Every winter I spend a weekend in January at Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve, located in the Haliburton Highlands, to snowmobile within the 100,000-acre park on 300 km of snowmobile trails. This year, after visiting the Haliburton Forest booth at the Toronto International Snowmobile, ATV and Powersports Show in October, I decided this is the year I would finally try dogsledding and see what it’s all about! It’s always been in the back of my mind, especially after meeting and cuddling the Siberian huskies in the kennels at the Forest in previous years—they are just so friendly and absolutely adorable.
Upon arriving for our half-day tour, we met our guide and were given a comprehensive lesson on everything there is to know about dogsledding—how to slowdown and brake, steer the dogs, stand on the sled, and how to approach slopes. Just like that, we were ready to go! There is no previous dogsledding experience required, but our guide Duncan made us feel very confident in our abilities.
In our half-day tour we covered over 20 of the 80 km dedicated dogsled trails (they are not shared with the snowmobile trails within the park, although there are some trail crossings). It was a brisk -20 degree morning when we went out, and there are two options for tours: all trails in the forest, or trails and lakes. Because of the wind chill we did all trails, which is much harder and physically demanding since there is running or brisk walking involved with the uphill slopes. The dogs actually prefer the colder temperatures for pulling, as they don’t overheat as much as they would when temperatures are closer to zero.
I was forewarned that it would be hard work, but the fun well outweighed any challenge involved. Just be prepared to bundle up for the weather conditions with base layers, a snowsuit, winter boots, gloves, toque, and goggles. We were very warm in our KLiM Gortex jackets and snow pants despite the cold temperatures, and at times we worked up a sweat.
We followed our guide who had a four-dog pack, and another couple on the tour who had six dogs pulling just like us. The lead two dogs are the brains in the front that turn on command, followed by the team dogs that just follow the leaders; the wheel dogs are at the back and they are the muscle, doing the majority of the pulling. I would say we averaged about 10km/h on the trails, faster when going downhill and slower when hopping off the sled and running along with the dogs uphill, as they require some assistance on upward slopes. It gave me a greater appreciation for the natural beauty of Haliburton Forest, seeing it all at a slower pace and being able to soak it all in.
After finishing our dogsledding loop, we arrived back at the kennel and were able to follow the dogs inside and play with them. They have about 100 huskies in the kennel; we were only able to be in with the females and the new puppies that stay with the females. I’d say snuggling with the dogs was one of the highlights, but the whole experience was one of the most amazing things I have done in a long time.
It is a truly must-do, unique Canadian winter experience that everyone needs to try and put on their bucket list. Reservations are required, call or book online before it’s too late this winter. This might have been my first time dogsledding, but it won’t be my last!
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