Add Dogsledding to your Winter Adventures in Northern Minnesota

What do you give someone who has everything or if he needs something, just buys it himself?  I always struggle with this for my hubby when Christmas or Birthdays roll around.  Also, it’s impossible to get my husband away from work so if I book something, he’ll have to come with me, right?  This year instead of a Christmas present, I decided to do a quick overnight dog sledding adventure up in Northern Minnesota.  Maybe this was a selfish gift, as this has been on my bucketlist, plus my parents were able to watch our 18 month old, plus being 20 weeks pregnant our spontaneous trips together aren’t existent and only going to be more of a challenge becoming family of three into a family of four… so all these factors led me to think, we have to do it.  AND my hubby is always up for an adventure!

Dogsledding in the Midwest
Heading up to Ely, Minnesota

Out of all of the dog sledding options up in northern Minnesota, I knew I wanted to do an overnight stay and with our time being limited and temperatures being so cold, I only wanted to do one night, this limited my options to White Wilderness Adventures, which had amazing reviews and highly rated.  Info here. When I booked this trip, I did not anticipate the freezing temperatures.  This December, was exceptionally cold. -38 degrees F cold. Freeze your skin in 10 minutes cold.  Never go outside cold.  Cold AF.  Had I known, I would’ve reconsidered this trip just out of survival but I had already paid deposit and the owner assured me that they are well equipped for the cold temperatures to keep us warm.  Eric was pretty psyched and kept reassuring me we’ll be fine.  Maybe it was the mother in me who can’t help but worry or think the worst (seriously had anxiety and flashbacks to when Leonardo DiCaprio was in the movie, Revenant… Do we need a gun, knife, compass, do I have enough chapstick so my lips won’t EVER look like his?)  Of course, I’m exaggerating, but I was worried and already cold.


DAY 1.  Eric and I woke up at 4AM to drive from Bemidji to Ely, which was a 3.5-hour drive.  It seemed like torture at first as we were greeted with -30 degrees F slapping us across the face as we packed our car.  As we trucked through northern Minnesota we were able to watch the sunrise and saw the trees getting closer to the road as we moved further north.  My husband noticed a rainbow on both sides of the sun, which is super cool because this is caused by the ‘refraction of sunlight by ice crystals in the atmosphere, called Sundogs.’  (thanks, Wikipedia).  Awww, Minnesota, even in your most dreaded, cold months you are still so beautiful.

As we were getting close to White Wilderness we saw a wolf flash past the road. The first wild wolf we’ve ever seen.  At that moment, it was getting real. We are way up north, totally remote, nature everywhere, and still cold AF.

Dogs getting ready

We arrived at White Wilderness around 9AM.  We pulled up next to the kennels, where 100+ Alaskan huskies circled their houses, barking at their new company.  It took us about an hour to get geared up, which consisted of adding layer upon layer, approving or disapproving our current hat, boot, and gear situation to either replace or add to it.  We were proactive with the cold temps, so we generously stuffed hand warmers in our mittens and heating sole liners to our boots.  I was dying to get outside at that point, as my temperature was boiling beyond prego tolerance.

Dogsledding in Minnesota
Our FURRY leaders!
Dogsledding in Minnesota
Alaskan huskies are true sled dogs that are bred solely for working ability, not appearance.

We had a quick dog sledding 101 lesson which was basically make sure at least one hand is always on the sled and a few quick dog commands, which consisted of “Whoa” = stop, “Ha” = left, “Onward” = keep moving/start moving forward, “Gee” = right.  Our training lasted about 10 minutes and then we had the keys to our 6-dog powered sled and were off.  Over the hills and through the woods, these dogs were cranking speed.  So crazy seeing how well the dogs worked together and how excited they were to “work” even in the cold temps.  Eric and I took turns ‘driving’ the sled and riding inside the sled, there was one moment I was cold.  -30 degrees is no joke.  The guide told me to take off my boots and sandwich my toes with hand warmers and add more to my mittens and after about 20 minutes I was golden again.  We stopped for lunch, which our guide had a metal sheet which she threw in the middle of a trail and we helped her find some dry fire wood and we had an open flame in the middle of the woods, still freezing and we ate lunch outside.  Everything tasted amazing.  We had sausages, trail mix, cookies, and hot cocoa.  I don’t know what it is but there’s something about when you are camping and cooking food for yourself in a remote area where your food always tastes amazing.

Dogsledding in MN
Gathering wood to make fire for lunch!
Sausages for  lunch!
Eric and our team

First day we traveled about 25 miles before we finally came up to our yurt.  Towards the end of our run, you could tell the dogs were getting tired.  It seemed like we were going uphill the entire way so Eric and I took turns running behind the sled (always with both hands on) which helped us warm up and lighten the load. Once we arrived at our yurt site, we helped unharness the dogs, found branches and brush for dog ‘beds’ (to get the dogs off of the ice to help with the cold), we drilled a hole in the ice for water, boiled the water for the dogs and mixed it with their dog food. Needless to say, we were all exhausted.  A yurt is a portable, round covered tent.  This particular yurt is only up during the winter where Winter Wilderness had a special permit to keep it up, but they break it down before summer.  Inside our yurt, there were cots, futon, table, chairs, mini stove, gas heater and temperature reached about 35 degrees, which seemed like heaven compared to outside.  Our guide prepared us an awesome cheese and cracker plate, butternut squash ravioli with ham, artisan bread and hot cocoa.  It was amazing.  Our belly’s were warm and full.

Warming up in yurt
Dinner = warm and full belly!

We were probably in bed by 8PM which my body couldn’t hit the bed fast enough.  I slept in a subzero sleeping bag inside another sleeping bag.  The sleeping bag cocooned around my body and the only body part exposed was my nose.  Our guide even put boiled water in a water bottle, wrapped a sock around it, and told us to put it at the bottom of our sleeping bags.  My toes were toasty warm and I was so cozy… prego belly and all.

Trail from yurt to lake
Over the hills and through the woods.

At 3AM, my prego bladder was at capacity, seriously held it to a point where I was at emergency status.  I tried to play the prego pity card for Eric to come with me but he told me “not a chance”.  I was scared.  I put on my head lamp and went outside and had flashbacks of the wolf we saw earlier and the only thing I could see was what where the light shined ahead of me.  Super freaky.  Blair witch freaky.  I’ve never looked around so many times or peed so fast.  Needless to say, I was fine.  But I was in and out so fast, I barely had time to see the northern lights above and not enough time to enjoy them.

Wildrice porridge

DAY 2.  The next morning, I stayed in my sleeping bag until basically the tour guide kicked me out.  Our guide made us wild rice porridge with banana nut bread and more cocoa.  We geared up.  This time around I added a couple more hand warmers, sole warmers, body warmers, and even sandwiched my toes with hand warmers. We packed up, harnessed the dogs, and off we went over the hills and lakes, through the woods.  So cool and beautiful.  We traveled about 16 miles to get back to White Wilderness and we were back by 12PM!  It was quick, but it was fun!

Keeping warm.

I’m so happy we did the overnight trip in the yurt because we were really apart of the process with the dogs.  We helped the dogs gear up, feed them, and of course give them a lot of love.  It was an awesome adventure.  Eric loved it and was so glad we went it, he even thought the freezing temperatures added to our experience.  Check that off our (or maybe just my?) bucket list and memories will share forever.  Video of our trip below!

xoxo, Rachael

Dogsledding checked off the bucket list