Everything you need to know about dog sledding in Yukon with Sky High Wilderness Ranch.
When it comes to things to do in winter in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s a few activities that stand out as obvious choices: Skiing and snowboarding, ice skating, snowshoeing, and of course dog sledding.
Having spent three years living in Canada we had tried our hands at most things involving cold weather and being outdoors, but dog sledding was something that we’d never had the opportunity to try.
All that was to change when we we returned to Canada for a winter trip in 2019. Our goal was to try as many activities that we’d missed in our younger days, and dog sledding was right at the top of our bucket list.
Dog sledding, or dog mushing as it’s otherwise known, is being pulled by a team of dogs across the snow and ice while standing or sitting on a sled.
There’s a few places around the world you can try this, with Norway and the United States (specifically Alaska) being two of the most popular destinations, but personally we couldn’t wait to try dog sledding in Canada for our first experience.
Even though we had done our research, we still didn’t know quite what to expect. Luckily our first foray into the world of dog sledding was simply remarkable.
We had signed up for the 4-day ‘Taste of Mushing’ tour at Sky High Wilderness Ranch, one of the best places to go dog sledding in Yukon, and we couldn’t wait to start the adventure.
Dog Sledding in the Yukon – 4 Days at Sky High Wilderness Ranch
After an incredible week spent driving around the Yukon during the autumn, we were absolutely thrilled to be returning back to this rugged territory in the wintertime to try our hands at dog sledding.
Our timing couldn’t have been any better – We flew into Whitehorse the day before the famous Yukon Quest started, one of the most challenging dog mushing races in the world, and we had the opportunity to see how the pros run before our own amateur attempts.
On the day the race commenced we walked around the starting line chatting to the racers and their teams. Everybody, including the dogs, were excited, and it felt as though all of Whitehorse had come down for the event.
After an hour of trying to keep our blood from freezing in the -36 degree temps, we watched about a dozen racers head off into the wilderness, then headed back to our hotel to warm up, have lunch and get ready for our experience.
We were picked up by Jonathon, one of the expert guides from Sky High Wilderness Ranch, and after a quick detour via Canadian Tire to pick up some last-minute supplies (*cough* hand warmers *cough*), we then drove the 30 minutes to the property just south of Whitehorse.
Despite the frigid temperatures, the sun was out and the Yukon landscape looked spectacular covered in snow beneath a pale blue sky.
Fish Lake appeared on our left, completely frozen in the middle of winter, and we then turned up the driveway of the ranch. It seemed like a real working ranch, with log cabins scattered about, yards holding a number of horses and husky puppies, and even a yurt that was used as accommodation.
Jonathon dropped us off near the reception, and we then met Jocelyn, the owner of Sky High Wilderness Range and a bit of a Yukon legend. She had actually competed in the Yukon Quest a few years prior, and her toughness and dog mushing skills had made her famous in sledding circles.
After we made our introductions we threw our bags in the back of her truck, and she drove us to our cabin.
Day 1 – Checking In
We were booked into the Aurora Cabin, one of the premium log cabins that’s available for guests to stay in, and it was a short drive to get to the accommodation.
When we got there our jaws hit the floor. This place was absolutely spectacular, with amazing views over Fish Lake below. The cabin itself had a large balcony out the front, and the entire first floor was split up into a sitting area, kitchen and dining table, with a wood stove in the middle.
Upstairs was the loft bedroom, with another small balcony facing north offering a chance to spot the Northern Lights, hence the name ‘Aurora Cabin’.
The entire place is completely off-grid. There’s no electricity and no phone reception up here. Instead the cabin was kept warm by the wood fire, and gas lights would illuminate the rooms at night.
We didn’t have long to relax in the cabin though – we had to meet our new guide and the other guests in 20 minutes. We dropped our bags off, put on all the warm clothes we had and walked down to the main lodge.
On a normal 4-day Taste of Mushing tour at Sky High Wilderness Range, guests arrive around 10am and immediately head out for an introductory sled ride.
However due to us catching the start of the Yukon Quest that morning, our schedule was slightly different. It was around 3pm by the time we got to the ranch, which didn’t give enough time to head out for a mission. Instead we’d spend the afternoon doing some training to prepare ourselves for the next day.
