It’s that time of year when the snow begins to fall in Canada. Alberta has already seen its first snowfall and northern Ontario won’t be far behind. Dog sledding in Ontario offers a unique and unforgettable winter experience, combining adventure, excitement, and the beauty of the province’s snow-covered landscapes. From the trails of the Haliburton Highlands to the picturesque scenery of Muskoka and the rugged beauty of Algonquin Park, there is no shortage of places to enjoy this traditional winter activity.
Best Dog sledding in Ontario
We have had the opportunity to go dog sledding several times in our lives. We even joined legendary Canadian dog musher Hank Debruin in Haliburton on an all-night training fun before he left for the epic Yukon Quest race.
If you have ever thought of doing a dog sledding experience, it’s easy in Ontario Canada. There are so many places to enjoy this winter activity and we are going to break down what it’s like on a dog sledding adventure and to let you know what it is like.
Is Dog Sledding Cruel?
But first, let’s discuss the elephant in the room. Is dog sledding cruel?
The question of whether dogsledding is cruel can be a complex and divisive topic. When done ethically and responsibly, dogsledding is not cruel. We have seen the strong bond between the dogs and their mushers at several different dog sled operations. We have seen that huskies love to run and their owners love to run with them!
We have studied this topic extensively and have visited dog sled operations in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. When talking with dog sledding tour operators, they have the same answer as with the case of all businesses around the world – There are a few bad apples that ruin it for the rest of the dog mushers who truly love their dogs and treat them like family.
The one common thread you will see from the dog sledding companies listed below is that they have a deep love and respect for their Siberian and Alaskan Huskies. A lot has changed over the years with the dogs well being and safety being the most important aspects to these owners. Check out our post The Misconceptions of Dog Sledding
A Brief History of Sled Dogs
Did you know that dog sledding has a history that spans thousands of years and many different cultures? The use of sled dogs dates back to at least 2000 BCE, with evidence of dogsledding found in Siberia, Northern Canada, and Greenland.
During the gold rushes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dogsledding became a crucial means of transportation.
Dogsledding also has a notable place in history for its role in public health. In 1925, a diphtheria outbreak in Nome, Alaska, was halted thanks to a relay of mushers and sled dogs that transported antitoxin serum over 700 miles in treacherous winter conditions, in what became known as the “Great Race of Mercy.”
Dogsledding in Ontario
“Was this photo taken in Banff?” A reader asked us this when we posted a photo of our dog team from our dog sledding adventure in Ontario. Many people think that they have to go to Alberta, The Yukon, or even Quebec for dog sledding, but Northern Ontario offers amazing tours where you can drive your own dog sled team and have the adventure of a lifetime.
What to Expect on Dog Sledding Trips
Dog sled tours vary in length, experience, and destination. Most tours last 3 – 5 hours but you can book a full-day, half-day, or even overnight and multi-day excursions. Some book special events for schools and businesses and all of the operators have one thing in common, a love for their dogs!
Some dog sledding kennels offer overnight accommodations in cabins and even heated prospector tents set in snowy forests where you can relax for the night enjoying home-cooked meals.
All are led by professional expert guides who have plenty of experience running teams and all of these Ontario.
Your Dog Sledding Adventure
Upon arrival, you’ll receive a short comprehensive lesson on how to drive and control your sleigh and teach you the basics of handling the sled and communicating with the team before the staff brings them out from their cozy kennels and begins to hook them onto the sleds.
They will then introduce you to your team and you may even have the chance to help harness and prepare them for the journey. This is where the frenzy begins. When dog sledding, you are an active participant. As the dogs come out, one of your two-man team has to hold on to the lead dog to keep it from running over to see what all the other dogs are doing.
It’s tougher than you think to keep them still. They want to run around, sniff the other teams, and say hello, they fight with each other, nuzzle their noses in the snow, and yip and yap a lot. It’s a high-octane experience and you haven’t even started yet!
Like a pack of wolves, there are different hierarchies for sled dogs. Lead dogs are the heads of the pack that keep the teams in line. They are the strongest, healthiest, and most confident. But there are also, point dogs, swing dogs, and wheel dogs. Wheel dogs are the workhorses. They are strong and can pull the sled out of the snow.
The Tour Begins
It’s important to pay close attention to the instructions from your experienced guides so that when your dogsled team takes off, you are ready. We saw many people running after their sleds as they were taken off guard once the team started running.
As you step onto the sled, you are immediately immersed in the winter wonderland that surrounds you, with snow-covered trees and the crisp, cold air filling your lungs. The dogs quiet down and get to work wagging their tails as they run through the snow-covered trails.
The run usually works with one person getting on the back of the sled to drive, while the other slips under a blanket and relaxes in front. You can switch off throughout the day as it can be a little bit tiring. Dog sled tours do take a bit of work, you will need to help the team.
There are only 5-6 dogs on a team and there are two of you. If you don’t lend a helping hand, they’ll turn around and give you a look of, “Come on, do you really think we are going to do this ourselves?” So be prepared to sweat a bit.
Don’t worry though, it’s not that difficult and you can work as hard or as little as you like. You could easily be only a passenger letting the experienced guides do all the work as you watch the scenery pass.
Most tours have a stop where you can enjoy hot cocoa and snacks and have some time to interact with the lovable Alaskan huskies.
Half Day vs Full Day
If you’ve never been on a dogsled before or are a little unsure if you will enjoy it, a half-day tour is for you. It lasts about 3 hours and it takes you through varied dog sledding trails and gorgeous scenery. Half-day trips are fun for the whole family taking you through trails in the Muskoka Wilderness, Algonquin Park, or other private trails through beautiful forests. They usually stop at a clearing where you can take a break enjoy some hot chocolate and interact with the beautiful Siberian Huskies.
