Reconnect with nature at these exceptional outdoor paradises for you and your pet.
By Andrew Clayman | Teresa Gonzalez | Tails Staff
Reason to go: Located just two hours southwest of Chicago, Starved Rock has a history as rich as its scenery. You and your pup can explore 13 miles of trails along the scenic Illinois River and walk where numerous Native American tribes once dwelled. There are more than 100 excellent campsites on the park’s grounds.
Peaks and valleys: Starved Rock really is a hiker’s paradise, with nonstop jaw-dropping views of incredible canyons, waterfalls, and rock formations, all cutting a line along the river below. While there is no biking on the trails, the park does offer alternate forms of transport, including boating and horseback riding. Fido may not want to play second fiddle to a pony, but rest assured that there will be enough sights and sounds to keep his tail wagging all weekend.
What to bring: In addition to your traditional camping gear, be sure to pack accordingly for the surroundings. That means swimwear for the river and quality hiking boots for the trail. Leave the heavy rock-climbing gear behind, however. Starved Rock forbids any sport climbing on its canyon walls.
In case of emergency: The Starved Rock Trail Safety Program is a medical unit that works in tandem with the park rangers at Starved Rock to assist guests in case of injury or any health concerns.
Insider hint: Part of Route 71 is currently closed off near the park, so people coming from the north and east will need to take I-80 to Route 178 South to get here.
Reason to go: Halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City, in the heart of Missouri, Lake of the Ozarks State Park has just about everything a person or dog could ask for. Along with the lake itself, there are more than 200 shaded campsites, regular tours of Ozark Caverns, and endless trails for biking, backpacking, and horseback riding.
Peaks and valleys: There’s nothing quite like tossing a Frisbee with your dog on a beautiful, sprawling beach. Lake of the Ozarks is one of the largest man-made lakes in America, and it gives visitors a unique, coastal camping experience inside a landlocked state. There are also nearly 18,000 acres of land to enjoy, featuring 12 spectacular hiking trails and, lest we forget, Ozark Caverns, where you can cool down underground and “hang out” with the bats.
What to bring: Pack a life vest for you and Sparky if you’re venturing offshore. And remember that even if it’s 90 degrees outside, the temperature in the Ozark Caverns may be closer to 50, so be sure to pack warm clothes.
In case of emergency: A large team of park rangers, lifeguards, and quick-response medical staffers are ready to respond if something happens to you or your dog.
Insider hint: Lake of the Ozarks also includes a snazzy resort community, so while you and your dog are “roughing it,” you’re never too far from the nearest shopping center—or Frisbee retailer.
Reason to go: One of the Midwest’s best kept secrets, Hueston Woods is a great option for pampered campers and traditionalists alike. Located near the campus of Miami University in southwest Ohio, it’s less than a two-hour drive from Indianapolis and a straight shot down I-75 from Detroit.
Peaks and valleys: If you’re looking for more of the resort experience, Hueston Woods allows dogs in some of its classy cottage suites. But the real adventure exists deeper in the park, where campers can choose from nearly 500 campsites (electric and nonelectric) and explore 10 miles of winding, woodland trails bordered by limestone bedrock. Take in the shade from one of the Midwest’s last true old-growth forests, sniff the wildflowers, and tell Rover to keep an eye out for the wealth of fossils in the park’s streams and hillsides.
What to bring: Acton Lake is a popular spot, so again, be water ready. And if you can’t help yourself, bring your clubs to play on Hueston Woods’ first-class golf course.
In case of emergency: Hueston Woods has the feel of being far from civilization, but you’re never too far from a ranger and medical aides at the state-of-the-art resort lodge.
Insider hint: There are a limited number of campsites reserved for people with pets, so you’ll want to schedule your stay well in advance.
For More Information:
Starved Rock State Park
Lake of the Ozarks State Park
Hueston Woods State Park
Reason to go: A morning’s drive from both Philadelphia and Newark, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DEWA) is the ideal camping destination in the Pocono Mountains. Whether you and Sparky want to hike the historic Appalachian Trail or camp out by the beautiful Middle Delaware River, it’s all right here.
Peaks and valleys: Popular areas like Dingmans Campground (Dingmans Ferry, PA) give campers a chance to experience a wide range of what the Poconos have to offer, including backpacking, biking, and canoeing. Choose from hundreds of campsites in the woodlands, open meadows, or along the river. In the DEWA, a breezy stroll can turn into a grueling climb mighty quick, so make sure Rover gets his rest, and keep your eyes peeled for the rare appearance of potentially unfriendly natives, like the rattlesnake and black bear.
