Dogsledding Ontario – Your Ticket to Adventure in Canada

Written By: The Planet D

“Was this photo taken in Banff?” A reader asked us this when we posted a photo on Twitter about our dogsledding adventure in Ontario.

Many people think that they have to go to Alberta, The Yukon or even Quebec for dogsledding, but in Ontario’s Haliburton Highlands, there is an amazing tour that anyone can take, where they can drive their own dog sleds and have the adventure of a lifetime.

Dogsledding Ontario

dogsledding ontario husky

Winterdance Dogsled Tours is run by Hank DeBruin and Tanya McCready. They have been running tours for 15 years and have 150 dogs in their beautiful kennels on their property sitting high on a hill in the middle of the forest.

The first year they were married, they bought a husky named Colt from the pet store.

While doing research on how to care for the dog, they came across the story of Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod – a 1000 mile dogsled race across Alaska. And the rest as they say… is History.

dogsledding ontario kennel

Hank, along with the unconditional support Tanya, her brother Ward as well as their loyal staff and friends has now finished both an Iditarod and a Yukon Quest with his all Siberian Husky team.

They are about to head off for another Yukon Quest adventure at the end of the month and we had the opportunity to spend the week getting to know them and their dogs.

dogsledding ontario puppy

Regular folks like us may not have the skill or guts to compete in a thousand mile dog race ourselves, but by taking the 3-hour drive from Toronto to Haliburton Highlands, we can get a taste of what it’s like to spend some time on the sled.

Half Day Dogsledding Tour

Our first tour of the week was the half-day tour, and it is a great introduction to dogsledding.

If you’ve never been on a dogsled before or are a little unsure if you will enjoy it, this is the tour for you.

It lasts about 3 hours and it takes you through a varied trails and gorgeous scenery.

Haliburton Highlands is connected to Algonquin Park and it is simply one of the most beautiful locations in Ontario.

When a fresh snowfall comes down, you feel as if you’re in a Winter Wonderland.

I can’t think of a more perfect spot to be out with the dogs soaking up the beauty of Mother Nature in Winter.

dogsledding ontario forest

We arrived at the trailhead at a little after 1:00 for our 1:30 tour.

Give yourself plenty of time to get there, as road conditions can be sketchy during the winter months and make sure to check your map beforehand.

There is limited cell coverage here, so if you are relying on Google Maps, you’ll be in trouble.

The amenities are basic at the trailhead. This is a wilderness experience after all, so what were you expecting?

There’s a small hut to sign in and there’s an outhouse for your use. Once you are on the trail, there are plenty of trees to do your business too.

dogsledding ontario sign

Hands on Experience

After a quick lesson on how to drive and control your sleigh, the staff brings out the dogs from their cozy kennels and begins to hook them on to the sleds. T

his is where the frenzy begins. When dogsledding, you are an active participant.

You want to get to know your dogs and interact with them. The more comfortable they are with you, the more they’ll work for you.

dogsledding ontario team

As the dogs come out, one of your two-man team has to hold on to the lead dog to keep it from running over to see what all the other dogs are doing. We had four teams today, plus our guide’s team.

With five dogs on a team, that’s 25 highly energized Huskies who can’t wait to start their run! It’s tougher than you think to keep them still.

They want to run around, sniff other dogs, fight with each other, pee and pooh and eat some snow. It’s a high octane experience and you haven’t even started yet!

dogsledding ontario deb

These dogs are very friendly and if you give them lots of love and belly rubs, they’ll get distracted from the other guys easily and settle down in your grip.

They’ll also like you a lot more! That’s not to say they’ll quiet down though.

The closer you get to the beginning of the run, the louder the dogs get!

Soon they’re all whining and barking and they are so excited they can’t contain themselves.

Some dogs are pulling on the line to get going, some are running around in circles and others are picking a fight with each other just because they have so much pent-up energy.

Don’t worry though, the fights are more of a brotherly fight of growling and posturing to show each other who’s boss.

Taking off!

It’s important to pay close attention to your instructions so that when the dogs do take off you are ready.

One person gets on the back of the sled to drive, while the other slips under a blanket and relaxes in front.

ontario sled

With one foot on the brake, you can feel the dogs itching to go and you have to be ready because once everyone is hooked up, the guides lift your snow hook (the only thing keeping the dogs from not taking off without you and off you go.

dogs rope

It’s a frenzy at first. One minute the dogs are barking uncontrollably with excitement and then the minute they start to run, they settle down and relax.