We met our new guide Chris at the lodge, and he took us upstairs to get kitted out for the next few days. With the big cold snap Yukon was facing at the moment, we opted to get some of the heavy-duty winter clothing that Sky High Wilderness Ranch can provide.
Even though we had all of our Kathmandu layers with us, it was a welcome relief to get a thick jacket, pants and insulated boots to keep us warm.
With all of our new clothes on, Chris took us down to the dog yard to meet the canines.
Full disclosure – we may have been more excited about hanging out with huskies than we were about the actual dog sledding part!
Sky High Wilderness Ranch has over 70 beautiful dogs on the property, most of them huskies or a similar breed, and they’ve all been brought up in the world of dog sledding.
As we walked our way through the yard we noticed that while most of the dogs were chained to their pens, quite a few were wandering around freely. We asked Chris why, and he explained that once the dogs were retired, they were taken off the chains and allowed to go wherever they want.
With so many gorgeous dogs around, we couldn’t help but run up and pat as many as possible. Their happiness was evident, and they jumped into our arms, tongues out and licking our faces.
Once we had gotten our share of puppy love, we joined Chris down by the shed and he started to explain how things would work the next day.
He set aside our sleds, which were simple wooden platforms on skis, and showed us how to set them up in the morning. He then explained why the dogs must be tied up at all times (being pack animals, they would challenge each other for dominance, causing injury), and how to look after them.
The basic training took about an hour, but in all honesty most of that time was spent playing with the dogs. The sun started to set, so we made our way back to the lodge for a group dinner.
One cool thing about staying at Sky High Wilderness Ranch is how communal everything is. Dinners are served in the main lodge, prepared by the guides, and always healthy. There’s one big table that everybody sits at, so it’s easy to get to know your fellow guests.
Our first night had around 16 people there, which we were told was quite busy, but we all had a great time chatting away and feasting on spaghetti bolognese.
With a big day dog sledding coming up in the morning, we decided to call it a night early. We headed back to cabin, got the fire roaring, then crawled into bed.
Day 2 – Our First Dog Sledding Adventure
We woke up early to catch the sunrise, put on every piece of clothing we could, then wandered down to the lodge for our first big day of dog sledding.
It was absolutely freezing up at Fish Lake, with the mercury hovering around -40, and even with all of our layers on we were still feeling the cold.
We joined the rest of the gang in the lodge and got stuck into a delicious pancake breakfast, downed with freshly brewed coffee. There was no need to rush though, as we wouldn’t be starting the day until 9:30am.
Once we’d been fed we loaded our backpacks up with some snacks and filled our thermos with hot tea. On any breaks we’d take, the tea would be a welcome luxury!
Alesha and I decided to head down to the yard early so we could spend some extra time with the dogs. Just being around them puts a smile on your face, and as long as they aren’t working (or getting ready to work), and the guides are down there, you are free to come and play with them.
After a little while it was time to prepare our sleds and collect our dogs. We dragged the sleds to the starting line, tied them to posts and dropped the anchors in the snow so that the dogs wouldn’t run away with the sled when we eventually collected them.
Chris then gave us our harnesses for the dogs, and on each one was a piece of tape with a name – this is how we would know which dogs we’d have for the next few days.
With dozens of dogs all scattered around the yard, it was going to be hard to figure which ones were who though. Luckily Chris knew every single dog by name and where they lived. He pointed us in the right direction, and off we went.
My first dog to find was Lightning, and after a bit of searching I finally found him at the back of the yard, his name painted on his pen. He was absolutely gorgeous, tall and strong, and he started leaping for joy when I called out his name.
I connected a lead to Lightning and brought him back to my sled. He basically dragged me there with excitement – he knew he was going sledding, and couldn’t wait to burn some energy.
I tied him to the gang line and went off to grab my other 3 dogs. Alesha did the same, and soon we had all of our pups back by the sled.
The next step was to put their harnesses on. We thought this would be a challenge, but the dogs knew exactly what to do. They even helped by lifting their legs up for us.
