As we bumped and bounced across the pitted dirt road that led out to the Langjökull glacier, the second largest ice cap in Iceland, I didn’t expect to find our dog sledding guides in shorts and t-shirts. Even though it was June, I still thought that we’d need to bundle up for dog sledding in Iceland. But the bright blue skies that greeted us at the camp, located a mile further in than it was just a week earlier, heralded a beautiful day.
We were booked on a three-hour adventure tour with Dog Sledding Iceland, a birthday treat for our daughter from her generous grandparents. Ever since Hannah first read about the Iditarod in Kindergarten, she has been obsessed with all things dog sledding. Since Nome, Alaska in March isn’t on our travel short-list, we thought dog sledding on a glacier in Iceland was a pretty great second best.
While we did rent a four-wheel drive car, we weren’t quite comfortable driving on the dirt F-roads, so we paid a little extra to have our guides pick us up at the Husafell camping site nearby. The summer dog sledding site on the glacier is about one and one-half to two-hours from Reykjavik, but since we were staying out in Geysir, we had to leave bright and early to get there in time for our 9 am pick up. The ride out to the glacier was so beautiful we didn’t even mind the early departure.
As we bumped into camp, we got to meet the guides, staff and dogs that make their home out on the ice for a few months of the year. It is hard to imagine a life comprised of scooping poop, caring for dogs, sleeping in a trailer, and living on the ice without electricity, Internet, or bathrooms — but I’m glad someone does it to give us this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
As soon as we arrived, we were introduced to all the dogs. Not just the ones that would be pulling the sleds, but all the ones in camp. We learned their names, their breed, and a bit about each dog’s history and temperament. Dog sledding Iceland uses a mix of breeds including Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Greenlandic, and Icelandic sled dogs. Some of the sled dogs were even famous! The Greenlandic dogs had appeared in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Most of the dogs were happy to get the attention and others were clamoring for more. For travelers that just want to get out on the glacier, this process may feel a bit long, but for dog lovers it was perfect — very well suited for families and kids.
After greeting the dogs, we were introduced to the life of a musher. We learned how to put on the booties that protect the pads of their feet from the ice. Next, we helped harness the dogs for the two teams going out that morning, and got them hooked up to the sleds. The smile on Hannah’s face as we went through this process was bright as the blue sky. Soon we were ready to head out. A guide from Denmark and our family of three on one sled, and a mother-daughter pair and their French-born musher on the other.
If you are looking for fast-paced excitement, you might be a little disappointed by dog sledding in Iceland, as these dogs are generally slower than those used in races like the Iditarod. The dog’s pace, combined with the warm day softening the snow, maxed out our speed at around six to eight miles per hour. Plus the dogs had to slow down to mark their territory in every way imaginable for the first part of the ride — much to everyone’s amusement.
But we really didn’t mind the speed at all. It gave us more time to look around at the absolutely gorgeous scenery. The sky was a brilliant clear blue against the untouched white snow. In the distance we could see the black tops of the snow-covered volcanic mountains. I enjoyed just sitting back and drinking in the view — something that I will never forget.
Before we arrived, I tried to prep Hannah for potential disappointment by warning her that she may not get a chance to ride on the back of the sled and help mush. So you can imagine how thrilled she was when we were ready to set out and they asked who wanted to go on the back. She was able to be the “co-musher” for the entire ride out to our halfway point.
Once we reached the halfway point, we stopped to give the dogs a break and to stretch our legs. We made sure to give the dogs lots of belly rubs to thank them for their hard work, especially the ones we could tell were working the hardest (versus a couple of divas who weren’t totally pulling their weight.)
On the way back, we switched positions and I was able to take the back as musher. Our guide still did all the work, I just had to lean whatever direction he told me or push off with one leg from time to time. Even still, I was surprised to find that balancing back there is a bit of a work out. We were already warm from the gorgeous day but I took off my down jacket and took the ride back in just my base layer long-sleeved shirt.
Our day dog sledding in Iceland was an epic day that we will never forget. It ranks right up there with boating around Capri for one of our best travel days ever. It isn’t cheap but if you have dog lovers in your family and dog sledding is on your bucket list, Iceland is a great place to do it. In the summer you don’t need to contend with freezing temperatures and you will get to explore the most gorgeous scenery.
Dog sledding in Iceland
- Dog sledding Iceland offers tours from mid-May to mid-August on the glacial snow; winter tours (from mid-August to mid-May) operate on dry land in a different location.
- They offer one-hour and three-hour tours, as well as a one-hour midnight sun tour in the summer and an overnight tour in the winter.
- Children must be eight years old to participate.
- Wear waterproof shoes, a hat, sunglasses, gloves, and waterproof outerwear. (We were hot with a base layer, hiking pants, and down jackets.)
- The three-hour tour is 35,900 ISK for adults and 17,950 for kids (check website for current prices.)
- Use the bathroom at the cafe/gas station at the Husafell camping site. You can also have lunch at the cafe here after the tour.
- If you are looking for other things to do in in Iceland, shop for day tours at my preferred partner, Iceland Travel.
- Be sure to check out my Iceland travel tips and packing lists for summer.
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Have you ever been dog sledding?