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Woman musher hiding behind sleigh at sled dog race on snow in winter
Dog-sledding (Photo: gillmar/Shutterstock.com)

Dog Sledding in Alaska: Our Experience and What You Should Know

Woman musher hiding behind sleigh at sled dog race on snow in winter
Dog-sledding (Photo: gillmar/Shutterstock.com)
Contributor
Louise Goldsbury
Contributor
Marissa Wright

Last updated
Feb 5, 2024

Read time
6 min read

A dog sledding excursion is likely to be the highlight of your cruise to Alaska. Dog sled tours are offered in Juneau and Skagway. We chose Norwegian Cruise Line's "Dog Sledding & Glacier Flightseeing Helicopter" tour in Skagway, where the helipad is conveniently next to the cruise ship dock. Here's our experience dog sledding in Alaska.

What Are Dog Sledding Excursions?

Wide-angle shot of dog sled with Alaskan mountain range in the background
Dog sledding in Alaska (Photo: Kirk Geisler/Shutterstock.com)

A 10-minute helicopter flight takes passengers to Denver Glacier to enjoy a ride in a sled pulled along the snow by a team of Alaskan Huskies. Professional dog handlers ("mushers") accompany, guide and drive all sled rides. After almost an hour on the icefield, the helicopter brings you back to the ship.

People travel far and wide to experience once-in-a-lifetime activities like dog sledding. We felt lucky to have the opportunity to join a dog sled tour during our Alaskan adventure.

How Much Do Dog Sledding Excursions Cost?

Tickets cost more than $600 per person for "Dog Sledding & Glacier Flightseeing Helicopter," and additional charges may apply. Passengers who weigh more than 250 pounds (113 kg) are charged extra for the use of two seats in the helicopter (and due to required weight limits on each flight).

Other travelers opt for more traditional dog sledding tour groups where you won’t get the added bonus of a flightseeing helicopter. Standard dog sledding excursions cost between $150 to $200 per person and are a more economical choice for large families.

The Best of Alaska: Our Dog Sledding Experience

Close-up shot of Alaskan sled dogs
Alaskan sled dogs (Photo: COLOMBO NICOLA/Shutterstock.com)

The meeting point for our dog sledding experience was on the pier near the end of the ship's gangway. When our group was assembled, a tour guide walked us to the helipad terminal, less than a minute away, to watch a safety video and put on the provided lifejacket and ice boots.

We boarded the helicopter and enjoyed a short but thrilling ride above the aptly named Paradise Valley. This scenic flight over the river, mountains and waterfalls was a highlight in itself. The aerial view of the camp, which houses 240 dogs in 240 kennels, was also a sight to behold upon arrival.

After landing, another guide welcomed us and explained what it is like to live on the camp for both dogs and mushers. Divided into groups of four, we met our team of 12 Huskies with time to pet them and take photos. All of the dogs were friendly and enjoyed the attention, although some were shyer than others.

Driving the Dog Sled on Our Dog Sledding Excursion

The ride was on a non-motorized double-sled: one sled was directly behind the dogs and carried two seated passengers, plus our guide Ryne standing on the back; the second sled carried one seated passenger and one standing behind them near the brakes. Passengers rotated over the four sections of the course so that everyone got a turn in each position.

I volunteered to be the first person standing, meaning I got to help stop the sled by stamping my foot on the brake when instructed by Ryne. She controlled the steering and main brakes so there was no chance of crashing or veering off course. Ryne yelled out to the dogs who immediately started running on her command. And whoosh, we were off!

With a foot on each side of the sled, while holding onto the railing, it felt like skiing without worrying about balancing. It was easy, requiring no fitness or coordination. The first section was the slowest, climbing slightly uphill. Ryne called out for me to step on the brake and the sled smoothly came to a halt.

Switching spots with the other passengers, I took a seat in the other sled. The best sitting position was in the front for an unobstructed view of the running dogs. The next three sections were a little faster, with the last leg downhill. The total ride time was around 20 minutes.

We hugged our dogs goodbye before they relaxed for the rest of the day and went to visit the puppy enclosure. We were lucky that several Husky puppies were born a few weeks ago so we were allowed to hold them and take more photos.

The helicopter took us back to the ship, providing a second chance to absorb the magnificent Alaskan landscape from the air and add more lasting memories of this (probably) once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Is Dog Sledding in Alaska Worth a Try?

Yes, dog sledding is worth a try, especially if you are adventurous or love dogs. It's expensive, but also an activity not found in many other places in the world, let alone on the doorstep of your cruise ship.

As an introduction to dogsledding, this excursion is "soft adventure" rather than "extreme sports." There were three stops along the way (to switch seats and take photos), so the adrenaline rush was on the mild side but it was definitely fun and a spectacular setting.

While dog sledding is suitable for many travelers, it may not be suitable for those with disabilities. Check with your tour group or excursion provider to see what accommodations they make for those with disabilities.

The tour is well-run, the guides are friendly and professional, and the Skagway pick-up point for Dog Sledding & Glacier Flightseeing Helicopter could not be more convenient. Each tour provider will have their own pick-up location and provide you with this information before your excursion.

Dog Sledding Tips and Tricks: A Few Things to Note

We booked the 8 a.m. excursion on a clear, blue-sky day but due to another passenger's booking error (they purchased only one ticket for two people), the tour company asked us to move to the 3 p.m. departure.

As the rain came in and the wind howled after lunch, we worried that our good deed had backfired but as we learned, the weather on the ground is not indicative of conditions on the glacier.

Is Rescheduling a Dog Sledding Excursion a Possibility?

The tour went ahead despite the drizzle. However, it did raise a good point: if a morning tour gets canceled for any reason, there may still be a chance to go in the afternoon -- but not the other way around.

Therefore, booking the earliest tour to hedge your bets with the unpredictable Alaskan weather would be wise. Rescheduling will only be possible if later tours have space available and the flying conditions are safe.

Dress for Success on Your Dog Sledding Trip

Alaska is well-known for its fickle weather that changes quickly. Dress in warm layers and wear sturdy footwear (ice boots are provided to wear over your shoes). Bring gloves, sunglasses and a rain jacket as it may be wet, cold, sunny, snowing or a combination of all four.

Bags, tablets (such as iPads), selfie sticks, walkers, canes and wheelchairs are not permitted on the helicopter. Only bring what you can carry or what easily fits in your pockets or a small bag. Ladies, you can skip the large purse or bag because you’ll likely be wearing everything you need.

Both the Denver Glacier in Skagway and the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau offer similar flight and mushing times and are accessible by helicopter only.

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