Last weekend I had fun checking off another winter bucket list item with some friends: dog sledding! There are a couple of companies around Ottawa, but we chose Escapade Eskimo because of its good reviews and popularity. It is located 75 minutes from Ottawa, in Otter Lake, Quebec.
They have a few different packages depending on the age of the participants and how long you want the ride to be (family-friendly packages are available!). We chose “The Adventure” option, which included instructions, a 1.5 hour ride over a 15 km beginner’s trail, snacks at the lodge afterwards, and a CD with pictures of us on our ride. The whole experience lasted around 3.5 hours and cost $160 plus tips. We got there for the afternoon ride, which started at 12:30PM. Luckily, the weather was super nice (-15 Celsius, mostly cloudy and calm), so it wasn’t too cold and I didn’t need my toe warmers. I still dressed very warmly though because it can get chilly sitting in the sleigh and not doing anything!
When we got to the lodge, we signed our waivers and then received instructions from the guide on how to drive the dog sleigh. I started getting worried because he was making it sound a little scary, but don’t worry – it was actually super chill and easy!
After the briefing, the guides drove us to the start of the trail, which was only 5 minutes away. Then we unloaded our sleighs (4 in total) and harnessed the dogs. There were 7-8 huskies per sleigh. Each sleigh fits two people: one driver standing at the back controlling the dogs and the speed, and one passenger sitting in the sleigh. Halfway through the trail, the driver and the passenger switch places. Thus, it would be ideal for couples or to have an even number of people in the group (otherwise one of the guides will share a sleigh with you).
My boyfriend (let’s just call him V!) and I were in the first sleigh, and I chose to drive first. In front of us was one of the guides driving a snowmobile. The other guide was paired with someone in the last sleigh since our group had an odd number of people.
Driving the dogs was a lot easier than I had expected. The trail was already carved into the snow, so the dogs had no problem staying on it. Since the weather was a little warm, they didn’t pull the sleigh too fast, and sometimes I had to help them on uphill sections by pushing the sleigh a bit. At the beginning I also had to stop quite often to let them do their business (and with 7 dogs on our sleigh, there was quite a bit of business to be done!).
Each dog had its own personality, and it was fun watching them. One of them loved sticking its head in snow, a couple of others rolled around in the snow every time we stopped, and one pair really enjoyed playing with each other. They all seemed to enjoy pulling the sleigh though, as is common with their breed.
Pro tip: I learned that the dogs only understood French, so English commands didn’t work on them (“go,” “stop,” “mush mush,” etc.). “Aller” and “en avant” did though!
After the ride, we unclipped the dogs and put them back into their kennel, helped put all of the equipment away, and then went back to the lodge. There was hot chocolate, coffee, tea, granola bars, and fruit waiting for us. We were able to relax and have a bite, figure out where to go for dinner (we chose Sapporo Sushi in Ottawa), and pay. If you want a closer meal, our guide recommended checking out restaurants in Wakefield.
For the price, I thought the experience was well worth it. The guides were super friendly and knowledgeable, the dogs well-behaved and sweet, and the entire outing fun and unique! I would love to come back for another ride, and maybe even try their two day package. The lodge was very cozy and looked like it would make for a relaxing getaway.
After reading this post, I hope dog sledding is on your bucket list now, or has moved up your list! It’s definitely one of my favourite winter activities, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to enjoy it.