Once they were all ready, it was time for the last part of the preparation process – connecting the dogs to the actual sled.
This proved to be the hardest part, because the second they were on the rope, they started leaping in the air and trying to run off. We had to keep calling at them to get in line so they wouldn’t get tangled with each other. Chris stood by just in case we needed a hand.
After everybody had linked their dogs together, it was time to head off. We stood on the sleds, lifted the anchor, pulled the quick-release cord, and with a little kick to help the dogs, we were soon charging into the woods.
At first it was a bit challenging to try and keep our balance while being towed by the dogs, but by using the sled brakes to maintain a comfortable speed (those dogs just don’t want to stop!) and relaxing with our knees bent, it didn’t take long to get the hang of it.
Chris was in the lead, and that kept our own dogs on track rather than running off in any direction. We followed the trail out of Sky High Wilderness Ranch, and soon were mushing across the vast, open landscapes on the frozen Fish Lake.
It was a surreal feeling to be sledding over the lake, with just the sounds of skis on snow and the dogs breathing in front of us. With so much open space as well we could finally start to look around.
The views were sensational, with snowy mountains rising up all around us. The sound of the ice creaking below us kept us on our toes, but Chris assured us the lake was frozen solid.
On the flat terrain the dogs ran at a fast pace, effortlessly dragging the sled along. We kept an eye on them to see how they were pulling, making sure they didn’t run with a limp or any obvious signs of fatigue.
After 15 minutes or so Chris led us towards the edge of the lake and back into the forest. Now that we had our sled legs, it was time for something a bit more challenging.
As soon as we entered the trees the trail narrowed right down, and while the dogs had no problem at all avoiding them, we had to continuously keep an eye out for low branches.
It was a lot of fun twisting and turning along the trail, learning into each turn to ensure we kept our balance, while the dogs occasionally looked back to make sure we were ok.
Every now and then we would get to an uphill section, and here we would jump off the sleds and push them up the hill to help the dogs out. As strong as they were, it wasn’t fair to make them pull extra weight on these steeps, and with all of our layers on we quickly started to warm up.
When we reached a flat section with beautiful views, we would stop for a short break. Dropping the anchor in the snow so the dogs wouldn’t run away, we’d go and give them some love before getting tucked into some hot tea and snacks.
Chris told us a bit about the area and how the guides would spend their days off going on long exploratory missions with their own dogs, looking for new trails and camping out in the wilderness.
They breed them tough in the Yukon.
Having the breaks was sorely needed, because much to our surprise, dog sledding was hard on the body. Being in charge of our own sleds meant we had to keep an eye on the dogs, constantly braking if the rope slacked off (we did not want to run into the back of the huskies), leaning into the turns and pushing the sled when the dogs needed help.
The views kept getting more beautiful though, and despite the freezing cold weather the fresh snow was glistening in the sun with a certain vibrancy that made us forget the temperatures.
Chris had decided that it was too cold to have lunch out in the wild today, and instead we’d go as long as we could before heading back to the camp for a small meal before dinner.
After a few hours of amazing fun we came back into the dog yard of Sky High Wilderness Ranch, and it was time to pack up for the day.
We took the harnesses off the dogs, tied them back to the gang line and gave them the biggest hugs and pats we could. Chris showed us how to massage their muscles, and both the dogs and us loved every minute of it.
Being a hands-on experience, it was up to us to feed our dogs as well. Sky High make up a soup from bits of meat, vegetables and blood, and while it doesn’t look too appealing to humans, it’s specially made to give the dogs all the nutrients and energy they need.
With the huskies fed, we took them back to their pens and tied them up for the night. One last pat for all of them, and we headed up to the lodge.
A few of the other guests who were on different dog sledding adventures were sitting around the table, and we sat down and shared stories with them. Even though everybody was tired, it was obvious all the travellers were having an amazing time there.
Rather than head back to our cabin, we waited in the lodge til dinner came. The guides cooked up another fantastic meal, and we all pitched in for the dishes.
Alesha and I were exhausted, so once the cleaning was done we said good night to the group, walked back to the cabin, got the fire going and headed to bed.
