Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run: Reliving History from Quesnel to Barkerville 

February 9, 2024, 1 pm. The first race of another edition of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run is about to start. A loud, incessant barking fills the air. Paws hit the ground excitedly, ready for speed. The sun is out, the snow is fresh and dozens of sled dogs, from the fast Alaskan Huskies to the fit Chinooks and others, are ready for a new challenge. Mushers line up their four-legged teams, all ears lifted high, eyes looking forward, tails wagging. One single command and off they go. The noise that filled the air seconds earlier gives space to a deafening silence. Only tracks in the snow remain.

The Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run is a traditional, non-competitive sled dog run on the route between Quesnel, Wells, and Barkerville, in the Northern Cariboo, British Columbia. Organized by volunteers for over three decades, it is an homage to the historic heritage of the Gold Rush Trail and a lot of fun for dogs, mushers, visitors, and the community, who come together once a year for the event.

Barkerville sled dog run
Flavia Marcondes

‘Carried by Dog Team’: A Unique Federal Mail Delivery

‘The Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run is the only event in the world that we are aware of where you can take federal mail and have it delivered for the first leg of its journey by a sled dog’, explained Ric Raynor, president of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run Association, with evident pride.

Before the era of aircraft, the primary means of reaching isolated northern communities in Canada was by dogsled. This tradition of mail delivery with the aid of dog teams traces back to the 19th century, with Barkerville, once the largest city in the Pacific Northwest, being among the locales served in this manner. While mail delivery by dogsled has become rare, the organizers of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run pay homage to history by annually reviving this tradition and facilitating mail delivery in the old-fashioned way.

Every year, dedicated mushers and their dog teams are sworn in as official mail carriers, entrusted with transporting Canada Post mail via dog sleds along the Gold Rush Trail from Quesnel to Barkerville. They receive their mailbags on Day 1 and are tasked with safeguarding and carrying them throughout all three days. Upon reaching Barkerville, the mail, marked with the distinctive stamp ‘Carried by dog team,’ seamlessly merges into the regular postal system for global delivery.

To add a special touch, the mail carried by mushers and their dogs during this annual event comes in specially designed envelopes crafted by local artists and tailored for this specific purpose. The 2024 envelope featured a special image in memory of Kim Verge, a participant in the Gold Rush Sled Dog Mail Run for several years.

barkerville sled dog
Thyana Polessa

Three Days of Adventure: The Route of the Sled Dog Mail Run

The Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run takes place over three looped trails and is run over three days. Although routes are designed beforehand, they are subject to updates on the day of the run, depending on snow and trail conditions. While it is primarily a sled dog event, it is also open to skijorers, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, kick-sledders, and runners.

Day one starts at Troll Resort, where dog teams navigate a loop up and down the mountain, covering approximately 20 km. On day two, the action shifts to Wells Cross-Country Ski Trails, offering teams two route options: a shorter 12 km path around Cornish Mountain or a more challenging 45 km trek through the Sugar Creek Loop. The final day, arguably the most exhilarating, sees mushers departing from the parking lot at Barkerville Historic Town and Site. They embark on a final 20 km loop towards Wells and return to the historic city, where they officially deliver the mail at the Post Office Station.

Gold Rush Trail sled dog run
Thyana Polessa

‘It’s a really fun run!’ said dog musher Jessica Reimer, Canadian Challenge 8-dog Champion and a first-time participant of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run. ‘There’s no competition, so it is especially cool for my younger dogs. It’s a great chance for them to practice and be with other teams!’

The concluding day also hosts The Barkerville Dash, an 8 km timed race from Wells to Barkerville. Open to participants on sled dogs, skis, or snowshoes, it provides an opportunity for anyone keen to join in the excitement.

gold rush trail sled dog race
Thyana Polessa

How to Participate in the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run

There are several ways to join the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run:

Run the Race: Dog teams of all sizes, skijorers, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, kick-sledders, and runners can sign up as participants for the full 3-day run or just a part of it. Those who wish to carry the mail to Barkerville must be prepared to complete all three stages.

Be a Volunteer: Volunteering with The Sled Dog Mail Run involves getting up close to active working sled dogs, with opportunities to become involved as a dog handler and to meet and befriend the participants who travel to Quesnel from various interesting places. Most importantly, you will get to experience all that’s great about the Cariboo in winter!

Purchase an Envelope: You can purchase your very own envelope through the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run website, place them in special mailboxes shared by the organizers and send your mail anywhere in the world.

Join the Barkerville Dash: Take part in the 8 km run from Wells to Barkerville as part of the Barkerville Dash that happened on the third day of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run.

Come and Watch the Fun: Every year, dozens of tourists gather at Troll Resort, Wells, and Barkerville to witness the event, take photos, connect with mushers, and experience the warm community of Wells and its surrounding areas. Book a stay in Wells, ski at the local resort, taste Barkerville’s Goldfields Bakery donuts and coffee, and create memories that will last a lifetime.