There are few experiences cooler than racing through the woods above the snow with a team of dogs running up ahead. Cooler in the sense that there wouldn’t be snow if it wasn’t “cool” but mostly cool in the sense that there are few things in life more exciting and exhilarating than mushing! Trailblazing is fun on cross-country skis and exciting on a snowmobile but when your sled is powered by a well-trained team of 7 sled dogs, there are few (legal) experiences that compare.
You may be thinking, what? You can go dog sledding in Michigan?!?
Yes, I didn’t realize this either. The first time I heard I could go dog sledding in Michigan, I thought, “Ooooohhhhhh man, I don’t care what it costs, I’m doing it!” Then I started looking up prices and thought, “Hmm, dog sledding seems super expensive, maybe I’ll go next winter.”
In researching, the first few companies I found were really expensive, seemed overly commercialized and had a high volume of visitors. This wasn’t really the experience I was after, I wanted something more personal where I wouldn’t be rushed and could enjoy this magical experience. This is exactly what I found with a quaint little place called Snowy Plains Kennel located about 9 miles south of Marquette in Gwinn, Michigan. The price was reasonable, the owners Jackie and Jim were incredibly responsive, friendly and accommodating.
Upon arrival, we were met outside by Jim and taken through a gate and into the walkout basement of their home. There is a full bathroom for you to get suited up in privacy and to use the restroom before heading outside for a couple hours. It is recommended that you bring your own gear but if you forget something, they have plenty of gloves, goggles, boots, etc. to keep you comfortable during your mushing adventure. Once we both looked like Ralphie from the Christmas Story, we were led past the kennels down to the starting point of the trip where our sled awaited. I opted to drive first, while my buddy Marcus rode in the sled all bundled up like a helpless burrito.
Jim provided me with instructions on how to brake when appropriate, how to lean into turns and when to jump off and assist the dogs on hills or sharp turns. After all the dogs were hooked into their harnesses Jim guided the sled through some of the windy and narrow segments of their personal property onto State trails, while I rode on ahead with Jackie on the snowmobile. Once we arrived and it was time to hop in the driver’s seat, Jim cautioned me on how powerful these dogs were and as soon as I jumped off the brake and onto the back of the sled, with a powerful tug we were off! The next 5 minutes or so were full of excitement, mild fear, some swearing and a lot of laughing. I’ve been pretty fortunate with the variety of life experiences I have had but dog sledding was unlike anything I had ever done.
We stopped for a photo op and so Jim and Jackie could ensure we were comfortable and to answer any questions. I asked Jim, “What happens if you’re out here and fall off the back, will the dogs wait for you?” Jim said, “Oh no, they’ll just leave you there and likely run home.” This is where Jim handed me back the reigns, gave me a thumbs up and rode off with Jackie on the snowmobile. I thought, “Really? Great…I’m going to be ejected off the back of the sled and left for dead in the snowy wilderness while these dogs kidnap my helpless friend – no pressure.” I’m joking, in reality, I felt very safe throughout this whole experience. Jackie and Jim stayed far enough ahead where they were out of sight, so it felt as though we were on our own but they were always close in the event the dogs tried to kidnap.
About halfway through the trip, we switched drivers, so Marcus popped up in the driver’s position and it was my turn to get all bundled up, burrito style, which I think I prefer. I was so comfy and cozy that I could have easily fallen asleep but stayed up because I wanted to ensure that I didn’t miss anything. He safely steered us to the end of our dog sledding trip but the fun didn’t end there….
We stopped in a beautiful section of the woods, handed control of the sled to Jim and he took off back to the house to unharness the dogs and give them some well-earned R&R. Jackie remained back momentarily and revealed that just up the hill along a trail we would find a cozy retreat where we could warm up, relax and eat lunch. She mentioned that this secret location in the woods had a few extra surprises waiting for us, then she too headed back to the house to help Jim. Being a secret retreat, what kind of person would I be if I were to publically reveal its secrets?
No need to answer that!
Beyond this perfect little hideaway, we were also told we could use the provided snowshoes to trek out to an Enchanted Tree on the property where we would find a small Made in Michigan gift awaiting each of us. Again, I won’t go into the details because you have to experience the adventure for yourself. Snowy Plains Kennel typically only takes one group a day so guests don’t feel rushed and can take as much time as they’d like to explore the property and relax.
Once we had had our fill, we walked back to the main cabin where our adventure had begun to thank Jackie and Jim for putting together this amazing adventure. Naturally, they had one more surprise in store for us! They introduced us to the newest, up and coming dog sledding team who seemed just as excited to meet us as we were to meet them.
What I Loved
- Response Time: When I initially reached out to inquire about available times, I had a detailed response in less than 2 hours. This would be expected from an established business but not from a couple that does this as a hobby.
- Gear: They had gloves, boots, goggles, hand warmers and likely other items I didn’t see. Again, bring all that you can but if you don’t have a pair of goggles and don’t want to blow money on them if you’ll never use them again, these folks have you covered.
- One Group Per Day: They only run one group per day on average but I believe they could accommodate more if requested. This is amazing because 1. You can take your time and enjoy their beautiful property. 2. You NEVER feel like a number when you’re at Snowy Plains Kennel, I admittedly was unprepared and they had to wait on me to suit up and locate my camera batteries but they never made me feel like I was holding them up. 3. Jackie and Jim provide the dog sledding rides to the public to help offset their enormous costs, they don’t do this as a for-profit business, so again, you never get that vibe.
- Extra Mile: There are a lot of special and memorable add-ons that you’ll experience when you visit. Beyond the actual dogsledding, the picturesque landscape and magical feeling you get when you visit, there are a lot of fun and creative surprises that are unexpected and very much appreciated.
What I Did Not Love (I really struggled coming up with one)
- PayPal: The only payment method accepted was PayPal. Maybe I missed the boat on this one, but to me, PayPal seems like a dinosaur payment method. There are so many better options such as Stripe, Venmo, The Cash App, Apple Pay, etc. just to name a few. I actually had to reset my password and contact PayPal directly to get back into my account and link it to the correct bank account since I hadn’t used this payment method in 12 years +. If it’s the fee charged, I’d argue Snowy Plains Kennel could raise their prices $5 to cover the fee or list it as a convenience fee (maybe not the latter, convenience fees annoy me). This said, it only took me about 15 minutes to get the new payment method sorted so it’s really not a big deal…just more of an FYI.
So at this point, if you’re thinking to yourself, “What an amazing experience. I must go dog sledding at Snowy Plains Kennel!” You’re in luck, I’ve included a link to their website where you can find pricing details and booking instructions. The option we chose was the “Dinner or Lunch for Two by Dogsled” for $225 total and this is currently their most expensive package.
Have you gone dog sledding in Michigan? Let me know in the comments below.