Tomorrow was going to be another big day of dog sledding in Yukon!
Day 3 – Getting The Hang of It
We woke up in the morning feeling tired, partly due to yesterday’s activities, and partly due to waking up every two hours to throw more wood on the fire to keep the cabin heated, but we couldn’t wait to hit the trails again!
It was much warmer today, a balmy -20, and the blue skies had been replaced by grey clouds. There was even a bit of fresh snow falling, and everything was silent and picturesque.
With all our layers on we packed our bags and headed down to the lodge, meeting the crew for breakfast (French toast!) and lots of fresh coffee.
Some of the guests were heading out on an overnight camping trip with their dogs, and they were thankful that the temperatures had warmed up a bit.
Once we had munched down our breakfast we grabbed some muesli bars and fruit for snacks, made some sandwiches, filled the thermos with more tea and walked down to the yard to greet our dogs.
The moment we neared their pens the dogs started barking for joy, jumping up and down hoping they’d be going out for another trip.
We prepped the sleds, went back with our leads and brought our dogs down to get ready for the day. Chris had decided to swap out one of my dogs, Fanta, as he noticed he seemed a bit tired the day before. He would be rested for the next few days, and instead I’d get another gorgeous pup, Copper.
Before heading out Chris got us to check all the dogs’ toe nails to make sure they weren’t too long. He showed us how to clip them, being careful not to go too short, and we got to work.
All prepared and eager for the ride, we got the dogs on the sled line, pulled the anchors and headed off towards the lake.
We felt much more comfortable today, and the dogs could sense how at ease we were. Rather than looking back every few seconds they simply plodded along, only checking on us if became slightly off balance.
Chris led us on increasingly difficult trails, with more up and downhill sections and far more turns than the day before. Our inexperience started to show though, and on more than one occasion we fell off while trying to navigate a steep turn.
When this happened we held on for deal life (not wanting the dogs to run away with our sleds, as we had been taught on the first day), but it didn’t take long for the huskies to realise something was wrong and quickly come to a stop.
Laughing about how silly we must have looked, we’d pick up the sled, jump back on and give the dogs some words of encouragement to keep going.
After a few hours of more epic sledding, traversing frozen lakes and following the edge of snowy river banks, Chris eventually stopped us for lunch.
Inside our sleds were firewood and kindling, so we gathered it all together and Chris got a fire going right on the snow, off to the side of the trail.
Using a grill we threw our sandwiches into the fire to heat them up (wrapped in aluminium foil), poured some tea and enjoyed the break off the sleds.
While we were eating, the dogs all chilled out in the snow, rolling around and taking a rest of their own. We went up and gave all our dogs massages, mostly because we just wanted to play with them, then got ready to hit the trail again.
We followed the same trail back to Sky High Wilderness Ranch, all the while being in disbelief at just how beautiful dog sledding in the Yukon was.
The end-of-the-ride process went the same as the day before when we got back to the ranch – unharness the dogs, give them massages, feed them, take them back to their pens and pack the sleds up, and then it was time to head up to the lodge for dinner.
It was a quiet night tonight, with most of the guests all out camping, so once dinner and the cleaning was over we cruised back to our cabin to kick back with a good book by the fire.
Day 4 – The Final Adventure
It was warmer again today, but the clouds were starting to break apart, and for the first time since our arrival the morning started with a fantastic sunrise.
We packed our backpacks and left them by the door. Later in the day one of the staff members would come around in a snowmobile to pick them up and bring them down to the lodge for us while we were out mushing.
Today was going to be our last day of dog sledding in Canada, and Chris had told us he had a tough day planned, but that the views would definitely be worth it.
Once we’d finished breakfast and made lunch we wandered back down to the dog yards.
The dogs, as usual, were completely stoked to be heading out for the day. The time it took us to get them ready as well was improving, and we started to feel like we might get the hang of this whole dog sledding activity.
We took off and headed across the lake for the final time. Today though we’d travel almost the entire length of it, which gave us plenty of time to look around, soak up the views and take some selfies.
As we made it to the end Chris turned a hard right and we ducked into the forest. Almost immediately we started climbing.
