When thinking of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the main things that come to mind are towering mountains, turquoise lakes, majestic wildlife, and a whole lot of adventures. After having the pleasure of visiting Howling Dog Tours, a new experience has taken over my main view of the Rocky Mountains in the winter: dog sledding in Canmore!
Dog Sledding in Canmore with Howling Dog Tours is a Canadian Rockies experience that everyone should have the pleasure of trying when visiting in the winter.
A dog sledding experience offers so much more than just the dog sledding itself. Visitors will receive an interpretive tour of the area on your shuttle drive to the site; learn about the history of the company and of the dogs themselves from the knowledgeable employees. This is a way to experience the beauty of the Alberta mountains in a brand-new way; and at the same time develop a bond with a team of dogs that will leave visitors wanting more.
If you are visiting the Canadian Rockies during the winter season, you will not regret adding Dog Sledding with Howling Dog Tours to your bucket list. Continue reading to hear about my ‘Unleash the Musher’ experience!
Dog Sledding in Canmore: All You Need to Know
This article is a recap of our 2-hour ‘Unleash the Musher’ dog sledding tour with Howling Dog Tours. This is the shorter rendition of the two tours offered by this company.
Unleash the Musher!
Getting to the Howling Dog Tours Office
The Howling Dog Tours office is located in the heart of the town of Canmore. Canmore is a central location whether you are visiting from Calgary, Banff, or Lake Louise. With their office located just a single turn off of the Trans-Canada Highway, this experience is easy to access during any Rocky Mountain visit.
Pulling off the highway and into the Howling Dog Tours parking lot, we knew we were in the right place thanks to the large shuttle vans painted with adorable Husky faces.
The parking lot is shared with other businesses, so it is typically paid parking, however with any Howling Dog Tour guests get free parking (just tell them inside the office). If you get to the area early, make sure to check out Eclipse next door for a coffee before you leave for your trip.
With our tour beginning at 12:00pm, we were told to arrive at the office at 11:00am. After bundling up in our various layers, packing our day bag, and lacing up our winter boots, we headed into the front office to check-in. The employee here was super friendly and gave us the low-down: our van number and shuttle drivers name, and to meet at the van in 15 minutes.
This 15-minute wait gave us the chance to get some tips from the helpful employees on what to wear and what to bring, and it allowed a bit of leeway for any guests running behind schedule.
At 11:15am sharp, our welcoming and knowledgeable shuttle driver, Dusty, greeted us at our van! Dusty ran through a quick attendance, went over a few general expectations, and passed out waiver forms to be filled out during the drive.
After loading into the van amongst the other adventure seekers of the day, our experience with Howling Dog Tours began!
Shuttle Ride to the Main Location
The shuttle ride from the Howling Dog Tours office to the main site, where we would unite with our trusty team of dogs and musher for the day, was about 20-25 minutes from Downtown Canmore. This drive is a scenic one, passing the infamous Ha Ling Peak and entering into the stunning Spray Valley Provincial Park.
This 20-minute shuttle drive flew by thanks to our informative and energetic driver, Dusty. Dusty pointed out popular trail heads and mountain peaks, discussed the history of the area, and even pointed out site locations of famous movies! Did you know that 90% of The Revenant was filmed in the Rocky Mountains? Your shuttle driver will be able to point out where some of the most famous scenes of Leonardo DiCaprio were filmed!
After a beautiful and informative drive into Spray Valley Provincial Park, with towering mountain peaks and crystal-clear rivers, we arrived at the Howling Dog Tours main site. As soon as the van doors opened, we were blasted with the excited, powerful howls of the dozens of sled dogs who were patiently awaiting our arrival!
Meet the Team!
The shuttle vans dropped us at the Howling Dog Tours main site: a wide-open area beneath the mountains, with a few outhouses and the trailers that bring the dogs in each day. Upon arrival, an enthusiastic employee provided us a brief rundown of how the day will work, and a short history of the company’s dedicated owners, Dana and Rich Bittner.
On the day of our tour, we were lucky enough to then be greeted by Dana herself! A rad woman with years of dog sled racing experience, who now pours her heart into Howling Dog Tours as the co-owner. Dana gave us a detailed story of their company and their dogs, who are mainly ex-race dogs who love to run. The dog’s love of running sure was obvious, as they used their loud howls to prompt their humans to get the day moving.
