throughout your 5K glide. Back at the heated tent, guests will enjoy dessert and music by Mike Snell. For more information, call (231) 744-9629.

Grand Rapids Boat Show
February 15 – 19, 2012, Grand Rapids
This Boat Show includes powerboats and more sailboats on display than any other show in the state of Michigan! Fishing boats, water sport accessories and boating services like marina slips and sail lofts will be some of the attractions at DeVos Place. For more information, visit the show website or call (616) 742-6500.

Michigan Winter Beer Festival
February 25, 2012, Comstock Park
Hundreds of hand-crafted beers from Michigan’s finest microbreweries will be served up in this chilly outdoor festival. Entertainment, food and fun will help keep you warm! Tickets are sold in advance and are available online or at the Fifth-Third Ballpark box office or at participating Guild member breweries. For more information, call (517) 327-5004.

East Central

East Central

Shakespearean Dreams Performance
February 11, 2012, Saginaw
Poets have come and gone for centuries, but only one is known as “the Bard.” Finzi’s music and Timothy Jones’ powerful voice will bring some of Shakespeare’s most emotionally stirring verses to life. The Pit & Balcony Theatre Co. will perform a semi-staged version of one of the world’s greatest comedies, while the SBSO and the Saginaw Choral Society will perform the music that comedy inspired in Mendelssohn. For more information on this event, call (989) 755-6471.

Shanty Days
February 17 – 19, Caseville
Indulge in some fun in the wintertime! Enjoy four wheeler races, ice fishing, food and beverages tents, live entertainment, craft show, kids’ activities and demo derby. For more information, call (989) 856-3818.

Northeast

Northeast

Winter Fun Days
February 3 – 5, 2012, Grayling
Lots of fun things for families to do in Grayling starting Friday with Dollar night, DJ music and a marshmallow roast over a campfire. The events continue Saturday and Sunday with free lift tickets and trail passes, Big Air Competition, chili cook off, Slush Pit and Sled Box race. For more information, call (989) 348-9266.

Alpenfrost 2012
February 11, 2012, Grayling
The first annual Alpenfrost winter celebration in downtown Gaylord combines anchor events such as the Polar Plunge and a Craft Beer & Wine Festival at Treetops Resort, with a flurry of downtown activities, games, and merchant sales. Alpine Village will unveil an open-air ice skating rink. For a schedule of events or for more information, visit the event website or call (989) 731-7378.

Treetops Olympics
February 23 – 26, 2012, Gaylord
The Treetops Olympics is an event for the whole family! Participate in crazy games such as Human Bowling, Human Curling and Minute to Win It. For more information, visit the event website or call (888) 873-3867.

Northwest

Northwest

North American Snow Festival – 2012
February 2 – 5, 2012, Cadillac
Thursday night kicks off with a chili cook-off at this winter festival and the fun doesn’t stop there. Friday brings the Poker Fun Run, sleigh rides, a grilling contest and more entertainment at The Armory. Saturday compete in ice fishing, motorcycle and snowmobile races on Lake Cadillac – and a polar dip in the lake for those brave enough! Sunday, snow sculptures will dot the Lake Cadillac shoreline and the fun continues with more lake races. For more information, call (800) 22-LAKES or (231) 775-0657.

Mid-Winter’s Chocolate Therapy
February 4, 2012, Bellaire
An afternoon of chocolate featuring Michigan chocolatiers. Enjoy tasting samples, chocolate-making demo, cupcake competition, Valentine’s gifts, chocolate spa treatments, live music and more. For more information on this event, visit the event website or call (800)678-4111.

Taste the Passion
February 4 – 5, 2012, Cedar
This special weekend celebrates wine, chocolate and love in anticipation of Valentine’s Day! The combination of winter’s beauty in Leelanau with the special pleasures of life always makes a wonderful weekend. The weekend starts on Saturday as participants head to their first winery stop to collect a souvenir glass, then the fun begins with special pours and tasty chocolate treats offered at wineries throughout the rest of the weekend. In addition to chocolate, savory dishes will be served at a number of tasting rooms. For more information, visit the event website or call (231)421-1172.

Cherry Festival Winter Wonderfest
February 17 – 19, 2012, Acme
The Cherry Capital Winter WonderFest features a “Winter Fun Zone” at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa offering ice skating, bonfires, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and more. In downtown Traverse City, you can find beautiful ice carvings and walk through the snow sculpture park, enjoy live music under the tent at the Annual Soup’r Bowl Competition and Beer Tent and watch the Frozen Bed Race, Monster Dog Pull competition and “Tommy Tropic” juggler, take part in the Brain Freeze ice cream eating competition or frozen cherry pit contest, or take a horse and carriage ride. There’s also a two-day Snowball Winter Softball Tournament at the Grand Traverse Civic Center. For more information, visit the event website.

Dog Sledding in Pure Michigan

If you’re looking for a fun way to get out and enjoy Michigan’s glistening landscape this winter, dog sledding is your answer. With 11,000 frozen inland lakes and a number of brilliant, snow-covered national forests, there are plenty of options for experiencing the rush of dog sledding throughout the state. Here are some places to check out.

Nature’s Kennel Iditaord Sled Dog Racing & Adventures in McMillan offers a variety of “drive-you-own-dog team” adventures ranging from overnight trips to full day and half day trips. No experience is necessary, as guests have the option to drive their own team or take a ride in the sled.

At the Last Chance Kennel at Russ-Stick Acres you’ll feel like you’re experiencing an amazing Alaskan experience without ever leaving the state. Guests to this rustic farm in Mancelona will explore the history of dog sledding, while gaining “hands on” experience.

If you’re near Cadillac, there are several places to check out the fun. Shemhadar Kennels offers hourly rides for the whole family through northern Michigan’s scenic trails. If you head a bit north, check out S & L Arctic K9’s Sled Dog Adventures, where customized training and tours are available.

The Double JJ Resort in Rothbury is a family favorite destination during all four seasons. During winter months, families can take part in various outdoor activities – including dog-sled rides.

At the Otter River Sled Dog Training Center & Wilderness Adventures in Tapiola, dog sled experiences include a three mile ride, a half day adventure, overnight camping, and an opportunity to drive your own team.

Partnering with the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and Caberfae Peaks Ski & Golf Resort this winter, Wiggi’s Mountain-Side Huskies offers one of the best dog sled rides in town. Be sure to make an appointment for Saturday or Sunday if you’re in the area!

For more information on dog sledding throughout the state, please visit www.michigan.org.