Dog-Sledding in Quebec’s Outaouais Is Not for Wimps

“I would love to try driving the sled,” I said before my trip to Quebec’s Outaouais region. But now the dogs are barking, barking, barking in this frenetic symphony and it makes the back of my neck feel all tingly and I look at the sled and wonder what in the world I have gotten myself into. I say, “Maybe I’ll just ride.”

Dog-sledding through a forest in Quebec's Outaouais
Dog-sledding through a forest in Quebec’s Outaouais (Photo from

But the sleds are already positioned according to our weight and height. There are four huskies wild with excitement at the prospect of yanking me through the white expanse of the Canadian wilderness.

One of the mushers says, “Really? You’ll be fine. Children do this.”

Another journalist says, “I did this in the Yukon recently. It’s no big deal. The dogs know what they’re doing. You’re just along for the ride.”

I glance at the howling dogs, at this wooden contraption of a sled and I know dog-sledding is beyond me. “Okay,” I say.

Musher/Trainer Sébastien Ruiz gives me instructions. He has a strong French accent. I listen with all my pores.

I had pictured riding as one of many passengers with an experienced musher. He would teach us all how to maneuver the sled. I would eventually gain confidence and lead the dogs for a minute or two. Then the trainer would take over again. That’s what I meant when I said I would love to try it.

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“This pad is the soft brake, step on it to slow down. Say, ‘ho,’ to stop and ‘ha’ to go faster. This is the hard brake. If you want to stop, give a warning with the soft brake first. Don’t step on the hard brake all of a sudden when you are running flat. When riding, keep your feet here on the runners. Help the dogs on the way up the hill. Get off and push with one foot. Put both feet on the hard brake at the top of hills. Keep tension in the ropes. There shouldn’t be slack. Watch to make sure your dogs’ legs don’t get tangled in the ropes or they could break a leg. If this happens, yell to me right away. Lean into the turns like you’re Alpine skiing. Do you Alpine ski?”

“I have skied, but I’m not very good.”

“Keep both hands on the bar at all times. Whatever you do — never, ever let go of your sled. Got it?”

“Um, yeah.”

It takes a long time to get our group of six journalists all tacked up and ready to set off. Two opt to sit in sleighs, pulled by teams of nine or 10 dogs. The other four of us are driving our own sleds solo, with somewhere between four to seven dogs each.

The energy and noise of the barking and howling, along with the dogs’ leaping and pulling at harnesses, is intense. It’s a lot of energy to take in.

The first team takes off. Then two more. Then it’s my turn. I put one foot on each runner and my team bursts forth across the snow.

I thought we would run across open expanses of white terrain. Before I know it, though, I am racing through a forest of pine trees. I am terrified and elated at once.

The journalist in front of me, the one who said it would be easy, is going too slow for my dogs. I have to keep pressing my soft brake to keep the ropes taut. My dogs and I want to go faster.

I am the alpha. At least that is what I tell myself. I need to believe this or my dogs will be in charge.

As a former English-style equestrian, I am reminded of horse shows, jumping giant beautiful beasts over too-tall fences, and becoming one with time.

I cannot look around or think about anything else. I am sure the scenery is gorgeous but my stare remains intense on my dogs. My hands tingle from gripping my sled so tightly. My breath is hot on my face, trapped by my scarf. It fogs my sunglasses and I strain to see my pack.

My journalist friend ahead of me turns sharply around the trail’s corner and her body falls. She is lying flat, holding tight to her sled and being dragged uphill. Sébastien appears from the other side of the hill and uprights her sled and straightens her team’s ropes. He tells her to wait until he says to go. Then he disappears over the hill.

We wait. And wait. The dogs are crazy with energy to keep running. They bark and howl. I use my deepest voice to yell to the larger female dog at the front of the team, “Artic, no!” I want her to quit biting at the smaller girl dog, Mika.

Sled dogs at Chiens-Traineaux Petite Nation, where dog-sledding is not for wimps
Sled dogs at Chiens-Traineaux Petite Nation (Photo from

Artic stops and looks back at me, nonplussed. She jumps into the snow for a quick roll, biting up pieces of the powdery white to quench her thirst. Then she is back to the front jumping and pulling with the rest of my dogs, trying to force free the hard brake, on which both my feet are planted.

I am nervous to round the corner with my huskies in their increasingly frenzied state. “I think you should go,” I shout ahead to my fellow journalist.

“But he said to wait,” she says.

I turn to the trainer behind me, “Can we go?” I ask.

With his approval, finally, I set my dogs free. I keep one foot on the soft brake, but my team’s excitement is too much for me to hold. The dogs race around the corner and my sled is ripped from under me. I try to hold onto the sled’s handle, remembering Sebastien’s instructions to never let go, but it slips from my grasp and I fall forward onto the trail.

