Travels with Charlie, revisited.
April 13, 2012 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Young couple planning leisurely drive across America in a tiny car... with our dog. Advice, resources and must-sees welcome.

This June, we'll be leaving the Bay Area to relocate to Texas, Michigan or North Carolina (final location TBD based on grad school admissions). We've done several cross-country drives, but this will be our first without being on a tight timetable. We're really excited about that, and would love to take our time winding across country, possibly even going way off our route to see cool sites. We know our first leg will be a meandering Oakland to Denver route, and after that, who knows!

There's just one hitch, and he's an adorable black lab mix. Good in cars, quiet, city-acclimated and well-behaved sitting under outdoor tables at restaurants... but he still really puts a crimp in our plans to hike all the national parks, stop at tiny hole in the wall restaurants, and generally wing it when it comes to places to stay. Any advice for leisurely roadtripping with a dog? Must-sees on our journey? Good websites for figuring out who has dog-friendly outdoor seating, or which lesser known outdoor attractions allow dogs on leashes?

I've looked at dogfriendly, petswelcome, and bringfido, but they're all kind of clunky interfaces and full of chain recommendations, so I'm hoping the green has some good ideas.
posted by deludingmyself to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Having traveled extensively with our Nemo the Wonder Dog I have the following observations. All La Quintas are pet friendly and have free wi fi (they have well defined price tiers, reasonably priced and relatively consistent quality control). I realize they are a chain but I appreciate their consistent approach and availability (PS Folklore or fact ?--founder of La Quinta discovered he was not able to stay at some of his own hotels and things changed.) As a dog lover you know shade and a water dish solve a myriad of problems--we learned to request window seats so we could keep an eye on him as he was content to stay leashed to gates/doors/posts etc. We had a traveling pack with dishes/feed/H2O/--he was very content to stay in motel rooms (we always left some articles of clothing out and initially did some sound checks to see if he barked when alone). I never felt it crimped our style except in hot weather--if a restaurant/patio was not dog friendly we would eat there after sunset and he stayed in the car. Yes, we would occasionally leave him in the car--I know that can be a hot topic but we were, what I believe, very prudent. Much easier than traveling with a small child.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:59 PM on April 13, 2012

rmhsinc has some great advice! I'd just add that in my experience, most national parks have pet-friendly areas, so don't let that stop you. I've driven all over the US with my dog, and honestly other than the hotels, I didn't plan much. Occasionally I ran into situations where I couldn't find a place to eat with outdoor seating and it was too hot to leave her in the car, but then I'd just get my meal to go, find a nice park, and have a picnic instead.

Have a great trip!
posted by galactic_hitchhiker at 4:22 PM on April 13, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks rmhsinc & galactic_hitchhiker! I know we can find some areas in many National Parks, but we really like hiking, and so it's painful to think about stopping at a major attraction for just 20 minutes of walking on a paved path...
posted by deludingmyself at 4:32 PM on April 13, 2012

Put this on your list - it's sort of a barrier you put in your car window that prevents your dog from jumping out of an open window. It also acts as cross ventilation if you leave your dog in the car for A FEW MINUTES - and I emphasize a few minutes. Never leave your dog unattended in the car on a warmish / hot day. Buy two - one for each of your rear windows.

These used to be all over the place but now seem hard to find. Anytime I am on the road with my beast, I use these and dog owners are constantly stopping me to ask me where I bought mine.
posted by HeyAllie at 5:00 PM on April 13, 2012

Best answer: Your National Forests are dog-friendly! You can hike or camp pretty much anywhere in a national forest with a dog (off leash even). Once you start looking for national forests, you'll find that they cover a pretty decent portion of the west. As a bonus, the campgrounds in them are decent, generally under-utilized, extremely cheap, and half-price with your interagency pass (which also covers your admission to all the national parks)!

We did a similar trip (Oakland-->Wisconsin) last summer with a dog in a small car. Our approach was generally to drive through National Parks, stop at scenic overlooks, then find a sweet, totally deserted trail just outside the boundary to hike with the dog. Eating was tough, and we mostly self-catered and only hit restaurants after dark (our dog fails at waiting quietly in the shade.)

