How to Experience Sled Dog Racing in the Upper Peninsula

Winter in Michigan is a great time for snow sports such as skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing, but if you’re looking for a different type of winter sports action, then you won’t want to miss the UP 200 and other sled dog races around the state. Today, featured blogger Jesse Land of Things to Do in the U.P. gives us the inside scoop on sled dog racing in the Upper Peninsula.

The UP 200

Photo courtesy of aaronpeterson.net

The UP 200 sled dog race is one of the premier sled dog races in the country. Mushers from all over travel to the Marquette, Michigan each winter to compete in this race. They love it not only for the beautiful and challenging terrain, but also for the warm welcome they receive from the huge crowd that assembles in Marquette to cheer them on.

The start of the race is truly something to see. The city of Marquette shuts down Washington Street, which runs through the heart of Marquette’s downtown district, and covers the street with snow. This is where thousands of people will gather onto the sidewalks on the evening of Friday, February 14th to watch the dog sled teams embark on the 240 mile course.

The mushers travel from Marquette toward Munising, through sections of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and then on to Grand Marais. Grand Marais is the layover point, where the teams will arrive sometime the morning of Saturday, February 15th. After spending a few hours in Grand Marais to rest and refuel, the teams will head back to Marquette sometime late Saturday afternoon and evening.

The Midnight Run

Photo courtesy of aaronpeterson.net

And then there’s the Midnight Run, an exciting ninety-mile race that takes place between the start and finish of the U.P. 200. Midnight run mushers leave Marquette from Washington Street shortly after the U.P. 200 mushers. However, their course is different.

In the past Midnight Run teams have finished in Grand Marais. New this year the teams will race to Chatam, then turn around and finish in Marquette’s Mattson Lower Harbor Park.

Where is the best place to see the dogs?

One of the most popular questions that gets asked by spectators is “where’s the best place to se the dogs?” Luckily, there are many great options.

Washington Street in Marquette is the most popular viewing area by far because the races start right there and it’s located in the heart of downtown. However, for those looking to avoid the crowds or take in a different stage of the race there are definitely other options.

Photo courtesy of aaronpeterson.net

Not far from downtown Marquette, the welcome center offers a great spot to view the teams as they head into the woods. Restrooms are available and food and drinks will be provided here at no cost.

The Prince of Peace Church in Harvey also offers a great viewing area. They’ll have a bonfire to help spectators stay warm. Restrooms are available inside the church, and food and drinks will be available for purchase.

The Lakenenland Sculpture Park offers another great viewing spot as the mushers race right by there.

The Downtown Showdown

And if you’re in Marquette for the UP 200 and Midnight Run, be sure to check out the Downtown Showdown rail jam competition on Saturday night. The snow from Washington Street gets moved to nearby Front Street where an awesome course of rails is set up on which snowboarders and skiers will test their skills. It’s a great time for skiers, snowboarders and spectators alike.

So plan a trip to Marquette, Michigan for the weekend of February 14th, 15th and 16th! It’ll be an action packed weekend full of great events!

If you can’t make it to the race, there are plenty of other ways to experience sled dog racing the Upper Peninsula. Visit michigan.org to see a full list of sled dog tours available near you. 

Have you been to a sled dog race in Michigan? Tell us about your experience. 

This post was written by Jesse Land of Things to do in the U.P. on behalf of Travel Marquette Michigan. 

Iditarod Sled Dogs – From Michigan to Alaska

Did you know that you can find Iditarod sled dogs right here in Michigan? Tasha Stielstra, owner of Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures, fills us in on why she and her husband train their Iditarod team in Michigan over other states and what it entails.

Learn more about dog sledding in Michigan on michigan.org. If you’re interested in fall tours, see Tasha’s past post on fall dog sledding.

Iditarod sled dogs in Michigan?  You bet!  My husband, Ed, has completed Alaska’s 1,049 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race seven times.  What makes our Michigan-based team extraordinary is that for the past two years, Ed has been the only musher from outside of Alaska or Canada to complete the race.  We are often asked if and when we will move to Alaska.  And our answer is, “Never”.  There are unique challenges that we face while training our Iditarod team in Michigan for a race that spans across the state of Alaska, but the fact is that training is training, no matter where you live.  There could always be an excuse for not going for a run (it’s too cold, too wet, too hot, too…) but regardless of where you are, if you don’t do it, you’re not training. 

