The two most famous dog sled races in North America are Alaska’s Iditarod (Anchorage to Nome) and the Yukon Quest (Fairbanks Alaska to Whitehorse in Yukon Canada). When visiting and choosing adventures most people consider an Alaska dog mushing encounter. It is one of the most sought-after Alaskan adventures. Why? It’s unique, it’s available in the coldest regions of our planet, and it incorporates Alaskan tradition, the wilderness, nature, animals, and speed. Plus, tourists can sit back and experience the ride or try driving a sled team. There are only a few places on the planet where one can participate in such an exhilarating experience. Alaska is one such place to go dog mushing.
- Alaska Dog Mushing
- What are the Iditarod and Yukon Quest?
- Iditarod Trail Headquarters and Museum
- Meeting Sled Dogs
- Trail Breaker Kennels
- Who are Susan Butcher and David Monson
- Visiting Trail Breaker Kennel
- Visiting Dog Sledding Operations in Alaska
- Where to go dog sledding in Alaska?
Alaska Dog Mushing
Transportation of people and goods in the frozen Arctic throughout history depended upon sled dogs. They were first used by native people for travel and to pull loads, especially transporting supplies to inaccessible areas. Frozen rivers often served as the travel highways for sled dog loads. Up until the ‘60’s, sled dogs were an integral part of Alaskan life. In 1965, sled dogs were finally fully replaced by planes in delivering mail and getting to remote areas of Alaska. However, today very rural communities in the Arctic use sled dogs for transport – in Alaska, Greenland, and Canada. Of course, sled dogs are still an integral part of racing sports.
In our 10 weeks in Alaska, we did partake in several Alaskan sled dog-related activities. We learned so much about the interesting history of Alaskan Husky sled dogs and the two famous cross-country, wilderness, and frigid races. It’s fun for a tourist to experience a piece of an exhilarating historic experience – an Alaska dog mushing encounter. Read on to learn more about where you can go dog mushing.
What are the Iditarod and Yukon Quest?
These races are cross-country long-distance sled dog races. While the Iditarod takes place in Alaska, the Yukon Quest, or better known as the Quest, is an international race from Alaska to the Yukon in Canada. Iditarod is just under 1,000 miles, and the Yukon Quest is 1,000 miles. Both are run in the grueling Arctic winter, and the Yukon Quest is usually colder. Their rules, costs, and prize money differ between the 2 races. Alaska is a great place to learn about these long, frigid adventurous races.
Iditarod Trail Headquarters and Museum
To learn about the Iditarod, visit the Iditarod Headquarters and Museum. It is in a quaint log cabin building in Wasilla Alaska near Anchorage. This log cabin represents the home of the Alaskan mushers and is a checkpoint on the Iditarod trail route. The museum educates visitors about the Iditarod. Trophies, Iditarod artifacts, photos of famous mushers, plus a variety of Iditarod memorabilia that speak to the history of the Iditarod fill the museum . You can see videos of Iditarod races, and unusual exhibits.
The famous sled dog, Togo, who led a dog team to Nome in 1925 to deliver serum for diphtheria, is on display; this was the inspiration for starting the Iditarod race. In summer, sled dog cart rides are available here. The museum is open all year.
Meeting Sled Dogs
Tom and I had our first sled dog encounter in Fairbanks Alaska during the Riverboat Discovery trip. This was our introduction to the role sled dogs played in Alaskan life. On the Riverboat, we were lucky to meet David Monson, the owner of Trail Breaker Kennel. David shared some information about the breeding and life of a sled dog. It was all new to us, and the demos by David opened our eyes to the history and present-day sled dog races. Here we also learned about the famous Alaskan Iditarod and the Yukon Quest races.
Trail Breaker Kennels
In talking with David Monson on Riverboat Discovery, he invited us to join a ‘Backstage Tour’ at Trail Breaker Kennel. Trail Breaker kennel was started in 1976 by Susan Butcher; we enjoyed the experience at Trail Breaker; it was informative, interesting, and fun.
Today and for over 40 years, Trail Breaker Kennel is considered a premier championship racing kennel. Trail Breaker Kennel began in Eureka Alaska and now is in Fairbanks; Trail Breaker Kennel is known for excellent dog care and training. In addition to dog care, Trail Breaker Kennel offers the world an opportunity to visit for a look at the mushers and their Alaskan Huskies.
Who are Susan Butcher and David Monson
Susan Butcher, David’s late wife, was the first woman to finish in the Iditarod’s top 10 fifteen times; both David and Susan were pioneers of sled dog racing. She started Trail Breaker Kennel in 1976 when she first planned to run the Iditarod. Susan was considered a fearless adventurer who loved the wilderness and her dogs. She won 1st place four times before she retired to start a family.
After David began racing in the Iditarod, he and Susan met at Joe Redington Sr.’s kennel (Joe is considered the”father of the Iditarod”). Susan and David married in 1985 and ran Trail Breaker Kennel together.
