Say mush: Dog sledding blankets Wisconsin

A new blanket of snow is heaven when you’re a skier, a snowmobiler, a skater or a sledder.

Sledder? Make that a musher. Dog sledding – as a hobby and as a business, through the racing of dog teams or the offering of dog sled rides – is gaining visibility in Wisconsin, sometimes in the tiniest of places.

Elton, Eleva. White Lake, Whitehall. Florence, Fond du Lac.

Look online for “dog sledding,” and these are some of the cities and rural burgs that pop up. This is a spectator sport and a tourist attraction. It can involve the entire family, or make for a romantic weekend.

Sled rides of 10 minutes to multiple days can be arranged. Participants can get cozy in a sled and do nothing, take the reins and be in charge, or put on skis and be pulled by a dog team (skijoring).

But don’t expect serious race dogs to be used for hauling around tourists. The mindset and expectations of a sport racer are different than the other dogs, I’m told.

It is neither out of the question, or to be taken for granted, that you’ll be able to get out of the passenger seat and drive a dog team. Similarly, you may be asked to help harness the dogs and feed them, in addition to enjoying a ride with them.

A recent Winter Wellness Weekend for women, at White Lake, included massages and dog sledding as optional activities. Near the Apostle Islands, it’s possible to rough it as a sled rider during the day, then be pampered with fine dining and lodging at Bayfield’s Rittenhouse Inn.

That’s largely because of John and Mary Thiel, who live 20 minutes from Bayfield. They started raising Siberian huskies about 11 years ago and eventually began offering daylong sled-dog excursions, as Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing.

“For us, it’s pure enjoyment to work with these incredible dogs,” Mary said, on a day when fresh snow was covering all of the state. “We’ve never had people leave and say, ‘well, that was okay.’ They all seem to have an awesome experience.”

That includes hard-to-amuse middle schoolers and teens. Wolfsong sled riders have been as young as 5 years old, as old as 90. Some are newcomers to this pastime; others are capable of driving their own team.

For $190 per person, up to four visitors are taken on six-hour trips through northern Wisconsin wilderness. The ride is broken up with the serving of a hot lunch. It ends with the visitors serving supper to the sled dogs.

Customers “make a connection with the animals, and that is a very important part of the day,” Mary explained. Wolfsong has 30 dogs, and the amount of ground to be covered in a day will depend upon trail conditions.

“Today we have 2 1/2 feet on the ground,” Mary said. “It’s really nice, and we’re usually able to get more snow than a lot of other places in the state, because of the lake effect.”

For more about Wolfsong, call (800) 262-4176 or go to www.wolfsongadventures.com. Two- to five-day trips also are available, some as winter camping experiences. The bad news? There aren’t many slots open for this winter.

Paw-Tuck-A-Way, Danbury, at www.paw-tuck-a-way.com and (715) 656-4419, will give a family of four a three- to four-hour dog sledding adventure for $250. That’s from the hook-up of animals to a bonfire with hot chocolate. Customized, midweek rides also are possible.

Here are other Wisconsin options for dog sled rides that are posted at www.dogsledrides.com. Prices are all over the place: $15 for 20 minutes,
$25 for one hour, $45 for one hour.

* MJ Sled & Dogs, River Falls, (715) 425-1157.

* Point of Entry Tours, Osceola, (715) 294-3189.

* Spirit Lake Trails, Rib Lake, www.spiritlaketrails.com and (715) 427-5813.

* Wilderness Haven Resort, Hayward, www.wildernesshaven.com and (715) 634-1060.

If you want to see a little bit of what you’re getting into before committing to it, here are sled dog events that will be in Wisconsin this month. For more about racing elsewhere in the country, go to www.mushing.com.

* Flambeau International Sled Dog Race, Park Falls, Feb. 14-15 and Feb. 21-22, call (715) 479-8047 or go to the Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dog Club site, www.witrailblazers.info for details.

* Hudson Haul Weight Pull, Sprint Race and Skijoring Race, Hudson, Feb. 14-15, call (763) 689-9875 or go to www.tsamc.org, site for the Tri-State Malamute Club.

* Northwoods National Championship Weight Pull, Eagle River, Feb. 21, call (763) 689-9875 or go to www.tsamc.org. Invitational weight pull Feb. 22.

Another useful Internet site is www.travelwisconsin.com, a product of the state Department of Tourism, which contains additional information about dog sled trails and tours. Just do a search for “dog sledding” or call (800) 432-8747.

Among the options that caught my attention:

Treehaven Education and Conference Center, Tomahawk, www.uwsp.edu/cnr/treehaven and (715) 453-4106. This facility, on 1,400 acres of forest and wetland, is run by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. There are dog sledding trails.

Siberian Outpost, Fond du Lac, (920) 921-6410, has dog sled demos and rides.

And the other places that I mentioned earlier? The Oak Park Inn, Whitehall, www.oakparkinn.com and (715) 538-4858, has a Winter Adventure Package that includes a 10-minute dog sled ride for two adults. Nearby Sno-Trek Adventures, Eleva, (715) 287-3351, arranges these short rides, and longer excursions.

The Log Cabin in Elton, (715) 627-1848, is a place for mushers to practice. There are dog sledding trails at Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Florence, (888) 889-0049.