I’ve lived with Iditarod sled dogs now for about nine years (and my Iditarod-addicted husband for fifteen years), and every time I think of the Iditarod, I am amazed at what an Alaskan Husky sled dog can do. I looked up a marathon training regime from one of the best known marathon trainers and runners in the world, Midwestern running icon Hal Higdon.  Hal is probably the closest human equivalent to an Iditarod sled dog.  Hal figures that he has been continuously running since 1949, a fact that I find amazing as well.  Hal suggests an 18-week training program for running a 26.2 mile marathon. The first week of March a little less than 18 weeks away.  The first week of March is the start of Iditarod 2013. The Iditarod is approximately one thousand miles or thirty-eight marathons in length, run back-to-back.  I don’t even have to put the fact into writing, Iditarod dogs are amazing. 

Ed and I raise and train our Iditarod sled dogs from our home in McMillan (90 minutes northwest of the Mackinac Bridge).  In about 2 years’ time, our pups go from slobbery, kissy, roly-poly puppies to slobbery, kissy, Iditarod veterans.  If Hal Higdon were to take one our dog dogs for a walk down the street, you probably would not even glance twice.  Both man and dog would appear very average.  Fact is, neither are average. Hal (born June 17, 1931-age 81) has finished 111 marathons and Rhu (born June 12, 2005-age 7) has finished 114 Iditarod marathons.  Rhu weighs about 45 pounds, likes to ride in the car and sleep in the bed.  I’m guessing Hal is a bit (but not much) heavier, and also likes to ride in the car and sleep in bed!

With less than 18 weeks to go, Iditarod marathon training in Michigan is in full swing.  We are excited to make our state proud once again this year as Michigan’s one and only Iditarod team.  You can follow Rhu, our team and our progress at www.natureskennel.com

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.

Fall Dog Sledding in Pure Michigan

When people think of “sled dogs,” they often think of snow and the winter season. But did you know that sled dogs begin training in the fall? Today, Tasha Stielstra, owner of Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures, fills us in on the training process and available tours.

Have you ever taken a Michigan dog sledding tour? Learn more about available tours at michigan.org.

My husband and I own Nature’s Kennel Iditarod Sled Dog Racing and Adventures near McMillan in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.  When many people hear the words “sled dogs,” images of snow and winter probably come to mind.  However, in order for sled dogs to get in shape for the winter season, they need to begin training in the fall.  Think of it as a pre-season training camp where all the skills are honed in, the leaders are chosen, and team building is the focus. Our Alaskan Huskies are not only the top Iditarod finishers in the Midwest, they are also fabulous tour dogs who love to meet and greet new guests.

One of the most commonly asked questions about fall training is if we put wheels on the dog sleds.  No, we need to use something a bit larger with tires, good suspension, and really good brakes!  We use off-road vehicles (ATV’s or side-by-sides) and we provide the very unique opportunity for guests to join us on our fall training runs.  Fall training runs in our area of the Eastern Upper Peninsula are so gorgeous that several years ago we decided we should share that beauty with others.  Our trails run through hardwood forests, so the color changes on these less-than-traveled trails are really magnificent.  Fall tour guests get to learn all there is about sled dogs, minus the snow.  They learn how to harness the dogs, hook them to the gangline, and then hop in our four-passenger “dog-powered” vehicle for a five mile run.  At the end of the ride they congratulate their dog team, get a grand tour of the dog yard (where they can pet all 150 dogs if they choose) and then end their trip with a chance to hold adorable puppies.  It really is Michigan’s most unique fall color tour!   

Our fall tours take place in the mornings, when the temperatures are coolest as the sled dogs love cold weather!  Their optimal running temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit so even a 35 degree morning feels warm to them.  If you do choose to come along for a ride, you will have to be up early to see the dogs in action.  Area lodging is available at Chamberlin’s Old Forest Inn in Curtis or Halfway Lake Resort north of Newberry, both of these options are located on area lakes where it seems like you can see colors changing right before your eyes.  Fall tours at Nature’s Kennel generally last about 2 ½ hours which leaves enough time in the afternoon for a trip to Tahquamenon Falls State Park (40 minutes from Nature’s Kennel), a must-see stop on a color tour of the Upper Peninsula.    

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.