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Minnesota Winter Sampler: Dog Sleds, Skis, Snowshoes, Saunas, Wildlife

Program Number: 7933RJ
Start and End Dates:
2/9/2014 - 2/14/2014; 2/7/2016 - 2/12/2016;
Duration: 5 nights
Location: Ely, Minnesota
Price starting at: $776.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Winter Sports Activity Level: t (see description)
Meals: 15; 5 Breakfasts, 5 Lunches, 5 Dinners    
Meal Options: Low Fat; Vegetarian; Low Salt; Gluten Free    

Experience the dramatic beauty of northern Minnesota in winter! From the runners of a dogsled, participate in the centuries-old sport of dogsledding to explore snowy trails of the Superior National Forest. Meet enthusiastic huskies and hear about modern-day racing competitions. Learn to cross-country ski and snowshoe, and examine the intricacies of winter ecology and search for wildlife sign.


• Gain appreciation for the strength, speed and friendliness of sled dogs and the exhilaration of “mushing” through the Northwoods.
• Observe the dynamics of a wolf pack at the International Wolf Center, and listen for howls of wild wolves.
• Discover Finnish sauna tradition by relaxing in the wood-fired, lakeside log sauna.

Activity Particulars

Snowshoeing up to four miles; skiing up to seven miles; dogsledding up to 20 miles. Equipment provided.

Want more dogsledding? See program 7953 which also includes a quiet night spent in the wilderness in a Mongolian-style Yurt.

Date Specific Information


These program dates overlap with the last few days of the Ely Winter Festival.


The Ely Winter Festival (an 11-day event) overlaps this program.

Coordinated by Vermilion Community College.


The Superior National Forest, stretching 150 miles along the U.S.-Canada border, encompasses a variety of wildlife and terrain, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Ely is the area’s quaint but bustling gateway.

Lakeside cabins, adjacent to Boundary Waterway wilderness; kitchen, sitting room, shared baths up to six people; additional bathhouse available.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
Chris Hegenbarth

Chris Hegenbarth has been teaching enthusiasts about the outdoors for more than 20 years. She takes a special liking to gaining and imparting knowledge of an area's plants, animals, and geology. Her favorite outdoor pastime is picking wild blueberries —plentiful in northern Minnesota — with her children. Very much an outdoor person, she enjoys cross-country skiing, canoeing, hiking, and harvesting wild rice.
Peter McClelland

Peter McClelland, a naturalist by training and a professional musher by choice, has been running sled dogs for more than 20 years. He provides Road Scholar participants with the hands-on experience of driving their own dog team through his Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures. Peter has participated in several sled dog races, including the 375-mile John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. In 2013, he placed first in the 220-mile Hudson Bay Quest.
Jacki Fisher

