You don’t have to go to Alaska to experience a dog sled ride—Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Western Pennsylvania is the perfect place to discover your inner musher.
While many guests are familiar with the luxurious amenities that the resort and spa property located about 45 minutes from Pittsburgh in the Laurel Highlands has to offer, there are also numerous outdoor activities that the general public can experience even if they’re not staying on the grounds.
I was excited to be invited to participate in a dog sled ride, despite the fact that on the day that I went, it was ridiculously cold and the idea of having the wind whip across my face while careening over an ice-covered trail at 20 mph seemed a little intimidating. I quickly forgot all about the weather, though, as soon as I got to the dog yard where about 20 Alaskan huskies were barking and howling in excitement about getting out for a run.
I walked with one of the mushers as she checked out each dog and decided who would get to go based on who had been on previous runs, and what dogs worked best as a team. The lucky dogs got harnessed in, and I got a short lesson on dog mushing voice signals: Gee is right, Haw is left, and Whoa is stop (that last one is really important!) Then I bundled up, took my seat, and we were off!
There’s something quite surreal about gliding over snowy fields with nothing but yipping dogs to accompany you on the journey. It was a picture-perfect February day, and my attention was torn between admiring the sunlight glinting off the icy fields and the flying feet of the dogs in front of me. While it’s not the most comfortable of rides—you’re basically sitting on the really cold ground, after all—it is an exhilarating experience and a truly unique way to spend a winter’s day.
If you can’t visit Nemacolin in the winter, however, don’t despair—the resort also offers Jamaican dog sledding in which the dogs pull a wheeled cart throughout the property with guests on board during the warmer months.
If you’re an animal lover, or have kids who are, you’ll also enjoy a visit to Nemacolin’s Wildlife Academy, which was established in 2006. In addition to wildlife habitats featuring bears, tigers, lions, wolves, bison and other exotic animals—many of which were rescued from failing zoos—there is also a nursery where you can visit with smaller, quite sociable animals who are as curious about you as you are about them. I had to laugh at the llama and the pigs who kept trying to reach into my purse—I was a little more cautious with the snakes and crocodile that I got to hold. And I was especially taken with Norman, a camel who came running up to the fence as we were walking by; I have to admit that it was the first time a camel has ever given me a kiss.
One of the things that I really like about the Wildlife Academy is that people don’t have to be guests of the hotel to experience all it has to offer. Its programs, including Enrichment Tours, Nursery Tours and Wild Animal Shows are open to the public—programs, hours and costs are listed on the website at www.nemacolin.com. If you do decide to stay, so much the better—there’s nothing nicer than a tucking into a delicious hot chocolate back at the Chateau Lafayette and thinking about your chances of winning the next Iditarod.
Would you try mushing with a dogsled team?
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Freelance writer. Road tripper. Travel diva. Dog rescuer. Writes for food or kibbles and bits. Based out of Pittsburgh, PA, via Juneau, AK, Vanessa has been a freelance writer for more than 25 years, and has been published in many diverse publications,including GEEK, Recreation News, CATS, VFW magazine, the Antique Trader and more. An avid traveler, she always brings home amazing memories...and often more dogs. Follow Vanessa on her blog, Mood Swings and Other Things, on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram.
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