What to bring: Tough, sturdy hiking boots are extremely important across this often rough, steep terrain. Near the river, consider wading boots as well as life jackets for both you and your dog.
In case of emergency: By staying in a campground like Dingmans, you’re only 15 minutes down river from several medical facilities. Plus, campground officials and national park rangers are on call at (800) 543-4295.
Insider hint: You can take regular afternoon shuttle services from Dingmans Campground across the Jersey border to some of the most beautiful stretches on the Appalachian Trail.
Reason to go: For all the press that Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon get, New York’s Adirondack Park is larger than the two of them combined, and it’s no slouch when it comes to scenery either. Best of all, these endless forests, majestic mountains, and crystal-clear lakes are right in your own backyard, encompassing more than six million acres of Upstate New York.
Peaks and valleys: By camping in a specific area of the park like the Old Forge Camping Resort (Old Forge, NY), you can choose the nature of your Adirondack adventure, from fully furnished cabins to various tent sites. The real fun lies farther from camp, where you can walk along beautiful mountain trails that have looked much the same for hundreds of years. You and Spot will need to pace yourself out here, and though the many lakes may look cleaner than your bottled water, it’s still important to always treat, or boil, natural water before drinking it.
What to bring: Even in the warmer months, it can get chilly up here, so dress accordingly. Along with packing your own best boots, this might be a great time to try a pair of “dog booties” for Bingo! This special footwear is great for protecting paws on long journeys.
In case of emergency: Old Forge Camping Resort offers 24-hour security and an emergency phone line. Because there are so many lodges and resorts spread throughout the massive Adirondacks, you’re never too far from medical care.
Insider hint: Flatrock Mountain Ranch (also in Old Forge, NY) is a fantastic horseback-riding destination, but it’s hard to imagine your pooch will be too interested in the ponies.
Reason to go: The Berkshires pretty well capture the essence of New England beauty and charm, with rolling hills and colorful, hardwood conifer forests spread out like a blanket as far as the eye can see. Best of all, it’s a short drive from Hartford, Albany, Providence, and Boston.
Peaks and valleys: Located in the Berkshires’ eastern foothills, DAR State Forest includes nearly 2,000 acres of woodlands and more than 15 miles of trails for you and your dog to explore. There are 51 shady campsites in the park and plenty of beaches along the Highland Lakes. Look down on five states from the highest hills or look up at towering pines from the Connecticut River Valley below. Oh, and yes, this is still bear country.
What to bring: For the lake, bring a bathing suit. For the forest, some binoculars should come in handy for some of the best birding in New England.
In case of emergency: Park rangers and emergency medical crews are always on call at DAR, and Cooley Dickinson Hospital is only 20 minutes away.
Insider hint: Dogs are permitted everywhere in DAR State Forest, except on the sandy beach area. Frisbee will have to be played elsewhere.
For More Information:
DAR State Forest
Reason to go: The eastern star of the Rocky Mountains, Pikes Peak became the symbol of the 1859 Gold Rush, with starry-eyed pioneers wistfully displaying signs reading “Pikes Peak or Bust.” It continues to satisfy wanderlust for human and doggie trekkers alike. With more than half a million adventurers a year, the mountain is the most visited in North America. And with three ways to make it to the top––by highway, rail, or trail––there’s no reason you and Fido should be left out of the breathtaking action.
Peaks and valleys: With an altitude of 14,110 feet, Pikes Peak is the 31st highest peak in Colorado. You and Rover can join the approximately 15,000 people who attempt to climb the mountain on foot (or paw) on Barr Trail. At 13 miles, it is the longest of any trail leading to the top of the 54 mountains in Colorado surpassing 14,000 feet, and offers the highest base-to-summit elevation gain in the state. Residents of the region include marmots, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, bears, and mountain lions. Your pooch may appear as prey to some of these creatures, so keep Rover’s venturesome spirit in check with a secure leash at all times.
What to bring: Nights are chilly, even in late summer, so bring a jacket and a warm sleeping bag for sleeping under the stars. Also pack sunscreen, sunglasses, an umbrella, and layered clothing for all times of the year. Bring along flea and tick protection for Fido, and plenty of water is essential in Colorado’s dry climate.
In case of emergency: Call (719) 684-9138 to contact a ranger for assistance. Rangers are on duty and patrol the mountain highway at all times.