Jacki Fisher is passionate about the Minnesota north woods, having shared her love of the outdoors with program participants for more than 10 years. Jacki's endless enthusiasm and depth of knowledge make her a favorite instructor of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing and hiking.
Meals and Lodgings
   YMCA Camp du Nord
  Ely, MN 5 nights
 YMCA Camp du Nord
Type: Other
  Description: Experience an area listed as one of the world's top 50 travel destinations. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, 15 miles north of Ely, is a winter wonderland for those traveling by dogsled, ski, and snowshoe. Explore scenic trails, eat delicious food, and relax in an authentic Finnish log sauna. Group size is small for active sessions. Shuttle from Duluth is available. Stay in beautiful cabins near the shore of Burntside Lake. Camp du Nord, operated by the YMCA of St. Paul, provides a private setting with miles of snowshoe trails, skier-groomed ski trails, brilliant skies, and quiet winter forests. The camp also features an authentic and historic Finnish sauna that will be fired up once during the week. Camp du Nord is a wonderful blend of cozy cabins and wilderness, providing a good setting for learning amidst snow-covered lakes, rocky shores, and evergreen forests. During the week experience a sunrise or sunset over the lake, explore the woods by following a set of animal tracks in the snow, or enjoy a starlit night from the frozen lake.
  Contact info: 3606 North Arm Road
Ely, MN 55731 USA
phone: 218-365-3681
  Facility amenities: You will be sharing a lakeside cabin with other participants. Cabins are varied, but each has two to six double-occupancy bedrooms, a cozy living room, a kitchen (with stove, refrigerator and dishes), and at least one bathroom. Several cabins also have a woodstove to provide ambiance. In the spirit of the hosteling approach upon which Road Scholar programs were originally based, your accommodations are plain and simple. During your stay, there is no maid service, and you need to bring your own towels, soap, and other toiletries. The rooms do not have telephones or televisions, however there are several phones available for you to use with your calling card (if you have one) or to make collect calls. Note that cell phone coverage in northern Minnesota is very spotty, and depending upon your carrier, may be non-existent. There are no laundry facilities on site (there are two Laundromats in Ely). Group meals are provided in the dining hall, which is a beautiful walk from the lodging. Delicious meals are single entree and are usually served family style to our group, camp staff, and occasionally participants of other programs.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Bathroom: Shared baths; 1 or 2 full or half-baths in each cabin are shared, with no more than 5 people per bath. Single occupancy sleeping rooms are available at an additional cost. Additional bath facilities are located nearby in a modern bathhouse.
  Additional nights prior: Please call for current rate. Check availability and make reservations directly with YMCA Camp du Nord (218-365-3681).
  Check in time: 3:30 PM
  Additional nights after: Please call for current rate. Check availability and make reservations directly with YMCA Camp du Nord (218-365-3681).
  Check out time: 12:30 PM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Between 3:30 PM and 5:00 PM at camp. You will be staying at YMCA Camp du Nord that night.
  End of Program:
Ends after sack lunch. Check out by 12:00 PM. You will be staying at YMCA Camp du Nord the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. Each participant is required to complete, sign, and return, both an Informed Consent Form and a Supplemental Questions Form. Please complete and return the Travel Information Form to reserve a seat on the Vermilion Duluth-Ely Road Scholar Program Shuttle.
  Parking availability:
Parking is available for free at the program location.
To Start of Program
  Location:  Ely, MN
  Nearest city or town:  Ely, MN
  Nearest highway: Minnesota Highway 169.
  Nearest airport:  Duluth International Airport (DLH), Duluth, MN.
  From End of Program
  Location: Ely, MN
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Travel Details

Ely / Duluth


From Airport




Commercial Van/Shuttle
Vermilion Duluth-Ely Shuttle
phone: 218-235-2164
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


2 1/4 hours 


The pick-up shuttle runs once, leaving the Duluth International Airport at 1:30 PM on Sunday and arriving to the program site near Ely around 4:00 PM. The return shuttle also runs just once, leaving the program site at 12:30 PM on Friday and arriving to the Duluth International Airport by 3:00 PM. Limited flights sometimes require spending a night in Duluth before and/or after the program (reservations recommended). Sign up for the shuttle by completing and returning the Travel Information Form.