Without further ado, Dana introduced each group to their musher for the day. On our tour, there was 5 other groups of adventure seekers, a total of 6 sleds of dogs, mushers, and participants for the day.
With excitement and eagerness, we met our musher – an experienced, strong, and friendly woman named Tanya. From what I could tell, all the mushers here are highly trained, professional, and as kind to their guests as they are to their pups.
After a quick intro to get to know each other, Tanya led us to meet the rest of the team: 7 gorgeous, sassy, and loving sled dogs. We took the chance to meet each dog, learn their names, and give each one a good scratch before their big run.
Tanya taught me how to suit up one of the dogs, Sundance, into his harness. Then, she effortlessly got all 7 dogs hooked up to the sled and ready for our adventure. One by one, we watched the 5 other teams of dogs take off past us and soon enough, on Tanya’s command, we were off to the races.
The Adventure Begins
Sitting in the front of the sled, with Jac behind me and Tanya strong on the back of the rig, our powerful team of dogs took off running at the sound of “Hike!”. In seconds we were into the trees, following the 5-kilometer dog sledding path.
After the first couple minutes of sledding, a photographer was waiting along the trail to take a high-quality action shot. Our musher gave us a heads up for when to expect him, so that we could be ready and smiling at the camera.
This perfect action shot can be purchased at the end of the tour, in both a printed copy and a digital copy. We were so happy to take this piece of our experience home with us – I recommend the purchase.
Our tour continued past the photographer, going around bends, up and down hills, and through the trees. The surroundings could not be more perfect, with the beautiful Spray Lake down below us and massive mountains all around us.
The dogs and the musher worked hard throughout the whole tour. With the dogs listening to every command (sometimes requiring a few extra prompts!) and the musher helping to push the sled during the up-hill sections, they made an incredible team. Their hard work allows you to sit back and take in this incomparable experience.
As if the stunning surroundings and the dog sledding itself weren’t enough, Tanya kept us engaged with exciting facts, stories, and history of dog sledding. We learned so much during our tour: the importance of the dog placement, the infamous 1925 serum run story (check out the movie Togo if you’re curious about this one – also filmed in the Rockies!), the diets and lifestyle of the dogs, and so many cool facts that we’ll always keep with us.
Visiting during the 2020-2021 season, with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full force, the Howling Dog Tours team made us feel safe and comfortable. They have adjusted their tours to function safely – mainly requiring facemasks and encouraging social distancing during the briefings and shuttle rides. The biggest difference this season, is that we were unable to join the musher on the back of the sled.
In a regular season, each participant has the chance to stand on the back of the sled with the musher. This allows you to help control the sled and the dogs, and gives you a new viewpoint of the incredible team of dogs in action.
Snack Break in the Forest
After completing the 5-kilometer trail out, we stopped for our snack break at the Spray Lake West Campground. Each musher secured their team of dogs in place, and we hopped out of the sled to get to know our team a bit more.
Though the hot chocolate and cookies were a tasty way to warm up mid-trip, the best part of this snack break was getting to know the pups. We spent the whole snack break petting, snuggling, and giving the dogs all of our loving.
It was fun meeting the dogs from the other teams, too. The dogs are so friendly with unique personalities, and they love meeting new people.
Racing to the Finish Line
After about a half-hour snack break, we hopped back in the sled for our trip home. The trip back follows the same route as the way in, so Jac and I swapped spots to ensure we both got a chance at the front of the sled!
Even though we were on the same trail we took on the way in, the trip back was just as riveting the second time! Being pulled through the mountains by a team of adorable, strong dogs sure was a once in a lifetime experience.
One of my favorite parts of our trip was hearing our musher control the dogs with her various commands, getting them to slow down, speed up, stop, and ensuring the lead dogs kept their team in line!
Wrapping Up Our Epic Tour
After completing the 5-kilometer trail back, totaling a 10-kilometer round trip, we arrived again to the main site. Finishing the trail was bittersweet as we knew our time with these incredible dogs was nearly finished. Our musher secured the dogs and sled, and we congratulated our team with pets and scratches.