Insider hint: If you and Rover are driving the 38 miles to the summit, allow two hours for a round trip and at least half a tank of fuel. If you’re hiking, minimize the risk of altitude sickness by staying below 7,000 feet the first day, drinking lots of water, avoiding salty foods and alcohol, and making your way to higher altitudes slowly.—Melissa Wiley
Reason to go: Located four miles northwest of Fort Davis, TX, along the most extensive mountain range in the state, this state park boasts a magnificent panorama of nature and wildlife. In fact, one of the most scenic drives in Texas loops 74 miles through the rugged terrain. The region is steeped in history, and the park offers up more than 2,700 acres of territory to explore, chock full of great hiking trails and campsites. Although dogs are not permitted in buildings or public swim areas, they are allowed throughout the park and in the camp area, so long as they are attended and leashed.
Peaks and valleys: The Davis Mountain Range was formed by volcanic activity roughly 35 million years ago. The landscape is varied with grasslands, woodlands, and canyons, and is surrounded by the Chihuahuan Desert. Backpacking, moderate hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, and stargazing are popular activities. Visitors often hit up the Limpia Canyon Primitive Area, which includes 10 miles of backcountry hiking trails with primitive campsites. Alternately, those seeking a more modern experience can opt for the area south of State Highway 118, which has developed facilities that include restrooms, showers, campsites with water and electricity, and even cable TV connections. There’s also an outdoor amphitheater that seats up to 200 people and nine miles of additional hiking trails.
What to bring: With altitudes reaching one-mile high, a jacket is necessary year round, as temperatures drop dramatically after sunset. Of course, you’ll want appropriate camping equipment, hiking boots, and a camera. Bring a telescope if you’re into stargazing. And because the area is fairly remote, it’s also important to pack a first-aid kit.
In case of emergency: The state park phone number is (432) 426-3337, and Indian Lodge, a resort located within the park, is staffed 24 hours a day. However, for medical emergencies you’ll have to travel to Fort Davis for the nearest veterinary clinic and to nearby Alpine for a hospital.
Insider hint: Tired of the great outdoors? Head to Fort Davis for a night at the historic Hotel Limpia, which accepts pets for an additional $20 per night.—Lauren Lewis
Reason to go: Located in Arizona’s high dessert, 90 minutes outside Phoenix and two hours south of the Grand Canyon, Slide Rock State Park offers breathtaking geological formations, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, and four mild seasons, making it a must-visit destination in the Southwest year round.
Peaks and valleys: The first thing you notice in Sedona are the gorgeous red rock formations that surround the canyons below. With hundreds of trails, Sedona offers something for everyone, from novice to advanced hikers. Keep in mind that at Slide Rock, all trails are dog friendly, but the beaches within the park are off limits. July and August are known as Sedona’s “monsoon season,” although the average annual rainfall is only 17.2 inches.
What to bring: Pack heavy-duty hiking boots and sun block for you and your pooch. Leashes are required at Slide Rock at all times, so plan accordingly. Lastly, although dogs aren’t allowed on the park’s signature natural water slide, it may be difficult for people to resist, so you may want to pack a bathing suit, just in case.
In case of emergency: The park is a short drive from downtown Sedona, where there are multiple veterinary clinics (although no 24-hour emergency services).
Insider hint: If you’d rather skip the hike, the Sedona Dog Park (located on the northwest corner of Carruth and Soldiers Pass Roads) offers two acres of natural, undisturbed terrain for canine pals large and small. —Laura Oppenheimer
For More Information:
Slide Rock State Park
Davis Mountains State Park
Reason to go: Carmel is the ultimate getaway for people with pets. Dog-friendly beaches, outdoor eateries, and even shops make this coastal town a pleasure for your pooch. While you can camp with your pet at the Carmel by the River RV Park, a more restful place to bed down is the Cypress Inn (Cypress-Inn.com), owned by singer and actress Doris Day. It allows pets of all kinds—even llamas!
Peaks and valleys: Take your leashed dog on a walking tour through award-winning gardens, fairytale cottages, as well as by the homes and haunts of famous artists, writers, and celebrities [Carmel Walking Tours: (831) 642-2700]. You can also walk to the city beach of Carmel, where your dog is welcome off leash as long as he listens to voice commands. Nearby Garland Ranch Regional Park features six miles of dirt single-track and fire-road trails, with a variety of landscapes and elevations ranging from 200 to 2,000 feet. Dogs must be on a seven-foot or less leash for these trails. Finally, bring your dog shopping! Carmel’s shopping village on Ocean Avenue is a window shopper’s dream, including dog-friendly spots like the Blue Dog Gallery on 6th Avenue and Lincoln Street.
