From the moment I planned to my trip, I knew I wanted to go dog sledding in Finnish Lapland. The thrill of gliding across a frozen landscape in a dog sled had a wild, rugged, and irresistible feel to it. This urge was only made stronger after visiting Skelleftea in Swedish Lapland this past summer.
I did my due diligence research and knew Bearhill Husky was the best option during my stay in Rovaniemi, Finland. I’m an animal-lover and, with 3 dogs of my own, would only take part in a dog sledding experience where the dogs were truly loved and well-taken care of.
Bearhill Husky is family-run and owners Valentijn and Veronika have dedicated their lives to working with and caring for their huskies. “It’s our passion to work with dogs, breed them, train them and let them be the best dogs they can be.” Bearhill’s own website has a philosophy and ethics page. Reviews on social media and TripAdvisor (Bearhill’s #1) are glowing with details about the dogs and the experience. Other travel bloggers have raved about and recommend Bearhill Husky, as well.
As it turns out, we, human visitors, are also well looked after and the dog-sledding is just one part of the completely incredible Bearhill experience.
A Spectacular Day Dog Sledding in Finnish Lapland
with Bearhill Husky
Leaving the city center of Rovaniemi behind, the evergreen trees thicken and the roads go from a partly cleared to a solid white covering. You can hear the excited husky cries as soon as you pull into Bearhill Husky Farm. The dogs know what’s coming and they jump and bark in anticipation.
Our guide, Miika, greeted our small group with a cheerful hello and a warm smile. Invited into a nearby yurt, Miika helped prepare us for the -25C/-13F temperatures (Yes, that’s without accounting for the wind on the sled!). Bearhill Husky provides arctic overalls, extra wool socks, proper boots, face covering, and gloves. With the right Arctic gear and my own ski hat and mask, I could’ve stayed outside all day!
Back outside and all geared up, we got instructions on how to manage the dog sled. While one person sits in the sled itself, the driver stands on the back wooden legs of the sled and holds on to a crossbar.
As Miika explained, the dogs only have an on and off switch, so stepping on the brake pedal would tell the dogs to slow down or stop. The dogs are full of energy and excitement, so that brake pedal is an absolute necessity on the corners and downhills. (Just ask my husband…that’s all I’m saying. 😉 )
The Call of the Wild Tour runs through the forest and out across a frozen lake for a good mix of speed and technical driving. The group size is small, with about 4-6 dog sled teams in total and several experienced guides. A stop halfway through gives the dogs a rest (read: roll in the snow!) and allows you to take photos and switch drivers.
With all the preparation, though, nothing quite prepares you for the exhilarating moment when the dogs first take off. In an instant, you’re surrounded by a pristine snowy, white forest and nothing but the sound of the sled gliding over the snow and the dogs’ heavy breathing.
“Am I really on a dog sled in the Arctic?!”
I’d been on a snowmobile the day before but this was different. I wasn’t interrupting the hush of nature during winter. I wasn’t leaving unnatural scars in the blanket of white covering the forest. The dogs and I were an extension of that winter wonderland. The air was frigid but fresh. The sky was blue and the sun lingered over the horizon with just enough blinding light to make it seem as if the dogs were running to a place where everyone really does live happily ever after. My practical side expected to be focused on the unique experience and how dog sledding has been fundamental to the culture of Lapland for centuries.
Instead, it was all emotion. I felt totally free, on one hand, and bonded to the dogs in another. It’s the connection that forms from a deep respect and appreciation for the work these amazing animals do. The experience requires that you live in the moment. The dogs certainly are, and together, you’re working to create a mutually fulfilling experience.
In all honesty, the experience was nothing short of spectacular and an absolute highlight of my time spent in Finnish Lapland. But, moments are fleeting. When you land on a good one, it’s hard not to squander it wishing it could last longer. As we took the last turn back to the farm, I focused on soaking up every last detail.
With the sled secured back at the farm, I had time to socialize with my dogs and say “hyvä, hyvä ” good, good. The praise keeps them motivated and feeling good about what a great job they did.
The guides and caretakers came around and checked the dogs while I learned the dogs’ names, took photos, and asked questions. You notice right away how comfortable the dogs are with their caretakers and how well-socialized they are with visitors.
Dogs don’t lie. You can see the satisfaction and enjoyment they’re getting from running. When you pet them, you can feel how healthy and solid their coats’ and bodies’ are.
Wanting to know more about the life of the huskies, a caretaker explained the importance of really knowing the dogs and keeping them mentally healthy. “You don’t want them to lose the joy of running.”
Not only are trails switched and the routes varied to keep the dogs mentally fresh. The caretakers at Bearhill Husky recognize when dogs need a challenge or something new to think about. For example, they might take a lead dog and put him in the back to change his perspective. At the same time, the new dog up front is a challenge for the more seasoned leader who has to think about how to keep his new partner moving forward.
In addition, a work-rest balance is key. The dogs work on a rotation, always getting at least 2 days off a week. In summer, they’re on holiday and run free with their caretakers.
Eventually, we had to say our final goodbyes to the dogs. On our way back to the yurt, we stopped to pet a couple super playful puppies. Miika explained a bit about how they’re raised and trained.
When you visit Bearhill Husky, it’s so important to recognize everything that goes into the dog sledding experience. It’s not just about the ride on the sled, but rather joining with the dogs to participate in something truly special.
Bearhill Husky Farm is about 20km north of Rovaniemi. The tour price includes transportation to and from the farm. Pick-up spots cover Rovaniemi’s popular hotels and city center. Even from our Airbnb, the pick-up was just a block away. The van arrived on-time, which is greatly appreciated on those frosty Arctic days.
Bearhill Husky offers 3 different tours.
The “Call of the Wild Tour” departs mornings and afternoons. It lasts about 4.5 hours including the time it takes to transfer back and forth between Rovaniemi and the farm. You’ll drive/ride about 16-22kms through the snow-blanketed forests and over frozen-solid lakes. The tour costs 159€ per person for a 2-person sled and 239€ per person if you’d like your own dog sled.
The “Taiga Husky Tour” runs every Wednesday January-April. It’s a full day of dog sledding, with a stop for a campfire lunch out in the wilderness. You’ll drive/ride for 30-40kms and learn more about the huskies and the art of a skilled musher. This tour is 259€ per person for a 2-person sled and 309€ per person to drive your own dog sled.
The “Into the Wild Overnight Tour” is a small group tour that leaves on Saturday mornings and returns Sunday afternoons. You venture out into gorgeous Lapland with experienced guides and stay overnight in a rustic wilderness cabin. You’ll learn about and help with the care of your dogs, cook lunch around a campfire, and relax in the cabins for dinner and breakfast. This tour costs 620€ per person for a 2- person dog sled and 850€ to drive your own.
Would you like to dog sled in Finnish Lapland? Have you been dog sledding in another frosty place?
Disclosure: I was a guest of Bearhill Husky. As always, all opinions are my own.