Explore the great outdoors with your canine companion
By Sandy Robins
updated 8:21 a.m. PT, Wed., May 14, 2008
There’s no question that America’s great outdoors is a paradise for pets. From flower-carpeted mountain sides to spectacular waterfalls and panoramic vistas — there are so many wonderful pet-friendly hiking trails to discover.
While each individual state’s tourist board boasts a mind-boggling selection of state and national parks, sometimes there’s no need to escape further than one’s own backyard to enjoy an invigorating fresh air experience with your pooch.
Tanya Tschesnok, Publicity Manager of the Sierra Club, a nationwide organization whose credo is to explore, enjoy and protect the planet says hiking with dogs is popular, and many of the Sierra Club’s individual chapters plan special pet-friendly hikes on a regular basis.
“The first rule of taking dogs into wild or natural places is to ensure they respect the rules,” points out Tschesnok. “It’s not a right for your dog to be in the wilderness, it’s a privilege.”
While there are many areas where dogs are allowed to go off-leash in national and state parks, most places request that you keep your pet on a leash while exploring wilderness trails.
Tschesnok suggests if you are not familiar with the area, it’s a good idea to join a group and go on an organized day trip — and it’s a great way to meet up with other dog lovers who also enjoy the great outdoors.
Some top spots to hit the trail with your hound
The Grand Canyon is undoubtedly one of the country’s top tourist locations and dogs are allowed to enjoy the trails on leash, along the South Rim of the Canyon and on the one-hour park ranger guided Geology Walk.
Washington state offers spectacular scenery and a variety of great trails. According to the book, ” Best Hikes with Dogs in Western Washington“, author Dan A. Nelson cites more than 80 of the region’s most canine-compatible routes, from easy day hikes to more challenging, longer treks. Washington state trails and parks are also chock full of wildlife, and knowing which spots to avoid cougar and bear encounters is a must. Among some of the top dog-friendly hiking spots are: Fletcher Canyon on the Olympic Peninsula, Leadbetter Point on Long Beach Peninsula, Skyline Divide in the Mount Baker area, Big Creek Falls, Taylor River, Snoqualmie Pass and Noble Knob near Mount Rainier National Park.
The Ridgway State Park in Colorado is another very pet-friendly area that also encompasses a variety of eco-zones. The trails that run through Pa-Co-Chu-Puk, Dallas Creek and Dutch Charlie are close to picnic areas, restrooms and other park facilities.
Pet lovers in the Atlanta, Ga., area need look no further than the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. In particular, the Cochran Fitness Trail that follows the Chattahoochee River is a very popular route with for pet lovers.
The Appalachian Trail a continuous marked footpath that goes from Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia — a distance of about 2,160 miles — is a great place for day hikes. Dogs are permitted on most of the trail with the exception of Baxter State Park in Maine, the Bear Mountain State Park Trailside Museum and Wildlife Center in New York and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. Popular pet-friendly areas along the trail in Virginia include Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Shenandoah National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Dog trainer and behaviorist Harrison Forbes of Savannah, Tenn., warns, “Before you set foot on a trail, make sure your dog is properly trained and can be trusted to behave should he come face to face with any wildlife, or other hikers and their dogs. Your dog should be able to react immediately to your voice commands. If not, don’t take him.”
Too busy to get outdoors?
If you are not fit enough to hike yourself or don’t have the time, organizations such as the Quick Paws Hiking Company in Missoula, Montana, offers a variety of different routes and will pick up your dog from home and take him on an organized hike such as the popular Blue Mountain Trail. Tourists in the area can also sign their dogs up for the outings.
“The dogs love to go in groups and enjoy off leash running and sniffing. Every day, the organization posts photographs of the dogs enjoying the outdoor experience so that their owners can get a first hand glimpse at how much fun they are having without them,” said Charla Bitney.
“There’s no better experience for a city dog that probably only gets to run off-leash at the dog park “ says Bitney. “Understandably, they are never keen to go home.”
The canine checklist
Let your dog carry his own gear. There are wonderful doggie backpacks designed to carry water bottles, fold-up bowls, treats and even a first aid kit.
Always take extra food. After all, your energetic pooch is burning up extra calories on the outing.
Take precautions to ensure you are prepared for the weather. Special collars and caps that can be filled with ice will help to keep pets cool, while a warm sweater or a special reflective cover is a good idea on cold weather excursions to maintain a warm body temperature.
If there’s a river or waterfall on your route, make sure you have a towel in your back pack. And while dogs are naturally good swimmers, if there is a lot of water on your route, it’s a good idea to make him put on a life vest.
Make sure your dog’s nails have been trimmed before you venture into rough terrain. Afterwards, check for ticks and be sure to examine paw pads for any stones or broken glass that may have gotten wedged. Dog booties will help protect your dog’s feet from rough ground or harsh vegetation.
Double check that your dog is wearing proper, up-to-date identification.
If your dog is off-leash and disappears from sight, ask another hiker with a dog to help you search, as the second dog will almost always lead you in the direction of your own.
And be a good pet owner and bring poop bags or a small shovel so that you can clean up after Fido’s potty break.
Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. She is the recent recipient of the Humane Society of the United States’ Pets for Life Award. Her work appears in many national and international publications.
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© 2009 MSNBC.com