Yesterday, we went to the final day of the annual dog sled rally in Aviemore; one of the few opportunities to watch sled dogs in action in the UK, and one of the most prestigious events for sled dogs in the country.
I’d only actually heard of the sled dog rally recently when I saw it advertised as an upcoming event in Scotland, and immediately decided that we needed to go.
The only problem is, there’s very limited information available online. Any information I found was geared more towards people actually participating in the dog sled rally, although everywhere assured that spectators are welcome and that there are areas along the trail to watch the dogs in action.
We had no idea where exactly the event would be, except that the trail goes along the shore of Loch Morlich, near Aviemore, so I decided we should park at the main beach of the loch and there would no doubt be plenty of signs to follow.
There weren’t – and several people were just as confused as us. When we followed the sound of dogs barking and tannoy announcements through the trees and finally arrived at the event, we had no idea where the start line was, where spectators should go, or when races were starting.
Even once we found a good spot by the finish line, we still had no idea what was really going on. We asked a couple next to us, and they had no idea either. After they moved on, another group of people joined us, and they hadn’t got a clue either!
These multiple conversations have led to this blog post – because clearly everyone was turning up with no clue, ourselves included!
It’s definitely an event more geared towards those taking part in the rally, but there are plenty of opportunities to watch this unique event in Scotland.
What is the Aviemore Dog Sled Rally?
The rally is run by the Siberian Husky Club Of Great Britain, and only members of the club can participate, but it doesn’t just have to be huskies either.
The dog sled rally in Aviemore has been running every year since 1984, with the exception of 2021 thanks to you-know-what. It started with only twelve teams taking part – this year, we heard over 1,000 sled dogs attended!
It’s held in January, and in 2022 it was held from the 27th to the 30th January.
How to get to the Aviemore Dog Sled Rally
Okay, here’s the big question. Where is it?
The only information I could find was about the Hayfield car park, which we deliberately avoided as we figured it would be used by the participants, and as spectators we didn’t want to get in the way. That, and we didn’t even know where the Hayfield car park was.
I figured the main Loch Morlich car park would be our best option as it’s huge and reasonably close to where the action is. We soon discovered it was actually a twenty minute walk to the main area of the rally, across to the other side of the caravan site.
There are, it turns out, closer car parks. Hayfield itself is actually used for the event facilities, so it’s a no-go regardless of how busy it is, but here are some other options:
– Allta Bon, just before the Hayfield car park. There were a couple of spaces left at 10am; they were gone by 11am.
– There’s also Allta Mor car park a few hundred metres further along.
– There are limited roadside parking spaces just past the turn-off for the Reindeer Centre.
We parked where it says “Loch Morlich” with the photo tag. The circled area is where the event is, and the arrow pointing down was the start line while we were there. The arrow pointing back towards the circle was the finish line.
Most of the races start from the roadside a bit further along from Hayfield, which made us feel a bit silly in the end, as if we’d driven along from Loch Morlich car park, we would have found the race no problem!
Some people parked along the roadside by the start line and by the field next to Hayfield, but I’d recommend caution and awareness of where you’re parking if you do this. Plus – if there’s snow, this will be a really dodgy option unless you have a 4×4!
Parking at the main Loch Morlich car park is fine as long as you don’t mind the walk – we turned up at 9.45am expecting it to be packed, and we were one of the only cars, plus it’s a nice walk along the shore and then through the forest past the camp ground.
What to expect from the Aviemore Dog Sled Rally
The next thing I wondered, after actually finding the place, was what to expect from the event itself. Would there be food vans? The Cairngorms website said the toilets at Loch Morlich would be closed – surely there would be toilets at the event?
Or would it be a totally low-key thing where, actually, we would feel like we were infringing on an exclusive club event? After all, the only official thing I could really find about the rally was a private Facebook group.
Thankfully, there were plenty of spectators there, a big food truck serving good ol’ bacon rolls and bratwursts, there were some really fancy portacabin-type toilets (not portaloos). The walls had a marble effect and pictures of Chanel! I am not even joking.
There’s also a big tent with a shop for dog supplies and merchandise. Overall, the facilities weren’t geared up for a massive event, but they were really good.
So, onto the more important aspect: the rally itself.
Instead of realising that we were mere metres from the starting line, we opted to follow a group of people up a path away from the road, as we’d also seen teams of dogs walking down from it too. The path led to the finish line, where we found a spot at the sideline and watched teams of dogs bolt down to the finish every couple of minutes.
At this point, we still had no idea what was really going on.
So, here’s the lowdown:
A “race” starts, and the first team of dogs gets ready on the start line while the announcer tells us about them and counts them down. “One minute left,” he says, before launching into an entertaining history of the “musher”, the person in charge of the team. Many of them have been doing this for decades. “10 seconds,” he says, and waits five seconds before counting down “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”, the dogs are released and away they go.
Then the next team are up, and so it continues until everyone’s gone.
During one rally we watched, they were sending teams off for a full half hour. The trail, which is 4 miles long, typically took around 15-17 minutes for the teams to complete – although we saw one particularly subdued team of two who took a whopping 26 minutes and looked like they were just there to enjoy themselves!
They announced that the starting line in the afternoon would be moved to near the finish line, so bear in mind that the route for one race may not be the same as the next one.
Where should you spectate from?
I highly recommend watching at least one rally from the finish line and one from the start line – they are two very different experiences!
The finish line is the best place to get photos of the dogs, as well as view them generally, as it’s quite a long approach. It was also, in our experience, way less busy than the start line. However there’s usually a couple of minutes between each team, so there’s a lot of downtime.
The start line is much more entertaining – you can actually hear the announcements and commentary properly (and they do make it entertaining!) – and the dogs go absolutely bananas. However, it’s much harder to get good photos of them, as there’s a barrier along the trail and the handlers are all over the dogs. Then the moment the dogs are released, they disappear into a cloud of dust pretty quickly.
There were spectators along the first line further along too, which is probably a pretty good place to see them approach and come whizzing past.
What if there’s no snow?
As you’ve probably gathered from the photos, there was no snow this year. Ironically, we went up to the Cairngorm mountain centre later on and it was snowing up there. It’s actually been a really bad winter for snow in Scotland.
However, it’s no issue for the sled dog rally. Instead of sleds, it’s these sort of bikes! Not gonna lie, guys – I really wanted to go have a go!
Overall, I really enjoyed the Aviemore sled dog rally, and it’s well worth going along for a unique day out.
I’ve put together a video here of the day.
Plus the whole area around Loch Morlich is fantastic – I’m planning a post about Aviemore and the surrounding area of the Cairngorms.
Here’s a quick round-up of great things to do nearby:
– hang out with a herd of Santa’s pals at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre
– have a go at skiing at the Cairngorm Ski Centre (or if you’re here in summer, Cairn Gorm is a good munro to summit)
– take a walk to the An Lochan Uaine, Loch Morlich’s little sister known locally as the “green loch”
– find a castle in the middle of a loch at Rothiemurchus
– want even more sled dog action? There’s a sled dog centre just down the road from where the rally is! Sadly they no longer offer sled dog rides, and the retired doggos are living out the rest of their days at the centre where they welcome visitors.