Full-day tours give you an entire day of dogsledding where you will really get to know your dog sledding team while going deeper into the forest of places like the Haliburton Highlands and Algonquin Provincial Park. The Haliburton Forest is connected to Algonquin Park and it is simply one of the most beautiful locations in Ontario. When a fresh snowfall comes down, you feel as if you’re in a dream.
Dogs are smart and they like being praised as much as the rest of us so we were constantly giving them belly rubs when we stopped and showed them a lot of affection. The more we praised them, the faster they ran!
Most full-day dog sledding tours will offer a hot chili lunch or hamburgers and hot dogs while you enjoy warm drinks by the fire to stay warm. And that is exactly what happened during our tour. We enjoyed snacks while the guides fed the team some snacks too!
Best Dog Sledding Tours in Ontario
We have gone dogsledding with several companies around Canada and have always enjoyed them. Whether you decide on a day trip or to do some multi-day dog sledding, you can count on having a true adventure. You can even book a one-hour taster tour if you like. Regardless of what you book, you will be sure to love it. Here are some highly recommended dog sledding tours in Ontario.
1. Winterdance Dogsled Tours
Winterdance Dogsled Tours is part of Ontario’s signature experience dog sledding and we have known Hank and Tanya for more than 10 years. Their adorable Siberian Huskies weren’t named the prettiest team on the Iditarod trail for nothing!
Winterdance Dogsled Tours is a family-run operation owned by Hank DeBruin and Tanya McCready that exclusively runs with Siberian huskies. They have been running tours for more than 20 years and have 150 Huskies in their beautiful kennels on their property sitting high on a hill in the middle of the forest.
Hank has run and finished both the Iditarod Race and Yukon Quest with his own team of competitive Huskies. Folks like us may not have the skill or guts to compete in a thousand-mile dog race ourselves, but by taking the 3-hour drive from Toronto to Haliburton Highlands, we can get a taste of what it’s like to spend some time on the sled.
You can book everything from half-day tours to longer excursions that include multi-day outings. They even offer moonlit runs and heli-dogsledding. We have done a moonlit run with Hank when he was training for the Yukon Quest. We spent all night with his dogs on the ultimate winter adventure and saw the great care he takes making sure his dogs are safe and healthy.
Where to Stay
Turn your outdoor adventure into a romantic escape at their four-season cabin where you can light up the wood-burning stove and sip wine while you reminisce about your extraordinary day trip.
Located near Haliburton there are plenty of choices for accommodation and other adventures in Algonquin Park.
2. Sugar Dogs Adventure Co. in Sundridge Ontario
Sugar Dogs Adventure Co. provides a distinctive and exciting way to experience the winter landscape of Ontario through their dog sledding and skijoring adventures. They have an expansive, private trail system taking guests into the backcountry in the highland forests on the western border of Algonquin Provincial Park.
For groups of more than four adults, they also offer backcountry ski & snowshoe tours that you can combine with dogsledding, so you can make a weekend out of it. Sunridge borders Algonquin Provincial Park making it a true adventure destination in winter. Tours include park access.
Ed has been dog sledding for 25 years and has been operating this family-run company since 2005. Get more details on tours here.
3. Snow Forest Adventures
Dogsledding with Snow Forest Adventures in Algonquin Provincial Park and Temagami offers a hands-on, interactive experience that immerses you in the world of mushing. Owner Greg Lawrence has been guiding people by by dogsled and canoe since 1987.
The health and happiness of his team are a top priority. Alaskan huskies differ from Siberian Huskies as they are a mix of different breads made for long-distance running. You’ll notice they are long-legged and long-bodied with a cute and fun personality to go with it.
Snow Forest Adventures offers multi-day dog sledding trips that include winter camping
Where to Stay
For those opting for an overnight experience, the tour includes an introduction to winter camping where you’ll stay in heated prospector tents, wrapped up in sleeping bags on a comfy camp cot. Inside the canvas tents, you’ll stay toasty warm with a wood stove to keep you warm. In the evening, you’ll enjoy a delicious, home-cooked meal prepared by your guide, giving you a taste of traditional Canadian cuisine. There is nothing quite like winter camping as you watch the stars and enjoy the magical silence of everything being in the wild offers.
4. North Ridge Ranch Muskoka Dogsledding Tours
North Ridge Ranch in the heart of Muskoka has been in operation for more than two decades. Owners Brad & Leah Fetterley are passionate about dogsledding and their more than 60 Alaskan Huskies. As with all the dogsledding companies listed, their team’s well-being and happiness is the most important part of their business.
North Ridge offers one-hour and half-day tours. The half-day dog sledding tour takes you on a 20 km journey through private trails. Tours offer the usual options of learning how to handle the sleds, stops in the wilderness and hot drinks and snacks. See more details here.
Where to Stay
Being located in Huntsville there are plenty of things to do from skating at the Arrowhead Provincial Park ice trail to exploring the town of Huntsville. Plus, there are a lot of choices for accommodation and places to eat nearby.
Tips for Dog Sledding in Ontario
Give yourself plenty of time to get there, as road conditions can be sketchy during the winter months and make sure to check your map beforehand.
There is limited cell coverage here, so if you are relying on Google Maps, you’ll be in trouble.
Dress Warm. You will be out in the cold for a few hours so warm winter clothing is a must. Make sure to have good snow boots and pack some hot shots for your hands and toes. When you are the passenger you’ll be sitting on the dog sleds and your metabolism will slow down. Even though you’ll have a blanket over you, it is cold.
We also suggest packing goggles or UVA Sunglasses and a warm hat and balaclava.
So are ready to answer the call of the wild and book your own winter escape? Instead of watching Netflix on cold winter days, get outside and embrace the snow. You won’t regret it.