My only other advice is to be very careful about what you pack and how. We would have saved a lot of tension if we'd figured out how to cut 20% of what we brought with us (though I"m not sure what would have been left behind.)
posted by juliapangolin at 5:14 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: FYI, there are simply stunning bits of the country that are national forests and blm land, both of which are, as a rule, dog friendly. We drove across the country last summer in a Matrix with our beast, and next time we do a trip with her, we will be staying out of national parks entirely- it is just too little reward for the difficulty of dealing with the dog. We stayed almost exclusively in national forest or blm campgrounds, generally for ten bucks a night or less with an interagency annual pass.

The doggoes dog park finder app was actually super useful, especially as we moved farther east and had access to fewer huge stretches of open space.

The app and annual membership is totally worth it. We found most of the hikes we did- and we did at least a day hike every day- using the app. It basically links you to the contents of many dozens of different regional guidebooks, all in one app. They often tell you about dog-friendliness too.
posted by rockindata at 5:16 PM on April 13, 2012

Best Westerns are pet friendly as well. We drove Texas - Oregon with our cats, but it was summer so we went straight north and then west so I don't have any suggestions for your route. However, we had planned on 6-8 hours of driving a day and that turned out to be a little too much if we also wanted to stop at neat-looking roadside turnouts and such. On the other side, after about 4 days we were So Ready to be done with driving. YMMV.

(For what it's worth, there were leashed dogs everywhere at Yellowstone. We arrived about 45 min before the next Old Faithful eruption and didn't want to leave the cats in the distant parking lot, so we took em to see the geyser. :D Lots of fun, no drama.)
posted by WowLookStars at 5:46 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As said above, La Quintas are awesome for pet travel, they are very welcoming, friendly, and non-huffy about pets. I've done a couple long moves with both my massive lab and persnickety kitty (who, naturally, hate each other) and that was our go-to.

One of the hidden gifts of inter-species travel is that I discovered the beauty of rest areas. They are all over the place, all dog friendly, and more often than not are in really beautiful scenery. The more rustic ones were always deserted and gave the beast lots of room to run and explore (far from the highway, of course). But, the deluxe models are good too- this one in Temple, Texas has a playground, wi-fi, and walking paths. seems like a good place to find stops along your route. I liked it so much that now I stop at rest areas on purpose, even while road tripping dog-less.
posted by LolaCola at 7:21 PM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Like rockindata said, National Forests are where you want to go -- here are some of my favorite hiking places in the West:

Mosquito Flats/Rock Creek Lake is a gorgeous trailhead in the High Sierras -- near, but not in Yosemite. Much less crowded than Yosemite and spectacular high country scenery.

Also in California, Desolation Wilderness Area (while not all that desolated), is very pretty and dog-friendly.

In Colorado, Maroon Lake is one of the most beautiful, most photographed places. It is also dog friendly.

Another cool place in Colorado is Mount Evans -- you can drive to the top of this 14,000' mountain, there are bighorn sheep and mountain goats to see, and trails to hike.
posted by elmay at 8:40 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

We are enthusiastic members of and found plenty of hosts willing to let us bring our high strung Jack Russel, Vanna with us. She is not a great house guest (barky, excitable, growls when people pick her up) and I still found a lot of hosts were fine with having her.

You might invest in a pop-up kennel and give the dog some time to get used to it. Vanna certainly found it easier to travel when there was a space that she thought of as hers that magically appeared in every house and hotel room we visited.
posted by Saminal at 12:26 AM on April 14, 2012

Going to Santa Fe? When we go places, we travel with our bulldogs. If you're looking to stay in a nice setting and save a few bucks, you can do what we do and stay at Rancheros de Santa Fe campground. You can either pitch a tent or stay in one of their camping cabins. If you stay in a cabin, you'll have to walk down to the bathrooms, but there's a roof over your head, power, a small room heater if needed and also Wi-fi. It's about 10 minutes from downtown Santa Fe and you've got a nice spot in the pines.

If you're going through Kanab, UT, I recommend the Quail Park Lodge. It's a restored old roadside motel with some great amenities, and very pet friendly. Kanab is near Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, as well as a couple of hours from the Grand Canyon North Rim and also an hour from ake Powell. It's a very beautiful area. (Quail Park, BTW, is VERY highly rated on TripAdvisor.) If you think you may be heading that way, call them and see how far in advance you'd need to book. They only have ten rooms. But we loved it there.
posted by azpenguin at 11:26 AM on April 14, 2012

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