David also placed regularly in the top 10 in the 80’s, and in 1987 he came in second behind Susan in the Iditarod. David won the Yukon Quest in 1988 after coming in second in 1987; the Yukon Quest is an international race, and considered a much tougher race than the Iditarod. Susan and David were the famous Dog Sled Racing Power Couple in the 1980’s. Both were honored multiple times at White House events.
Their lasting contribution to the sport of dog sledding was Susan’s groundbreaking approach to raising and training sled dogs – ‘Treat them with love!’
Visiting Trail Breaker Kennel
The evening that we took David up on a Backstage Pass at his historic championship kennel was a gorgeous, perfect night. What first struck us was the scenery on the Chena River. In the evening, before the presentation, we watched a beaver on the river.
It was quite interesting to learn how Trail Breaker Kennel founders, Susan and David, built it into one of the top racing kennels in the world. At Trail Breaker Kennel, we learned about the dogs, the Iditarod and Yukon Quest, saw the tools used for the dog mushing races, and heard from people who work on Iditarod mushing teams. They shared what it takes to prepare for the 1,000-mile races, and showed us the tools of the trade and how they are used.
Tom and I also learned about Susan’s famous dog, Granite, and her unique approach to training at the time – showing the dogs love rather than just being a stern trainer made a difference in how well the dogs worked and raced. Susan bonded with her dogs and in caring for them she became their alpha.
Trail Breaker Dogs
After the talk, we visited the dogs at their dog houses. It’s so funny to see them sitting on top of their dog houses – I guess they know it’s the best view. Of course, there are always puppy litters. We visited a few litters; cuddling the puppies capped this educational and entertaining evening at Trail Breaker Kennel.
The Backstage Pass is available May 10th – September 20th; tours are offered daily at 7:30 PM. Trail Breaker Kennel also offers dog sled rides and in fall and winter so an Aurora Borealis viewing dog sled experience is available. Check the Trail Breaker Kennel website to find out how to reserve.
Visiting Trail Breaker Kennel along the peaceful and beautiful Chena River was a great way to end a day in Fairbanks Alaska.
Visiting Dog Sledding Operations in Alaska
There are several places in Alaska that invite visitors to learn about sled dogs, mushing, sled-dog training and races, like the Iditarod and Yukon Quest. From Fairbanks to Denali, Anchorage to Seward and Juneau, in summer you can meet the sled dogs and learn about them.
Summer in Denali offers a free sled dog presentation where visitors can meet their dogs. When in Denali National Park, we attended the sled dog demo. Denali’s Alaskan Huskies are trained as work dogs, not race dogs. Denali does offer sled dog rides in summer for a fee; however, rides are in carts not sleds.
Where to go dog sledding in Alaska?
To experience the outdoors as you whizz through the natural beauty of Alaska is awe-inspiring. Participating in dog mushing in Alaska provides the thrill of driving your own dog team of Alaskan Huskies, dogs born and bred to RUN! If you love dogs, part of the experience is often giving them attention, and showing them love. So where does one get an Alaska dog sled tour?
Dog mushing in Fairbanks Alaska is available as well as in other Alaskan towns; some provide summer and/or winter sled dog mushing experiences. Dog sleigh rides vary; some are 1-2 hours and others are up to 7-day mushing experiences. There are also night sled dog experiences when the Aurora Borealis can be observed.
Only a few places offer Alaska dog sled tours on the snow in summer, and that means flying up onto a glacier for dog mushing. Tours on the snow go from Juneau, Seward, or Girdwood Punchbowl. In summer, we flew from Juneau over the Juneau Icefield to Herbert Glacier for dog-sledding in July.
Worthwhile Pricey Dog Mushing Encounter
A helicopter is required for transport to a glacier; it’s costly, but a fantastic experience. We loved the flight, seeing the massive Juneau Icefield, glaciers, and being on the Herbert Glacier in the remote dog camp.
The dogs are generally happy to see the tourists. When the musher went to the dog house area to put his dog sled team together, the dogs all start barking, as if to say, ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ Since sled dogs are bred to run, they want to run whether it’s winter or summer. Some mushers send their dogs to dog sled camp on the glaciers so they can stay in shape year-round. Trail Breaker Kennel sends some race dogs up to the glaciers for summer dog camp. Taking visitors on sled rides in summer on the glaciers keeps the dogs in shape throughout the summer while offering tourists the thrill of the sport.
In addition to learning the interesting history of sled dogs, about their breeding, care, the Iditarod and Yukon Quest races, and taking a ride with a sled dog team, my favorite part was holding the puppies, and giving the dogs love.
There are many places in Alaska to experience the sled dog culture and ride with a dog team. From Anchorage and Wasilla, to Fairbanks, Juneau or Seward, tourists can experience the exhilarating sport of dog mushing when visiting Alaska.
Stay tuned for our next itinerary on Fairbanks Alaska, that will include sled dog experiences.
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