Backpacking with a dog
September 10, 2010 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I’m thinking of going on a solo backpacking trip with a dog and am looking for location ideas.

(Asking for a friend)
I’m thinking of going on a solo backpacking trip, leaving sometime in the next few days. I am looking for location suggestions. What I am looking for:

  • Somewhere I can bring my dog.
  • Somewhere where I could hike for a few days and then somehow get back to my car without hiking over the same area twice. So a trail that has a loop would be good, or somewhere where my dog and I could reasonably get a ride back to my car. I do not want to hike for a while, then turn around and go back over the same area to get back to my car.
  • Somewhere where my dog and I are unlikely to be eaten by bears or other wildlife.
  • Somewhere with quite impressive scenery this time of year.

    I am a pretty seasoned backpacker with all the necessary gear and experience, and the dog and I have both been training with packs on for a few weeks. I don’t typically go backpacking with the dog, and finding a location where she can come has been more of a challenge than I expected. I am ok with driving a pretty significant distance to do this if I have to, but locations within 10-12 driving hours of Madison, WI are best.
  • posted by mjcon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
    Something to keep in mind is that dogs are generally banned from trails in US national parks so you're probably looking at National Forests, Recreation Areas, and State Parks. At the extreme range of your travel time from Madison is Daniel Boone National Forest / Big South Fork Recreation area / Pickett State Park in Southern Kentucky / Northern Tennessee. I did a 3 day, 2 night loop in BSF with a dog and there are probably opportunities for much longer loops in the area.

    Another thing to check on is whether it's hunting season and if hunting is allowed wherever you go, I'm not super comfortable hiking around hunters, even wearing blaze orange.
    posted by ghharr at 7:53 AM on September 10, 2010

    Oh, and try to avoid trails that allow horses because they're frequently mudholes in the fall.
    posted by ghharr at 7:54 AM on September 10, 2010

    you aren't very far away from the Superior Hiking Trail.
    posted by TrialByMedia at 8:05 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

    I can suggest a couple possibilities that are just outside your desirable driving area (approximately 14 hours). There are many terrific loop hikes in Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. We've hiked there with our dog and she loved it. There are many interlocking trails that make it easy to plan anything from a dayhike to a multi-day trip.

    These two trails are connected:
    High Meadows
    Seneca Creek

    I haven't been here yet but it's said to be spectacular:
    Dolly Sods

    I'd also recommend Massanutten Mountain in the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. This is another area where multiple trails give you a tremendous amount of flexibility. Signal Knob is the northernmost trail in an extensive network that runs down the twin ridgelines of the range.
    posted by itstheclamsname at 8:40 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Also, you may already be aware of this, but there is an unusually high number of copperhead snakes in this area this year, so you should be extremely vigilant with your dog. Last year, while I was solo hiking the AT in Virginia, my dog was bitten by a rattlesnake. Getting an incapacitated 95-pound dog down off a mountain in the middle of the night was a real task. She lived, but had I not had a GPS and been lucky enough to have a phone signal in that spot to ask for some help, I doubt she would have survived.
    posted by itstheclamsname at 8:48 AM on September 10, 2010

    Response by poster: Thanks so much guys, this is very helpful. And I do appreciate locations that are a little bit further away...the 12 hours was just a guideline, I'll go further for the right thing.
    posted by mjcon at 9:27 AM on September 10, 2010

    Backcountry camping with dogs is also allowed in Pennsylvania State Forests (but not in the state parks -- you can take dogs for dayhikes there, but if you're staying overnight with the dog, you need to camp in the designated campsites). There are several really nice backpacking loops and systems all over the state that are located within state forests:

    Black Forest Trail (NE PA, strenuous, 45-mile loop)
    Old Loggers Path (Central PA, easy, 23-mile loop)
    Quehanna Trail (Central PA, strenuous, 75-mile loop with various cutoffs so you can shorten your trip)
    Quebec Run Wild Area (Southwestern PA, easy, trail system with 20-ish total miles of trail)

    Those are the four that come to mind as being loop trails located entirely within state forests. Quebec Run is a really nice weekend trip if you're in the Pittsburgh area. The BFT is supposed to be beautiful but extremely challenging -- I'd read through the trail guide before deciding whether it was appropriate to take my dog. The Quehanna Trail would give you the chance to see elk during the rutting season of September-October, which could be either amazing or terrifying depending on your dog's prey drive. (Also, I've heard from some of my friends that Elk County has suffered from a plague of rattlesnakes this year.)
    posted by kataclysm at 10:13 AM on September 10, 2010

    My bad... the Black Forest Trail is outside of Williamsport, which would also put it in central PA.
    posted by kataclysm at 10:14 AM on September 10, 2010

    Definitely the Superior Hiking Trail!

    Dogs are allowed, though technically the regulations say they need to be on a leash at all times. Every dog I've ever seen up there has been off-leash, though... so if your dog is well-trained (and especially when you're not on state park land) you would probably be fine.

    Bears are rare. Hanging your food is still recommended highly, but that's more to protect it from raccoons and rodents than anything.

    The leaves on the north shore of Lake Superior are probably starting to turn by now; they usually peak in late September. And the trail has lots of ups and downs that will get you to high places with fantastic views of the forest and the big lake.

    Trip planning is super-easy because the trail is so well-maintained and well-marked, and the SHTA website (above) is so comprehensive. It includes descriptions and maps of each section of the trail, with listings of where campsites and water are found.

    The only caveat is that most loops on the trail aren't more than maybe 7-10 miles in total. You don't say how long you want to be out for, but that's a pretty leisurely 3-day/2-night trip even for lazy old me. The SHTA website (under the Trails section) has a list of loop hikes, though you'll have to look up the mileage on your own. Alternatively, if you're going to start or end on the right days of the week, I would highly recommend the Superior Shuttle. They pick up at all the major SHT trailheads on a schedule, so you can either have them drop you way down the trail and hike back to your car over a few days, or hike away from your car and have them drive you back at the end of your excursion. I believe there are other shuttle services available on the north shore too, but that's the one I've used and loved.
    posted by vytae at 12:05 PM on September 10, 2010

    (Oh, and in case you're not familiar: the Superior Hiking Trail is in northern Minnesota, running generally along the north shore of Lake Superior from Duluth to Canada. Definitely within reasonable driving distance of Madison.)
    posted by vytae at 12:06 PM on September 10, 2010

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