They are now in their element and the happiest little pooches they could possibly be.

It’s like they are running with big grins on their faces. Their tails are wagging and they scamper along with glee.

dogs running

The first hill is all about warming up, getting their bearings and clearing their bowels.

Dogs like humans need a little warm up and to clear everything out after a good nap. It’s funny how fast they take off and then how distracted they get going up the first hill.

They sniff everything, take a pee, eat some snow and take it easy. But once you are up at the top of that hill, it’s all serious business.

dogsledding ontario dogs

The dogs are now in ‘The Zone’ and wanting to run.

They’ll try to pass the team ahead of them, because hey, they’re competitive and want to win! But you have to control the sled with your break.

Going downhills you need to make sure that you don’t go too fast or else you could run into the dogs with your sled so you need to keep the pressure on the brake.

It takes a bit of work, but it’s the most amazing feeling. As you glide along and watch the scenery, you feed off the dog’s energy.

There is no way on earth you can’t be happy here.

You’re surrounded by 25 of the most content and cheerful beings you will ever come across.

Their happiness is contagious and as you run along, you simply start to feel completely at ease.

dogsledding ontario dave

Dave and I switched off regularly to give each other a chance at the wheel. Dogsledding takes a bit of work and a bit of physical conditioning is required.

You Must Work When Dogsledding

While going up hill, you have to help the dogs.

There’s only 5-6 of them and there are two of you. If you don’t lend a helping hand, they’ll turn around and give you a look of, “come on, do you really think we are going to do this ourselves?”

So be prepared to sweat a bit.

Some of the hills are a bit of a hike, but once you get to the top, the payoff is worth it.

Once the dogs feel the pressure of the sled ease at the top, they start running again with gusto.

Half Day vs full Day

The half day trail takes everyone out to a clearing where we take a break and enjoy some hot chocolate.

The dogs get a rest and this is a good time to give them all a big rub and tell them how great they are.

We went down our team giving them all equal rubs and you could tell they appreciated it.

Dogs are smart and they like being praised as much as the rest of us. The stop ended with our guide Mike giving all the dogs a chunk of a hotdog and then we were off!

We went back the way we came feeling more confident in our skills. We now knew our dogs and how to control the sled.

We went downhill with confidence and around bends with ease.

After a couple of hours of driving, we felt like we knew what we were doing. This was awesome!

dogsledding ontario trail

The tour comes to an end where it began and everyone lends a helping hand.

We grab a dish of water for the dogs to re-hydrate, give them some more love and pats on the back and then say goodbye to our terrific guides.

You can tell that the guides at Winterdance love their jobs as much as the dogs!

It’s an amazing way to spend an afternoon.

I remember when Dave and I lived and worked full time in Ontario.

We always looked for something to do each weekend and had we known about this, we definitely would have given dogsledding a try.

It’s an awesome weekend getaway to come up to Haliburton and get outside to enjoy the snow.

You don’t have to rush back to Toronto either, there’s lodging just a half hour drive away at Sir Sam’s where we stayed all week.

It’s an awesome resort and spa, but we’ll tell you all about that next time!

Read More

Putting the E in Epic Adventure, A Winter Trek in Northern Canada

Learn to Whitewater Kayak in Ontario

Winter is Coming, Prepare for Lure of the North

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

45 thoughts on “Dogsledding Ontario – Your Ticket to Adventure in Canada”

  1. EXCELLENT PICTURES, HUSKIES IS AN INCREDIBLE BREED OF AN ARCTIC DOGS…THE EYES & THE FUR OF ARE SO BEAUTIFUL TO SEE… WINTERDANCE & DOGSLEDDING TOURS ARE ACTUALLY BASED IN HIGHLANDS OF HALLIBURTON ISN’T IT? ANY WAY HOPE YOU GUYS HAD A LOT OF FUN IN ONTARIO…
    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING AN BEAUTIFUL ARTICLE LIKE THIS…

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  2. Hey, Dave and Deb! I just dogsledded with Winterdance last weekend and had the most incredible time. This is a great recap… although it makes me miss the huskies 🙁

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  3. We love dog sledding! One of the best experiences we’ve had is really being involved in the whole process from retrieving our team and harnessing them up to rewarding them with their supper after running them. Sled dogs absolutely love to run and get attention!

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    • Actually, if you go to Jamaica, they have Jamaican dogsledding. We did it there, right after we went bobsledding 🙂 The Jamaicans secretly want to be Canadians 😉

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  4. What an amazing experience!! I bet it was a blast. I loved the pictures that came with the post. Thank you for sharing!