Driving Directions
  An Overview There are several ways to reach Ely. Choose a route that meets your time constraints and desire for sightseeing. The driving times indicated are all approximate, depending upon traffic conditions, your driving speed, and the number of times you stop.
  Duluth, MN (option 1) Quickest Route from Duluth (2 hours) Take Highway 53 North to Virginia. Just after passing Virginia exits, take Highway 169 to Ely.
  Duluth, MN (option 2) Scenic Route from Duluth (2.5 hours) Head northeast on the Highway 61 "Expressway" along the shore of Lake Superior. Once you reach the northeast end of Two Harbors, take County Road 2 North to its intersection with Highway 1. Follow Highway 1 northwest into Ely (turn left onto Highway 1).
  Duluth, MN (option 3) Most Scenic Route from Duluth (3.5 hours) Start out of Duluth on Highway 61 but take the immediate right-hand turn onto the "Scenic Northshore Drive". This road closely follows along the shore of the lake and ends at Two Harbors where it intersects Highway 61. Follow Highway 61 north until you reach its intersection (marked "Illgen City") with Highway 1. Follow Highway 1 northwest until you reach Ely.
  Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN Quickest Route from Minneapolis/St. Paul (5 hours) Take I-35 north to the Cloquet exit where you will join up with Highway 33 North. Highway 33 will merge into Highway 53 North. Just after passing Virginia exits, take Highway 169 to Ely. You avoid Duluth with this route.
  Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN (variation) The trip from Minneapolis/St. Paul can include any of the scenic routes from Duluth described above if I-35 is taken all the way to Duluth. This adds to the total trip time, which will then be over 5 hours. (Duluth is approximately 2.5 hours from Minneapolis/St. Paul.)
  Once in Ely Once in Ely it will take another 20 to 30 minutes to reach YMCA Camp du Nord, located on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on Burntside Lake and about 15 miles north. To get there, start from the Ely Chamber of Commerce, a log building on the east end of Ely, and travel east approximately 1.5 miles on Highway 169 to Highway 88 where you will turn left. Drive 2.3 miles on Highway 88 and turn right onto the Echo Trail. Follow the Echo Trail 9.1 miles and turn left onto Road UT8211 (North Arm Road). Drive this for approximately 3.8 miles, at which point you will see the Dining Hall (and the delivery vehicle turn-around loop) on the left-hand side of the road. The Dining Hall (also marked by a Road Scholar sign posted on a snowshoe and Fire #3594) is where registration is held. Parking is available in a lot just beyond this point, on the right. Note that the North Arm Road, a public road, runs through camp property and sections of camp are only connected by this road. There are multiple camp roads off of the North Arm Road. Turning early at any point will result in you being in the wrong spot, so please carefully watch your odometer. (Very early on, you will see an official-looking registration sign which is for summer visitors to the camp, NOT Road Scholar participants; PLEASE IGNORE this sign and keep going on down the road to the Dining Hall.) Roads to camp are slow and windy, but you will get there. Also remember that mileages, although given to the nearest tenth of a mile, are approximate and that sometimes there are slight variations between odometers.
Equipment Requirements: All equipment is provided, however participants are welcome to bring their own. Warm winter clothing is required.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Arrival/Check-In/Welcome and Orientation
(Sunday, February 9)
 Afternoon: Plan to arrive to YMCA Camp du Nord, our program site on Burntside Lake, between 3:30 PM and 5:00 PM. Check in at the Dining Hall where you will receive your cabin assignment. Your cabin will be available for you to move into after 4:00 PM, which allows staff adequate time to prepare your cabin after the weekend guests depart. If you arrive before your cabin is ready, you are welcome to explore the camp or mingle at the dining hall. After moving in, grab some warm clothes and your flashlight, and join the group in time for a 5:30 PM supper at the beautiful log dining hall.
 Dinner: Enjoy a delicious dinner, served family style to our small group of participants.
 Evening: Following dinner, an orientation session will give you an overview of the week’s activities and an opportunity to formally meet several of the instructors and the other participants.
Accommodations: YMCA Camp du Nord
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Skiing/Snowshoeing/North Woods Plants and Animals
(Monday, February 10)
 Breakfast: A hearty breakfast served in the log dining hall is a great way to start your day of activity.
 Morning: An indoor introduction to cross-country skiing covers history of the sport as well as aspects of technique and safety. Outdoor lessons on the flat, frozen surface of the lake follow. (Hills can be tackled later in the week!) Typically, there is one instructor for every six to ten participants. Beginning skiers---including those who have never skied previously---as well as intermediate and advanced skiers are all welcome, and lessons are tailored to the abilities of the group’s members. Plan to ski at least a half-mile this first day, but distances will vary, depending upon your ability. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing will be taught by Jacki Fisher, who has taught winter activities to Road Scholar participants for over nine years.
 Lunch: Compare notes from the morning’s ski lesson over a hot lunch in the log dining hall.
 Afternoon: After lunch, learn about snowshoeing, another traditional method of winter travel. See examples of several types of snowshoes used in different locations and by different people. Gain tips for negotiating snow in this equipment, and then head outdoors with your instructor for some off-the-trail exploration. Snowshoes are great for getting a closer look at things in the winter. Investigate trees, tracks, scat, sculpted snow, and more. This snowshoe hike will be a mile or two in length, depending upon the ability of the group's members, as well as snow and weather conditions.
 Dinner: Head to the dining hall for a well deserved, and scrumptious meal.
 Evening: With a Vermilion Community College instructor or naturalist, learn about the plants and animals that call northern Minnesota home. Some of what’s found here (and what’s not) might surprise you. Although not common to see the animals of the north woods, evidence of their existence is bountiful. Learn to identify this and use it on the rest of your outdoor sessions.