Much to our excitement, we then got to reward the dogs with their end of run treats! Giving each dog a treat and a bowl of chicken water was the perfect way to say thank-you for their hard work. After eating, the employees loaded the dogs back into their trailers for the drive back to the kennel.
Though some regular pups may not like being caged up, Howling Dog Tours ensures their dogs are comfortable for the way home. Allowing each dog to share a crate with their racing partner gives the dogs comfort, not to mention these dogs are happy to lie down after a big day’s work.
With the dogs loaded into the trailer, we said our goodbyes to our wonderful musher, Tanya. We thought Tanya did an incredible job, so we grabbed her email address to send her a gratuity via e-transfer. If you are satisfied with your mushers’ hard work, a gratuity is always welcome in a service industry like dog sledding.
Finally, we purchased our action-shot and loaded back into our shuttle van. The trip back was definitely quieter than the drive there, as everyone reminisced on their incredible experience of dog sledding with Howling Dog Tours.
Common Questions About Dog Sledding in Canmore
Why Choose Howling Dog Tours?
Around the Canmore area, there are a couple different dog sledding companies to choose from. I have nothing but positive things to say about our experience with Howling Dog Tours, and I 10/10 recommend booking your dog sledding experience with this long standing company.
Here are some of the main reasons Howling Dog Tours stands out amongst other dog sledding companies:
The Dogs Themselves
- 70% of the company’s dogs are adopted: Most of their dogs are retired race-dogs or dogs who did not quite make the cut for racing teams. Howling Dog Tours recognizes that there are many dogs out there who need a home, and they are more than willing to take these dogs in and find a place for them.
- The company has a healthy number of dogs: They have enough dogs to ensure the dogs are not overworked and that they receive as much rest time as needed, but not too many dogs that they do not get enough running time.
- Each dog loves to run: The teams are made up of Alaskan Huskies, Siberian Huskies, and Seppala Siberian Huskies, who are quite literally born to be sled dogs. These breeds have lots of energy and love to run.
- The dogs are well taken care of: With the owners having such an extensive dog sledding history, they know exactly what is required to run a healthy and happy kennel. The dogs are well fed, the kennel is well kept, they have plenty of free-run time, and the dogs even have their own treadmill to keep them busy when it’s too warm to run outside.
- Howling Dog Tours guarantees one guide per sled: Every sled will have an experienced, well-trained musher to ensure the safety of their guests and their dogs!
- Anyone 2 years old and up can enjoy these tours! It’s a great family friendly activity in the Rockies. If you are visiting around Christmas, dog sledding is a must do.
- You are provided with a complimentary shuttle ride to and from the site: This makes it super easy to access Howling Dog Tours, with the main office and meeting point located right downtown Canmore. You can leave your rental car parked safely in town, avoiding the potholes and winter difficulties of mountain roads.
- The surroundings are stunning: Located in the Spray Valley Provincial Park, it feels as though you are the only people for miles, with nothing but the remarkable mountains around you.
- The owners lengthy experience in dog sledding is well reflected in their tours: Everything about the tours, from the professionalism of the guides, to the friendliness of the dogs, and the all-inclusive nature of the tour, is well thought out and excellently executed. It is obvious that this company knows their guests as well as they know their dogs!
- You get your own sled: If you have a group of two you get your own sled. Depending on the size/age/height of the participants, they sometimes allow 3 people per sled – I.e., two adults with one toddler.
- The area has an exciting history: The employees here are knowledgeable in the history of the area. You will learn of the many different movies and TV shows filmed in the same area that you are dog sledding in. Some ones you may known are The Revenant, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Planet Earth: Mountains, Togo, and Snow Dogs to name a few.
Which Dog Sled Tour is Best for Me?
When dog sledding with Howling Dog Tours, you have two tour options: Unleash the Musher or Dog Day Afternoon. Both tours have their pros and cons, so be sure to find the right tour for you!
Unleash the Musher Tour
The Unleash the Musher tour is 2-hours long, plus one hour of transportation. This tour follows a 5-kilometer out and back trail, totaling 10-kilometers of dog sledding!