Like when I used to train “green” horses, I jump up from the ground and start running after my bolting animals. Sébastien appears again from over the hill and quickly corrals my dogs.

There are more hills to go, bigger ones. I jump off my sled and push with my heavily booted foot up the hill…up the hill. I pant with exhaustion. As soon as I reach the top, I jump with both feet onto the brake and I am sailing down white. I am in love with winter.

I duck my head from branches of trees that whir past my ears as we race.

At the midway point, after her second fall, the woman who convinced me dog-sledding was a leisurely endeavor, begs off. We were promised hot cocoa but there is none. The trainers are too busy rearranging dogs so the journalist can sit the rest of the ride.

We set off once again. I am ecstatic to be in this beautiful spot of the world – tilting my hips into the turns, skimming my foot across the soft brake.

It is heaven. But a heaven too intense for me. And I need to return to earth.

It is overwhelming to exist in such a state of adrenaline and hyper-awareness. I am relieved, when, an hour and a half into our run, I can see our starting point with all of the dogs’ dens in the distance.

When we arrive, Sébastien unhooks my team of four. He instructs me to pet my dogs, tell them they’ve done a good job. I speak to them in French, “Bons chiens. Bon travail.”

They eye me nervously, heads down, pulling back slightly, eyes darted upward. They are not pets. I put a hand out to let them sniff and then gently glide my gloved fingers across their thick fur.

Sébastien says, “You are a good musher. You will take my job.”

I beam.

He says, “There is a phrase we mushers use. Au jour chien. Toujours chien.” One day a dog, always a dog. 

I am part of the pack.

Children as young as 12 can drive their own dog-sledding team at Chiens-Traineaux Petite-Nation
Children as young as 12 can drive their own dog-sledding team at Chiens-Traineaux Petite-Nation (Photo from

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How to go dog-sledding in Quebec’s Outaouais

If you would like to be a part of the pack, check out Chiens-Traineaux Petite-Nation in the Outaouais region of Quebec in Canada. You can sign up for 1- to 3-hour tours.

If visiting with children, they can ride in a sleigh driven by an experienced musher. Kids ages 1 to 5 should sit in an adult rider’s lap, while children 6+ can ride alone. Older kids can even drive their own sleds (age 12 to 14+, depending on size and athleticism). Children are taken on easier, wide-open trails rather than through the forest.

Dog-sledding is not for wimps at Chiens-Traineaux Petite-Nation in Quebec's Outaouais

Explore More Adventures in Canada

Discover more things to do in winter in Quebec.

Learn about animals, gangsters, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Saskatchewan with kids.

See Northern Lights and Dall sheep during a family vacation in Canada’s Yukon.

Taste spring at maple syrup festivals in Canada.

If you went dog-sledding, would you opt to sit or drive? Why? Let us know in the comments!

A Note from The Travel Mama: I experienced dog-sledding in Quebec’s Outaouais as part of a press trip hosted by Tourisme Outaouais and Quebec Tourism. All opinions are mine, as always. 

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    1. I wish I’d had a GoPro back when I went on my dog-sledding adventure. Then again, I had enough to worry about, just trying to stay on my sled!

  1. I would love to give dog-sledding a try. It sounds like so much fun. I would want to sit for my first run. Once I know what to expect I would try driving.

  2. Dog sledding sounds like a lot of fun- but also a lot of work! I’d love to go sometime but I think I’d rather just sit and enjoy the ride 🙂

    1. I might opt to ride if I went again, too. Maybe. It depends on who was going with me and how adventurous they are. I can be talked into a lot of things!

    1. If you like downhill skiing and/or horseback riding, I bet you will like dog-sledding, too!

  3. I would LOVE to drive a tram of sled dogs. I think the experience would be amazing! It’s like one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that you just need to try!

    1. If you ever have the opportunity to try it, I hope you do! Next time I might opt to ride in a sleigh, though. Maybe.

  4. I’ve always wanted to go dog sledding and my daughter was reading this along with me, hoping it meant we were going today! No such luck for today but hope to soon.

    1. Ha! I like your daughter’s style! I hope you both can experience dog-sledding in Quebec someday very soon.

  5. I almost feel like I was there! This would be a bucket list thing for us to do for sure! How awesome and the dogs are beautiful!

    1. You will love it, Reesa! Make sure to go in Quebec, though. I’ve heard the Alaskan dog-sledding excursions are much more tame.

  6. Great post. You describe the action brilliantly. I went dog sledding in Greenland last year for 2days. I wasn’t doing the work but with huge hills and the dog going on regardless it is tough work getting in and out of the sled all the time. Still though, I would do it again no bother.

    1. Victoria – If it’s too exciting for you, you could just opt to sit in the sled and have an expert lead your team instead. But it really was quite the thrill to drive the sled myself!