Accommodations: YMCA Camp du Nord
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Dogsledding/Dogsledding Presentation
(Tuesday, February 11)
 Breakfast: Another hearty breakfast in the dining hall starts the day off on the right foot.
 Morning: After breakfast, prepare a bag lunch from the nutritious lunch items provided. Pack a small bag with your lunch, a water bottle, an extra layer, and anything else you want to bring on your day of dogsledding. The dogsled portions of the program are taught by Peter McClelland and other staff of White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures. Peter and his guides lead day and multi-day dogsledding excursions all winter. White Wilderness has taught dogsledding to Road Scholar participants in programs each winter since 1996. The kennel is located just over an hour away, by windy scenic road. At the kennel, meet your instructor guides, who will teach you the basics of steering and navigating your sled. Load up your sled, try the brakes, and get a feel for standing on the runners.Regroup to learn how to harness the dogs. A completely hands-on experience, expect to harness half of the four to six Alaskan huskies on your team (your partner will get the others). Either you or a partner will drive the team, while the other rides (an opportunity to take in scenery or to take photos). Together with the other teams, explore 10 to 15 miles of trails in the Superior National Forest.
 Lunch: Depending upon the day and the weather, stop at a sunny spot protected from the wind to eat. Enjoy what you packed plus hot chocolate, a perfect complement to a winter lunch.
 Afternoon: After lunch, trade places with your partner for the trip back home. Now it’s your turn to stand on the runners and navigate the sled on the snow covered trails, or if not, then it’s your turn to enjoy the scenery and snap a few winter shots from the sled basket as a passenger.
 Dinner: Return to camp about an hour before heading to the log dining hall for dinner. Share dogsledding stories over another scrumptious meal.
 Evening: Conclude the dogsledding portion of the program, with a presentation on the history of dogsledding, as well as current aspects of the sport of sled dog racing. Gain a glimpse of what it might be like to participate in a race lasting several days. This is also your chance to ask any additional questions you might have about the dogs or this unique sport.
Accommodations: YMCA Camp du Nord
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Snowshoeing/Free Time/ Wolf Communication
(Wednesday, February 12)
 Breakfast: Another hearty breakfast in the dining hall provides fuel for the day.
 Morning: By snowshoe, explore a new location. With one day of experience behind you, gain additional confidence with this mode of travel. Watch for animal signs and practice identifying the local plants. Depending upon the group, as well as snow and weather conditions, hike one to two miles.
 Lunch: Head back to the dining hall for a lunch and camaraderie.
 Afternoon: A free afternoon gives you time to relax in your cabin reading, writing, or pursuing other activities, or a chance to work on your skiing or snowshoeing skills on your own. Sometimes participants head to Ely to explore the shops and galleries of this small town.
 Dinner: In the beautiful log dining hall, enjoy yet another scrumptious dinner.
 Evening: After dinner, settle in for an indoor presentation from a naturalist from the International Wolf Center to learn the interesting facets of wolf communication. Be sure to bring your warm clothes, because the indoor portion is followed by a walk to the lake for a howl to a local pack of wild wolves. Even if no response is heard, it is amazing to experience the silence of night in winter from a frozen lake far from the roads and noises of urban places.
Accommodations: YMCA Camp du Nord
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Skiing/Closing Ceremonies and Sauna
(Thursday, February 13)
 Breakfast: Nourish your body for a day of activity by eating a hearty breakfast at the dining hall.
 Morning: After breakfast, prepare a bag lunch from the nutritious lunch items provided. Pack a small bag with your lunch, a water bottle, an extra layer, and anything else you want to bring on a ski field trip. Gain some more helpful advice in cross-country skiing from your experienced instructors. Depending upon the group, one location for this field trip may be to the Hegman Lake pictographs, in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Regardless of location, look forward to peaceful time on the trail in a spectacular forest of this border lakes country. Plan on skiing three to five miles on user groomed trails.
 Lunch: Enjoy your lunch with the group, outdoors along the trail.
 Afternoon: A mid-afternoon return from the skiing outing gives you some free time to relax.
 Dinner: Enjoy one more scrumptious dinner in the beautiful log dining hall.
 Evening: After the Closing Ceremonies (unbelievably, the program is nearly over!), enjoy a free evening or relax in a wood fired Finnish sauna. A hole is prepared in the ice of the frozen lake for those wishing for the authentic dip in the lake experience---optional, of course!
Accommodations: YMCA Camp du Nord
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Skiing or Snowshoeing/International Wolf Center/Departure
(Friday, February 14)
 Breakfast: Enjoy one more hearty breakfast in the beautiful log dining hall.
 Morning: After packing a lunch, head out for a quick final ski or snowshoe. Then, depart by van for a field trip to the International Wolf Center. Learn additional wolf behavior and physical adaptations from naturalists at the Center and their resident pack of wolves. Take in the award-winning exhibit, exploring at your own pace.
 Lunch: Prior to departure from the International Wolf Center, remember to eat your lunch.
 Afternoon: Check out from YMCA Camp du Nord is by 12:00 PM.
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Free Time Opportunities
  Ely, MN International Wolf Center
The International Wolf Center is a nonprofit educational organization that advances the survival of wolf populations around the world by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wild lands and the human role in their future. For additional information, visit
  Ely Chamber of Commerce
Visit the website of the Ely Chamber of Commerce for additional information about the small town of Ely. For additional information, visit
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

