On Trail in Minnesota
Dogsledding is a bigger deal in northern Minnesota than any place in the States outside of Alaska. Some of the biggest names in the sport hail from here. Aside from Paul Schurke and Will Steger, there are local mushers like Lonnie Dupre, who's completed an exploration-first: 3,059-mile crossing of Canada's Northwest Passage and has circumnavigated 3,200 miles of Greenland coastline by kayak and dogsled. The local mushers' race, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, is often called the Iditarod of the Lower 48. Iditarod legends such as Susan Butcher and DeeDee Jonrowe have competed in the Beargrease, which runs up Lake Superior's North Shore through the rugged Sawtooth Mountain terrain; the race is a big draw for local mushers.
Combine this heated local interest with the pristine wilderness of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), and you've got one of the world's great destinations for guided dogsled adventures. There are many other huge public-lands tracts of Northwoods wilderness, but only the BWCAW is completely off-limits to snowmobilers. Most people, it seems, prefer to take their mushing adventures amid a frozen, primordial silence and not the buzz of snowmachinestherein the reason the BWCAW is the heart of Minnesota's dogsledding scene.
Choosing an Outfitter
Unless you happen to be a fully equipped musher and are willing to fly in all your dogs and gear for a little jaunt through the BWCAW, you'll need a partner to get out on trail in the Northwoods.
There are quite a few operators offering dogsled trips in northern Minnesota. The choices range from well-known, long-established companies such as Wintergreen and Boundary Country Trekking (associated with musher Arleigh Jorgenson) to a ton of mom and pop operations, most of which offer dogsledding as part of their lodging package. When you're ready, you'll have to do some decision-making. First, check out GORP's guide to choosing an outfitter, and then you'll want to factor in these considerations as you interview outfitters and sort through your options:
Where do the trips go? The frozen lakescapes and hillocky lands of the Boundary Waters in winter offer a nearly endless variety of great trails to mush, but above and beyond the natural beauty, check with outfitters to see if there are natural or historic highlights they'll fit into your trip itinerary. All the routes Wintergreen traverses are pretty classic, but a stand-out among them is the northerly route that goes past the site of Dorothy Moulter's old cabin (it's been torn down and rebuilt in Ely). A long-time fixture of Boundary Country, Moulter was a nurse who took care of an old lodge owner in the BWCAW and eventually took over the lodge property itself. She was the only woman in America allowed to live in designated wilderness, and she used to brew her own root beer and sell it to passing paddlersthus earning herself a nickname for all time, the Root Beer Lady. Ask outfitters about the stories behind the places they'll take you.
How long are trips? Northwoods mushers offer trips from simple half-day rides to six-day, five-night epic journeys. That's about the maximum, as most people don't have any more time than that, and they probably don't want to devote much more time to dogsledding than that.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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