Last year Steve, a real good college friend of mine, asked if I wanted to go dog sledding. Turns out its one of his “bucket list” items. I had seen plenty of dogs and sleds while growing up in the U.P., but was never actually on one. So we set out to find where we could get the full dog sledding experience. We wanted miles of wild trails, hands on the reigns and deep white snow for an all day adventure. I called a couple of places downstate, but at least the ones I talked with weren’t offering what we were after. So I looked further North and found Tasha Stielstra from Nature’s Kennel. Steve and I tried for weeks to get up, but life and work slowly melted the season away.
This December my youngest brother graduated from NMU so the boys and I drove to Marquette for the weekend. Before leaving the Great North I called Tasha to say we could stop by for a visit. It’s a small adventure just driving out there. Once in McMillan you go another eight miles straight north through snow covered swamps before ascending back up the high ground and arriving at Nature’s Kennel.
What a beautiful place. My first impression is that they take their job seriously. There were more dogs than I ever imagined and the operation is very well maintained. James, one of the guides, explained that he’s been up since 5 am taking care of the dogs (they have over 100 of them!). Each guide is assigned duties around the kennel and personally cares for a portion of the dogs.
My boys favorite dog was (appropriately named) Hammy. She loved to be petted. As they all did, but Hammy had a way of reeling you in for more. Each dog is uniquely named, sometimes after their owner/guide. At least that’s what I was told when I asked why one was called Stinky Feet.
James hooked some dogs up to a sled so we could see them in action. Big Ben took the lead. He’s a big beautiful dog and a veteran of the Iditarod, the world famous dog sled race in Alaska. The sight of a sled brought all 100+ dogs to their feet in anticipation, yelping “Choose me choose me!” In a flash they were gone around the bend to complete a two mile short course. Minutes later the team cruised a corner out of the woods and back to the kennel – the dogs were ready for more.
Hedgie is retired sled dog and roams the kennel like a matriarch attending her heard. She led us to the newest additions to the family, as a group of pups jumped excitedly in our arms. A perfect way to end our visit, that along with some chocolate chip cookies for the car ride back home.
Unfortunately the snow conditions weren’t great, so I can’t tell you what riding behind dogs is actually like. But after seeing it up close, maybe I’ll add it to my bucket list as well. I haven’t spoken with the other many kennels in the Upper Peninsula, but I know at least Nature’s Kennel strives to give it’s clients a pure dog sledding experience. You can choose from short guided trips with you riding on the sled and a guide in control, to overnight excursions where you man your own sled out to a wood burning stove canvas tent/camp and then back again the next day. The McMillan woods are as beautiful as the rest of the Upper Peninsula, and maybe even a bit more secluded than most.
Here’s a Pure Michigan map/directory for dog sledding kennel’s in Michigan that Pure Michigan put together. Just another wonderful way to enjoy winter’s in Michigan! Natures Kennel can be reached at 906-748-0513 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.