Born to Pull

Author: Bob Cary

Description: This fun to read children's book has stunningly beautiful watercolor illustrations.

Canoe Country Flora: Plants and Trees of the North Woods and Boundary Waters

Author: Mark Stensaas

Description: Introduces you to 96 of the most common trees, shrubs, wildflowers, fungi, ferns, lichens, and other plants you're likely to encounter during your travels north.

Canoe Country Wildlife: A Field Guide to the Boundary Waters and Quetico

Author: Mark Stensaas

Description: This enjoyable book highlights the important animals found in this region.

Cold Nights, Fast Trails: Reflections of a Modern Dog Musher

Author: Dave Olsesen

Description: This is a collection of great stories of running dogs in Minnesota and beyond.

Father of the Iditarod: The Joe Redington Story

Author: Lew Freedman

Description: This is a great inspirational story of what can be accomplished in a lifetime. It is also an informative history of the Iditarod and sled dogs in general.

Sled Dog Trails

Author: Mary Shields

Description: This is the story of a Midwestern woman who moves to Alaska and homesteads with dogs.

Tales from Jackpine Bob

Author: Bob Cary

Description: Imagine sitting near a crackling fire in a clearing surrounded by tall pines. A mug of hot coffee warms your hands. All that's needed is a tale from Jackpine Bob.

The Winter Wilderness Companion: Traditional and Native American Skills for the Undiscovered Season

Author: Garrett Conover, Alexandra Conover, Elliott Merrick

Description: Gain insight into the season of winter with details on to gain and build traditional skills and equipment.

The Wolf Almanac

Author: Robert H. Busch

Description: This is a well written book about the wolf.

The Wolves of Minnesota: Howl in the Heartland

Author: David L. Mech

Description: Take a look at the history of wolves with a focus on the Minnesota wolf population.

Travelers of the Cold: Sled Dogs of the Far North

Author: Dominique Cellura

Description: Although this might be out of print, it might be available from your library. It is a very comprehensive book about the history of sled dogs.

Winter Sign

Author: Jim Dale Huot-Vickory

Description: The author introduces the reader to the geology, plants and animals of the area, during the wonderful season of winter.

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod

Author: Gary Paulsen

Description: This is a must read sled dog book, which will keep you laughing right up to (and perhaps through) your trip.

Women of the Boundary Waters: Canoeing, Guiding, Mushing, and Surviving

Author: Justine Kerfoot

Description: This biographical book provides a wonderful glimpse into the life of a woman who thrived in the boundary waters world of canoeing, guiding, and mushing.


Author: Gary Paulsen

Description: This is the 12 and up version of Winterdance.

Yukon Alone: The World's Toughest Adventure Race

Author: John Balzar

Description: A reporter covers the Yukon Quest sled dog race.

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