On this tour, you learn to harness a dog, a photographer snaps an epic action-shot, you are treated to a snack and hot chocolate at the halfway point, and you get the chance to guide alongside the musher*! Not to mention you spend 2 full hours with these adorable pups.
The Unleash the Musher tour is an excellent introduction to dog sledding. After 2 hours with the dogs, you will already feel a special bond with them. I definitely left this tour wanting more, but it was the perfect taste of dog sledding without feeling too short!
The cost of the Unleash the Musher tour is quite family-friendly in comparison to other dog sledding companies as they adjust the cost based on age. The costs for this season are below, but always check the website for the most accurate pricing.
- Adult: $225 per person, or $238 during holidays and on Saturdays
- Youth (6-9): $115 per person
- Child (2-5): $60 per person
*Guiding beside the musher is unavailable in the 2020-2021 season due to COVID-19 restrictions. Hopefully this is reintroduced in the 2021-2022 season!
Dog Day Afternoon Tour
The Dog Day Afternoon tour is the most involved tour, offering 3.5 to 4 hours of “howling good times”, plus 1 hour of travel time. The length of this tour allows you to build an even stronger bond with your team and musher!
On this tour, you learn to harness a dog, a photographer snaps an epic action-shot, you are treated to a bonfire with snacks and lunch, and you get the chance to guide alongside the musher*! Not to mention you spend 4 full hours with these adorable pups.
The Dog Day Afternoon offers the following opportunities that are not offered in the shorter tour:
- A bonfire during snack break!
- The chance to bring your own lunch, or to purchase the lunch add on option for $20.
- Weather dependent, you get to dog sled across Spray Lake! This is the biggest difference between the tours, as it offers a whole new, unparalleled experience in the vastness of this stunning place.
- Your time with the dogs is doubled!
The Dog Day Afternoon tour only runs on select days, and operates in a shorter season than the Unleash the Musher tour. If you are set on this tour option, be sure to check the availability on the website! This tour is also limited to participants 10 years old and up.
How Many People Can I Bring?
Each sled can comfortably fit two people. It is best to book in groups of two to ensure that you get your own sled! If they have two singles book, they may group you into one sled together which could be a little too cozy with a stranger.
In some situations, depending on the size and height of the participants, they are willing to fit three people in one sled. For example, if a family of 5 books with three young kids, the kids can likely go together in one sled with the parents in a separate sled. Remember, you are paying per person! Not per sled.
When is the Best Time to Book a Tour?
Depending on the weather, the Unleash the Musher tour runs from December to April and the Dog Day Afternoon tour runs from January to March.
I think that each month would have its own benefits when booking a tour. December would make for a magical Christmas adventure. While January and February will have plenty of snow. We loved our warm March tour, with a bright sunny day and still tons of snow on the path.
Some things to keep in mind: January and February are typically the coldest months, so if you are bringing young kids you may want to avoid these months. Scheduling a tour in April could also be risky, as it is sometimes uncertain as to whether or not the snow will last.
What Should I Wear?
After booking our dog sledding experience with Howling Dog Tours, our next question was “what do we wear?!”. Since we were visiting in mid-March, when the weather had already started to warm up, we knew layers were crucial. What we didn’t think about was how slobbery our clothes would get when getting to know the pups…
Here are my suggestions of what to wear:
- Thermal layer
- Comfortable mid-layer: track pants, hiking pants, etc.
- Snow pants
- Warm boots
- Thermal layer
- Fleece/favorite sweater
- Jacket: Winter jacket in the heart of winter, mid-weight jacket in the warmer months (March/April)
- Eye protection: sunglasses on sunny days, snow goggles on snowy days
It is better to over dress than to be underprepared – you never know what to expect with the mountain weather. We were able to leave our snow pants and jackets in the front of the sled as the weather was warm and sunny on our visit! For the colder days, the sleds have warm, cozy blankets for you to bundle up in as well.
Should I Bring Anything With Me?
There was lots of room in the front of our sled to leave our day packs. Both Jac and I brought a small day pack with us with the following items:
- Sun block
- Water bottle
- Extra layers
- Wallets (to purchase our action shot!)
- GoPro, of course!
- Extra snack, just in case
- A keen sense of adventure, always!