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The Iditarod: A Unit Study

The Iditarod: A Unit Study

The Iditarod: A Unit Study

While portions were originally used by Native Americans, the Iditarod Trail as we know it was surveyed in 1908 by the Alaska Road Commission.

During the Alaskan Gold Rush, the trail became the main route through Alaska, used for transporting mail, mining equipment, and other supplies from village to village along the route to Nome. By the 1920s, the gold rush had ended, bush pilots began carrying the mail, and the trail was nearly abandoned as the airplane became a viable means of transportation.

However, in 1925 during a diphtheria epidemic, the Iditarod Trail was used by a group of mushers to transport a serum in relay fashion from Anchorage to a then icebound Nome. Despite blizzard conditions, the final two legs of the relay were completed by Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog Balto. The 20 mushers involved had covered the nearly 700 miles in 5 1/2 days.

Nicknamed “The Last Great Race,” the first real Iditarod race ran to Nome in 1973. On the first Saturday in March, mushers run their sled dog teams from Anchorage to Nome, a distance of 1150 miles, contending with rough terrain and tough weather. Each musher employs his own tactics to win the race; running in the day or running at night, employing special diets, following different methods of dog handling, and determining his own method and extent of preparation. It typically takes the winner 9–12 days to complete the race.

Further Investigation

The Iditarod National Historic Trail: Historic Overview
History of the trail from the Bureau of Land Management.

BLM Iditarod National Historic Trail Map
From the Alaskan Bureau of Land Management, detailed historical trail map.

Iditarod Map
The trail has a northern route that is run in even years, and a southern route that is run in odd years.

History of the Iditarod Gold Strike
The development of the trail as detailed in old newspaper articles.

Iditarod Historic Trail
Beautifully illustrated download.

Iditarod Historic Trail
Part B to the above is a 13-page download with an excellent 2-page map and background information.

Iditarod History
Read about the history of the Iditarod race.

The Birth of Sled Dog Racing
More info from the BLM.

Sled Dogs: Sledding Into the Wilderness
Background on what the race is like for musher and dogs. From PBS.

Dog Sledding’s History and Rise
Dogs have an endurance and a sure footing in treacherously arctic areas that have made dog sledding in these regions a mode of transportation for hundreds of years.

Packing for the Iditarod
Many things to consider!

Mushing Terminology
Gee, haw, and other important terms!

Sled Dogs: Introduction
Information on the dogs that make the race possible at PBS.

Alaskan Malamute
Meet the breed from the American Kennel Club.

Balto and the Legacy of the Serum Run
Excellent download from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

The Real Story of Balto
From the AKC.

Sled Dogs: Balto
Background at PBS on the famous sled dog.


Iditarod National Historic Trail
Wonderful interactive map.

Race Statistics Form
Keep track of your favorite mushers.

Interactive: Dogsledding 101
You make the decisions while you learn about dogsledding in this interactive at PBS.

Balto Statue
Read about the statue of Balto that resides in Central Park.

Serum Run Game
1925 Nome, Alaska, and you have to make the decisions. “Are you brave enough to survive the journey?” Three levels of difficulty and three different game lengths in this excellent interactive. [Requires Flash]

Dog Sled Adventure
Modeling clay craft from Crayola.

Dog Sled Paper Model
This one at is challenging, but really neat!

How to Draw a Dog
Lesson from Jan Brett that illustrates how to draw a Siberian Husky.

Iditarod Scavenger Hunt
Great way to wrap up!


The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto
A Step-Into-Reading account for young children.


Akiak: A Tale from the Iditarod by Robert J. Blake
Great story! This new favorite follows a lead dog who has to be dropped because of an injured paw. The dog decides to go along anyway. A work of realistic fiction that follows Iditarod rules.

Stone Fox

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
A young boy enters a dog race to earn enough money to save his grandfather’s farm. But will 10-year-old Willy be able to overcome the Stone Fox team, who has never lost a race? This is not a story about competition, but rather compassion!

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Activity Book 2: Lessons for the Classroom
This 147-page download from the Iditarod Trail Committee offers a variety of Iditarod-based activities covering the content areas of character, consumer science, language arts, mathematics, physical fitness, science and technology, and geography, along with other games, activities, and worksheets.

Activity Book 3: Lessons for the Classroom
Also from the Iditarod Trail Committee, this 151-page download covers language arts, math, geography, and science along with report suggestions, unit helps, and additional resources.

Iditarod Unit Study Helps & Alaska Fun
Literature recommendations, ideas, and websites from the LaCelle Family.

Using the Iditarod as a jumping-off point, this 72-page unit on weather and climate focuses on frostbite, hypothermia, windchill, and other cold weather conditions.

What is a Musher
Reading comprehension packet that will work great for wrapping up.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Iditarod Map
Great printout for notebook!

Iditarod National Historic Trail
Another map for notebook.

Iditarod Coloring Set
Features dogs from the 2020 race. Beautiful!

Alaskan Malamute Printout
From Enchanted Learning.

Iditarod Notebooking Pages
From (under Journal Pages).

The Iditarod Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.

Keep Learning:
Alaska: A Unit Study
Alaska: A Unit Study

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