Alaska's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

The Iditarod

Alaska's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

The first Saturday in March, more than 50 mushers and about 1,000 dogs will congregate in Anchorage for the 45th annual running of Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, a grueling 1,049-mile sled dog race through blizzards, sub-zero temperatures, gale-force winds and rugged wilderness terrain along the way.

The highlight for Iditarod spectators is the ceremonial start in Anchorage, where you can enjoy the festive sendoff of the competing mushers and their dogs in comfort. From there, the race moves to Willow for the official restart and continues up the Alaska Range’s Rainy Pass and into Alaska’s rugged interior, then up the coast of the Bering Sea to the finish line in Nome. A race that once took 20 days to complete back in the ’70s, now takes under 13, thanks to better dog training and lighter sleds.

How will you participate in Alaska’s Last Great Race?

A five-block section of town is closed off for the ceremonial start and many events surrounding Iditarod, including the Fur Rendezvous, one of the largest winter festivals in the world, complete with a “Running of the Reindeer” (think Pamplona only with reindeer instead of bulls), follow the start of the Iditarod sled race. The 10-day festival culminates the weekend of the Iditarod and features the Charlotte Jensen Native Arts Market, an incredible Snow Sculpture Competition, the Miners & Trappers Ball, a carnival, a “slow” bike race and an Alaska Hold’em Tournament of Champions. Mini sled-dog races also take place during the festival.

If you’re curious to learn more about how the sled dogs are trained and what they do when they aren’t running full speed across frozen tundra for miles, you can visit the kennels of local Alaska mushers. Some will even take you on your own dog-sled adventure.

Race-goers can follow the race by a flightseeing or snowmobile tour. But to get up-close-and-personal with the dogs, volunteer with the Alaska Iditarod Trail Committee as a dog handler on start day or work at one of the checkpoint locations throughout the race. Not many people can say they’ve actually been part of the Iditarod during their vacation to Alaska.

Plan early, as lodging and tour spots fill up fast. For the best viewing during the ceremonial start, get to the middle of Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage way before 10 a.m., as that is when the honorary musher starts the race and the first true competitor will follow two minutes later. The route has been previously changed due to weather conditions or a lack of snow, so be sure to check the Iditarod website for updates.