Dog sledding in Banff National Park, Alberta
There’s no shortage of epic outdoor adventure in the Canadian Rockies, especially during the winter. From ice-climbing frozen waterfalls to snowshoeing across frozen lakes, there are so many ways to get your heart-pumping in western Alberta.
One adventure that’s been on our radar for years is dog sledding.
On our anniversary trip to Banff National Park last month, we had the opportunity to take a dog sled tour while in Lake Louise. We joined Kingmik Dog Sled Tours on its popular Great Divide Tour. The tour travels 16 km (10 miles) from Banff National Park in Alberta to Yoho National Park in British Columbia, traveling along the Kicking Horse Pass at the Continental Divide.
We brought our new GoPro Hero camera with us and captured some video of the experience. Click on the image below to see what dog sledding is all about.
Trouble viewing the video? Watch directly on YouTube – Dog sledding in Banff, Alberta
To the Great Divide
Our dog sled tour began at 9:00 AM at the lower parking lot below Lake Louise (the actual lake, not the townsite). The tour travels along the historical Kicking Horse pass via an old section of the Trans-Canada highway that is no longer in use.
We were joined by 5 other couples that day. One couple was visiting all the way from Melbourne, Australia. Their excitement to be in the Canadian Rockies during winter was infectious. We sometimes take for granted just how incredible our big, beautiful country is. Then, we have an experience like this and it reminds us just how wonderful it is to live in Canada.
Fortunately for us, the area received about 10 cm’s of snow the night before, so the trail and trees were covered in snow. The park transformed into a magical winter wonderland overnight.
After a briefing about the tour and the Alaskan Huskies on duty that morning, we climbed into our cozy sled and bundled up. The dogs were fired up and ready to go. They barked and jumped with anticipation. Once they were hooked onto the sled they wanted to go. One thing is for sure, these dogs love to run!
The ride is actually quite smooth and quiet. We glided along the fresh snow with ease. Once the dogs were in motion the sled began to pick up some pretty good speed. It’s amazing how fast the dogs can get the sled moving.
The trail is also popular with cross country skiers.
When we reached the Great Divide we got out of the sled to snap a few photos and stretch our legs. It was pretty cool to walk across the border the separates Alberta and British Columbia.
On the return trip, we tucked into a section of forest call ‘Narnia’. If you watch the video above, you can see this section around the 0:45 mark.
This was our favorite part of the tour. The dogs gracefully weaved through a tight trail, zig-zagging through thick, snow-covered forest. It was an awesome experience.
What about the dogs?
There seems to be some mixed opinions about dog sledding. When I told a close friend we were going dog sledding he gave me a look of disgust. He’s a dog owner who is convinced that dog sledding is bad for the dogs. When I asked him why he felt this way he pointed to a few cases where dogs were abused and not treated very well by the tour operators. While this may be the case with some dog sled operators, we had a positive experience with the team at Kingmik. From what we saw, they treat their dogs with lots of love and respect.
During our tour, we spoke at length with our guide, Kylie, about the practices of the company, everything from what the dogs eat to what happens to them in the summer months. You can read more about their operations here.
It’s important to ask questions and do your homework because, sadly, there are some irresponsible operators out there that are only focused on the bottom line. But an entire industry should not be judged by the actions of a few bad apples.
It became very clear to us that the dogs (and employees) at Kingmik are treated like family. The dogs are rotated throughout the day (and week) to ensure they are well rested before each tour. Most of the guides are responsible for their team of 12-16 dogs, so a deep bond between guide and dog is developed.
It’s quite impressive how well Kylie knows her team of dogs. On one occasion, she stopped the sled to check one of her dogs. To us, the dog seemed to be running just fine, but apparently the way he was running was cause for concern. She picked up the dog’s leg and noticed a chunk of hard-packed snow jammed in his paw. She removed the obstruction and we were off again. I don’t know how she spotted this slight change in his running behavior but it showed us how well she knows and cares for her dogs.
Whether you support dog sledding or not, the thing to keep in mind is that these dogs were born to run. And they love running! They need to be outside running every day, it’s in their DNA.
Things to know before you go
- We went with Kingmik Dog Sled Tours on its Great Divide Tour. The tour travels 16 km (10 miles) from Banff National Park to Yoho National Park through the Kicking Horse Pass.
- The tour takes about 2 hours. Cost is $165 per person based on 2 people per sled.
- Sleds are equipped with comfortable foam cushions and warm sleeping bags, however it’s important to dress for the weather. It gets very cold on the sleds, so dress in winter gear and make sure you have hats, gloves, snow boots, something to cover your neck, and goggles (it can get windy in some sections).
- The starting point to the tour is at a parking lot just off Lake Louise Drive (the road that takes you to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise). It’s easy to miss this parking lot in the snow (we did), so drive slow and look for the parking lot on the right hand side of the road. The lot entrance is right where the road bends. Here is a map.
Disclosure – we were provided complimentary tours, courtesy of Travel Alberta. As always, expressed opinions are entirely our own. We had a blast on this tour and think you will too.