What to bring: Bring walking shoes and beach gear for you and for your pet, catch toys for beach fun, a leash for restricted areas, an up-to-date dog tag in case of separation, and poop bags or scooper to keep Carmel as lovely as you discovered it. You can stop by Carmel Plaza’s “Fountain of Woof” for fresh running water.
In case of emergency: Monterey Peninsula – Salinas Emergency Vet, 2 Harris Court Suite A1, Monterey, (831) 373-7374
Insider hint: There are more than 15 pet-friendly eateries downtown, but a dog favorite is PortaBella on Ocean Avenue, (831) 624-4395. Your dog will be treated like royalty—waiters serve pet water in a champagne bucket!
Reason to go: Just 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, the location where Dr. Dolittle was filmed is, as you might expect, pet friendly. San Bernardino National Forest welcomes leashed dogs on all of its trails and campsites, and Big Bear’s 22 miles of shoreline feature dog-friendly boat rentals, beaches, and cabins.
Peaks and valleys: Big Bear Lake offers pet-friendly vacations year round. You can hike or stroll along any of the beaches lining Highway 38 with Fido in tow. The forests surrounding Big Bear Lake offer trails for hikers and walkers at all skill levels. For the best views of the lake, check out the Cougar Crest Trail, a moderate two-mile hike through pine trees and junipers that eventually leads to the Great Dane of hiking trails—Pacific Crest Trail—which spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. (For an easier hike, try the Woodland Nature Trail.) Watch for loose debris and uneven terrain—and during the heat of the day, lizards and snakes. Hawks are around in every season, but in winter, catch a rare view of the 15 to 35 bald eagles who migrate to the San Bernardino Mountains.
What to bring: Pack hiking and swimming gear, adequate footwear, a life vest for your dog if you plan to go boating, swimsuit, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, and binoculars. Even in late summer daytime temps can be quite high, so bring plenty of water for pets and humans, and make sure to clean up after your pooch.
In case of emergency: Bear City Animal Hospital, 214 Big Bear Blvd. W., Big Bear City (909) 585-7808
Insider hint: Free gas! Until November 23, 2008, you’ll receive a $25, $50, or $100 gas card when you stay overnight at one of Big Bear Lake’s participating lodges (many of which are pet friendly). Book online at BigBear.com or call (800) 4-BIG-BEAR.
Reason to go: The Oregon Coast boasts quaint villages, gorgeous trails, and miles of shoreline for camping with your canine. Plus, March through October affords the chance to spot whales as they migrate north with their calves.
Peaks and valleys: Less than two hours west of pet-friendly Portland, you’ll discover two beautiful state parks with several dog-friendly beaches sandwiched in between. Nehalem Bay State Park, beginning at the four-mile sand split separating Nehalem Bay and the Pacific Ocean, features 284 campsites with flushing toilets, hot showers, a picnic table, and a fire pit. The park is nestled in the coastal rain forest, where wildlife such as elk, deer, woodpeckers, sparrows, and hummingbirds thrive. Dogs are welcome on trails and beaches, but are expected to stay on leashes in wildlife-protected areas (look for signs). At Manzanita Beach, you’ll find jetty rocks covered with seals, along with herons and egrets (dogs are best kept on leash here). To the north of Manzanita is Oswald West State Park, where you’ll find 30 primitive campsites about a third of a mile into the forest. The sites are first-come, first-served, and you’ll be given a wheelbarrow to haul in your camping gear. Several trails lead you to Short Sands Beach, a crescent-shaped cove where you’ll feel a million miles away from civilization.
What to bring: Pack camping, hiking, and beach gear, proper shoes, hat, sunblock, beach towel, leash, and scoopers. Late summer temps hover in the 60s and 70s during the day and 50s at night, so bring layers. Pack a picnic: Few eateries in nearby Manzanita, Nehalem, and Wheeler offer pet-friendly decks, so it’s better to dine with your dog at the designated areas in the park or beach.
In case of emergency: Pioneer Veterinary Hospital, 801 Main Ave., Tillamook, (503) 842-8411
Insider hint: One local dog guardian recommends the dog-friendly San Dune Inn [Sandune-Inn-Manzanita.com, (888) 368-5163], just blocks from Manzanita’s seven-mile beach. At sunset, a short walk to the beach offers a spectacular light show for you and your pup.
For More Information:
Big Bear Lake