We jumped off the sleds and started pushing uphill, giving the dogs as much assistance as needed. This hill was a monster though, and it felt as though it would never end.
For 20 minutes we kept pushing up hill, panting heavier than the dogs and trying our best to strip off our big jackets as we went. Running uphill is hard enough, but match that with a sled to push through the snow and 5 layers of clothes on and it gets downright exhausting.
Chris and his dogs of course were long gone. Doing this every day meant his fitness was at its peak, and he had no problem at all charging up the hill.
When we finally made it to the top Chris was waiting, and we collapsed into our sleds while trying to catch our breath back.
He was right though – the view from the top was simply spectacular. Rolling hills stretched as far the eye could see, with jagged peaks rising in the distance.
Chris assured us the big hills were over, and we got back on the sleds and travelled across the majestic terrain in complete awe at the Yukon’s beauty.
We crossed a number of smaller frozen lakes, and went up and down some gullies, before finally reaching our lunch spot. Once again Chris got a fire going and we cooked up our sandwiches in the open wilderness.
After lunch it was a short ride back to Sky High Wilderness Ranch, with a couple of steep downhill sections where we leaned heavily on the brake pads to make sure we didn’t end up with a runaway sled.
As we cruised into the dog yard we sadly came to terms that our amazing adventure of dog sledding in the Yukon was coming to an end. We fed our huskies, gave them as much love as we could then took them back to their pens.
Even though we had only been with them for 3 days, it was hard to say goodbye. We had formed a great connection with them, and it was uplifting to see that the dogs obviously enjoyed sledding. They are work dogs after all, and this is what they are born to do.
We headed back to the lodge had a quick cup of tea, grabbed our bags and jumped in the car with Jocelyn to drive back to Whitehorse.
Along the way we chatted about the bad press dog sledding has got recently, and Jocelyn shared her thoughts as a business owner, professional dog sledder and obvious animal lover.
Based on our own experiences and what we saw, we had no issues with trying it, and would put it alongside horse riding in terms of similar animal activities.
Our experience with dog sledding at Sky High Wilderness Ranch was simply phenomenal. Having seen firsthand how much the dogs love mushing and how well they are looked after, we’d have no hesitations doing it again.
The fact that this wasn’t just a ‘sit back and let someone else do all the work’ kind of tour also made the entire experience so much more fulfilling.
If you’re wondering about the best place to go dog sledding in the Yukon, we 100% recommend Sky High Wilderness Ranch.
Tips and Advice for Dog Sledding in Canada
This was our first ever attempt with dog sledding, and it was a fantastic experience that we honestly loved to bits.
We have put together a few tips to help you should you ever think about dog sledding in Yukon, or anywhere else in the world.
- Do Your Research – Before choosing a company make sure that they are committed to the ethical treatment of animals and do not overwork their dogs.
- Bring Lots of Layers – It’s going to be cold in the Yukon during winter, so make sure you bring lots of warm clothes with you. Merino wool thermals, fleece pants and jumper and wind breakers are essential. If the company you are going with has thick winter clothing for rent, it might be worth considering those.
- It’s a Workout – Don’t let the pretty pictures fool you; dog sledding is quite a tiring activity if you’re planning on doing it yourself rather than just sitting in the sled. An appropriate amount of fitness is required.
- There’s Longer Tours Available – If dog sledding in Canada has always been on your bucket list, don’t just go for a one-hour excursion. Sign up for a multi-day tour and get the full experience. We joined a 4-day dog mushing adventure, but Sky High Wilderness Ranch had tours that lasted up to two weeks.
- Don’t Be Scared of the Dogs – This might seem like an obvious point, but don’t be scared of the dogs. They are big, they are energetic, and they will probably jump up on you to give you a kiss, but they will not hurt you. They can tell if you’re scared, so just be calm, confident and happy, and you’ll be fine.
- Bring Hand and Toe Warmers – If you feel the cold, definitely pick up some hand and toe warmers. These are little pads that heat up when exposed to oxygen. Put them in your gloves and shoes, and you’ll be the happiest person on the planet.
Alesha and Jarryd
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