If you haven’t yet garnered as much from our previous posts (like this one, this one, and this one), we’ll say it outright: We’re dog people. And along with that self-assigned designation comes a lot of scheming, planning, and dreaming up more ways to thrill our dogs with adventure. A serious dream: echo John Steinbeck’s famous footsteps (or tire treads) during his Travels with Charlie.
In our contemporary age, for us weekend warrior types, this looks a bit more like a well-planned weekend away in the woods than a get-up-and-go cross-country road trip. Not sayin’ one is better than the other, but this post will focus on the latter. Whether you’re tossing your pup and a tent in your car or you’re hitting the road with a dog-friendly camper, there are nearly endless opportunities for camping with your pets.
Our general, overarching suggestions are to choose backpacking trips or campgrounds with plenty of natural shade, bring more food than you think you’ll need, and be sure you’re well aware of your dog’s physical and behavioral limitations. For more on this, check out our post: Dog Etiquette on the Trail. And (almost) above all: Practice the principles of Leave No Trace. There’s hardly a greater buzzkill than stepping around green plastic baggies on a pristine backcountry trail.
If you and your pup are new to spending the night outside together, try it out at an established campground in a nearby state park, national forest, or other public recreational land. By sticking to designated campgrounds, you’ll all but ensure that there will be plenty of resources and amenities for you and your pup like potable water, trash cans for tossing poo, and other campers that might have some insider knowledge about swimming holes or nearby trails. And by staying close to home, you’ll allow for the chance to bail if something goes wrong.
Though, on the whole, campgrounds on public lands are dog friendly, always take care to research or ask about particular sites’ rules and regulations. And, in busy campgrounds, it’s always a good idea to keep your dog on a leash. More often than not, it’s a requirement.
If you’re looking to snag a bit more solitude for you and your dog, dispersed camping on public land is a good option. Again, take special care to thoroughly research the rules and regulations before you embark. Then, grab a detailed topographic map and explore an innocuous spur road. Sometimes you’ll find an incredible view and no one else around.
As a general rule, only pitch a tent where you’re sure someone has done it before, and never build a new fire ring. Trust us, these are all too easy to come by. Then, you and your fuzzy +1 can enjoy some off-leash time (as long as he or she stays well within your field of vision) and some high-quality bonding time.
You probably already know to steer clear of national parks when searching for a dog-friendly backpacking trip (bummer, but true), but there are enough jaw-dropping trails to explore to keep you and your pup occupied for a lifetime. Five of our top favorites are:
As we mentioned earlier, knowing the particular limitations of your dog is paramount in choosing a backcountry trip. Older and heavier dogs would disagree with the scree and elevation found on Cirque of the Towers, the Wallowas, and the Chicago Basin trip as an example. If your dog is small, plan on having a system in place to carry them when the mileage gets to be too burdensome, and be sure you have a plan to bail at any point. Always carry a dog-specific first aid kit with you in case the going gets tough on their legs or paws.
If you ask any dog owner about their experience on an overnight in the backcountry with their dog, they’ll tell you that it requires quite a bit of planning that pays off in spades. And truly, what’s better than having a stellar mountain, lake, or ocean view out your tent door and a pup that’s absolutely dying to go explore with you?