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Stepping into a wooded clearing close by our campsite with my terriers, Gordon and Gypsy, I see the tall pines all around us suddenly open up to an amazing sky above. What a sight. Starlight streams down from 100,000 twinkling points — celestial objects my dogs and I can never see at night near a big city.
As an avid hiker, I love to share the raw sights and sounds of nature with my dogs. Spending the night out in the wilderness takes that bond to a whole different level. Sound appealing? Then hit the trail!
One of the most enjoyable parts of camping is finding new places to explore. There are tons of online sites to help, but sometimes just hitting the road is its own reward.
Nancy Melvin discovered one of her favorite spots to go camping and hiking with Ti, her eight-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, because of her husband Matthew’s hobby: hang gliding. “One of our favorite spots to camp is Morningside Flight Park, near Claremont, New Hampshire,’’ said Melvin, of Norwell, Mass. “While my husband hang glides, Ti and I hit the trails. Ti loves hiking, because we get to be together all weekend, and at the end of the day, he just conks out in the tent.’’
Kyle Crawford found some of his favorite spots to camp while rafting the upper Colorado River with Chloe, his eight-year-old Golden Retriever/German Shepherd mix. “There are some great spots along the river, especially near Kremmling,’’ said Crawford, a Colorado native and resident of Golden.
Secure your dog’s collar or harness, and add an identification tag with your cell phone number (not your home number). Some savvy campers add an inexpensive temporary tag with their campsite name and site number. Having a microchip is another level of protection in case your dog bolts in pursuit of a squirrel.
Some of the most dangerous critters in the woods are also the tiniest. Visit your vet for a general physical, get your dog up to date on rabies shots, heartworm, and flea and tick control, especially to guard against Lyme disease.
Melvin said Ti took to camping in a tent very quickly because he has a soft-sided crate that looks like a tent. “When he sees us putting up the tent, he gets so excited.’’ For beginners, Melvin suggested first setting up the tent in your backyard, so that you get used to that process, and your dog can do a trial sleepover in a safe setting.
Give your dog a refresher course in key safety commands such as “leave it,” “stay,” and “come.” You don’t want your pet antagonizing a bear or having a close encounter with a rattlesnake. My innocent little Gypsy can find the absolutely most disgusting, dead, stinky thing on a trail, and I have to be alert or she will wallow in it. Or worse.
Get geared up
Make a packing list of all the essentials: plenty of food and water, plus treats and bowls; a sturdy, six-foot leash; medications and a first-aid kit; bedding and toys; crate or kennel; and, of course, poop bags. Pack a brush in case your dog’s coat attracts hitchhikers, such as thistle or pine needles. Bring proof of immunization and registration, if required by your campsite.
Lanterns and a heavy-duty flashlight make it much safer to take your dog to a site at night where she can relieve herself when nature calls.
Crawford suggested that you get one of the new LED lights for your dog’s collar. “Chloe stays near our campsite at night, but the LED light really helps us track her. We leave the tent open and sometimes she puts herself to bed, and having that light helps us see where she goes.’’
Before you buy a huge tent and all the attendant gear, try renting a site. Many campgrounds rent tents and needed supplies. This lets you test how much you and your dog enjoy the experience before making a substantial investment.
If you plan to rent or buy an RV, get one sized right for your dog and lifestyle. “If you are with a herding dog in a small camper, stuck inside in the rain, that might get old quick,’’ said Gordon Deen of Austin, Texas. A lifelong camper and former Scoutmaster, Deen has traveled 60,000 miles, crisscrossing the United States and Canada on camping trips with wife Jenny and Tsunami, their eight-year-old French Bulldog, in their 45-foot-long RV.
Deen said Tsu is a great “bus’’ dog, perfect for RV camping. “He doesn’t have to be doing something constantly but is ready to go when we want.’’
Do bears roam your camping area? Secure all food and even items like toothpaste in a bear-safe container. Even if there is no bear hazard, all your dog’s food should be secured in a sealed box, otherwise you may have problems with raccoons or ants.
Messes happen. Bring along paper towels or baby wipes in case your dog gets sick in the car or on the trail. Also, have a trash bag to haul away your refuse. Another great tip: “I always keep a towel outside the tent so that when Ti comes back from doing her business with wet feet from the dew, I can dry her off and keep the sleeping bags from getting wet,’’ Melvin said.
Don’t let your dog run loose in the campground area, for his safety and that of others. Instead bring along a portable exercise pen where your dog can have space to sniff around but still be kept safe from unexpected hazards.
Find a great camping spot near you by visiting online resources such as GoPetFriendly.com, which lists these as being among the most dog-friendly national parks around the nation:
- At the Grand Canyon, dogs are welcome to enjoy all 13 miles of the South Rim trail and can stay at three pet-friendly campgrounds, including Mather Campground, which has both tent and RV camping.
- Acadia National Park has 120 miles of dog-friendly trails, which stretch along the scenic coast of Maine. Blackwoods and Seawall Campgrounds welcome pets.
- Shenandoah National Park, just 75 miles from our nation’s capital, boasts a staggering 480 miles of dog-friendly trails. Dogs can rest their paws at Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, and Loft Mountain Campgrounds.
- Mammoth Cave! While this national treasure has 336 miles of underground passages that are off-limits to dogs, it also has 70 miles of scenic, pet-friendly trails. Pets are welcome at Mammoth Cave Campground.
If you plan to camp in your RV, book early. Some of the best camping spots fill up far in advance, and pet-friendly places are especially at a premium during vacation season.
From our partners: Other great sites to find a pet-friendly spot are Good Sam Camping and RoverPass, where you can find and reserve a campsite >>
Read more about vacationing with your dog on Dogster:
- Four Paws Kingdom Campground Caters to Dogs and Their Owners
- How to Make a DIY Dog First-Aid Kit for Car Travel
- How to Keep Your Dog — and Yourself — Sane on Road Trips
About the author: Ernie Slone has been immersed in the world of dogs — as a dog-club officer and active dog rescuer — for more than two decades. He visits hospitals each week with his therapy dogs, Gypsy and Gordon. Ernie was previously the editor of DOG FANCY magazine.