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  5. Pretty cool! I'm from Quebec and I've actually never went dogsledding – and now I'm in Spain. Oh well, next winter maybe! 🙂

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    • A horse sled is nice as well. We’ve enjoyed a sleigh ride or two in our lives. But I have to admit, driving a dogsled is a far more exciting adventure. Dogsledding by day for adventure, horse sled by night for romance. Now that would be a perfect vacation.

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  6. That looks so awesome. I definitely need to try dogsledding as one of my 1000 things. You guys look like naturals.

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    • Wow, a 1000 things list sounds amazing! Dogsledding was a big part of our life list too. It took us over a decade of travel to finally give it a go. It was worth the wait to dog sled in our home province with such great people like Hank and Tanya of Winterdance.

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  7. I will go dogsledding some day! Is on the bucket list for a long time now… Ontario it may be. Although Iceland could also be brilliant!!!

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    • I actually think Ontario is better for dogsledding. We were in Iceland this year and we loved it! But the dogsledding happens on a glacier where Ontario is through a forest. If you go to Iceland, ride the Icelandic horse instead. It’s an amazing experience and save the dogsledding for somewhere else. Greenland is a good alternative to iceland too. Surprisingly, around Reykjavik is quite moderate and they don’t get a lot of snow.

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  8. Those huskies are so so adorable! They’re kinda friendly too. I just love your post and the adventure. I just hope I can try that dog sledding too.

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  9. Wow what an amazing post. I love all the gorgeous photos. This is such a unique insight into such a beautiful sport.

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  10. Great post. These dogs look so adorable! I’ve heard from friends that have done similar tours that they seem to absolutely love their jobs. Did you feel that way?

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    • Are you talking about the dogs or the guides? We found that both the dogs and guides loved their jobs. The dogs love to run and the guides love their jobs. It’s a win win for everyone!

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    • That hat is sweet isn’t it? It’s the Canada Goose sheepskin hat. So warm and perfect for the winter. I hope you get the chance to go dogsledding You will love it. It’s such a fun and entertaining adventure.

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  11. A few years back my wife and I took the 1/2 day dogsled in Haliburton with Winterdance and had a beautiful snowy morning in the wilds…the same week we watched the dog sled races….always fun.

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  12. What a great experience. Dad and I had no idea there was dog sledding in Ontario. We looking forward to your other adventures and for you to enlighten us of what is available in our own back yard. Looks very cold from here in Florida. Love Mom and Dad

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    • Thanks mom! I want to take you and dad all around Ontario this year. We told Ryan up at Sir Sam’s that we’d be back with you this summer to take part in some warm weather adventures.

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  13. I am so envious on the cute dog pictures. It looks like such an amazing experience and is definitely on my to-do list. However, it may just have to be in Alberta because it is closer to me than Ontario. Either way, it is an experience of a lifetime.

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    • Hi Angela, they are cute aren’t they? Their eyes are so innocent. I hope you get the chance to do some dogsledding in the near future, it’s the most exhilarating experience. You can’t help but feed off the dogs energy.

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  14. So much cuteness! It’s definitely something I want to do this winter in Quebec, there are so many amazing opportunities over here as well.

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    • That’s what I love about Canada. We have such a diverse country with adventures around every corner. And yes indeed, you have great dogsledding in Quebec. I think that many people even in Ontario think that they have to go to Quebec to do it. We love letting everyrone know that you can do it nearly everywhere. Cheers!

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    • Hi Dogan, great question. We’re actually going to write an article about everything we learned about dogsledding. These dogs just love to run. They were born for this and sled dogs have been around for hundreds of years. Huskies are a rare breed of dog that thrives in the cold temperatures (summers are actually too hot for them) and pulling our weight along the snow is definitely not torture. If you recall, I wrote above “There’s only 5-6 of them and there are two of you. If you don’t lend a helping hand, they’ll turn around and give you a look of, “come on, do you really think we are going to do this ourselves??” So be prepared to sweat a bit.” Believe me, if the load is too heavy, they won’t pull. They aren’t forced to run, they aren’t whipped or beaten to run, they simply want to run. Watching them get hooked up to the sleds is so much fun because you can see the excitement in their eyes. You have to hold them back because all they want to do is run. I can understand and appreciate your concern, but these dogs are seriously loved and treated well. They get more loving and exercise than dogs on a leash all the time in the city for sure. Stay tuned for the next article!

      Reply