Lake County - Photo Credit: @mollylynn21
Summer and fall pass you by? Winter is a wondrous time for both wine tasting and cashing in your hiking chips, so why not take a gamble on an off-the-grid, off-leash destination? We talked about Lake County as “Wine Country Done Differently” in a recent wine country issue, so let’s focus on one of the best places in California for wildlife watching, and at Cache Creek Natural Area, a patchwork of public lands west of Clear Lake, you’re likely to spot bald eagles roosting or soaring and some of California’s last wild tule elk roaming in the rough at this time of year.
Of the three main trails (the Redbud, the Judge Davis and the Perkins-Creek Ridge Trail) in the preserve, the 7-mile Redbud Trail is the best bet for first-timers, offering some steep sections counter-balanced by level places to ramble. It leads to a ridge for great views of rain-swollen Cache Creek and a sea of velvet-green hills. Bring binoculars for wildlife viewing, and call ahead to ask about free wildlife tours (reservations required) offered through the Bureau of Land Management. Dogs under voice control are allowed off-leash here, but chasing wildlife is a no-no, so if your four-legged friend has herding or chasing instincts, be prepared to leash up. (During hunting season, consider wearing an orange hat, shirt or vest to make yourself more visible.)
Another place you can unclip and hike with your dog is North Cow Mountain Recreation Area, part of a sprawling (60,000 acres) BLM preserve on the border of Lake and Mendocino counties where some 17 miles of marked trails await you and your tail-wagger. Dogs can be off-leash away from developed areas, but steer clear of the South Cow Mountain area, which is devoted to off-highway vehicles, and watch out for hunters in season. The Glen Eden Trail is an 8-mile, out-and-back path with a trailhead near Lakeport. It’s rated difficult but offers some great overlooks and rest spots, as does the Valley View Trail (which is shared with mountain bikers). All access points to Cow Mountain are narrow and winding, so be sure to consult a map before you set out.
Looking for a shorter trek? Try one of the trails in the Indian Valley Wildlife Area around Indian Valley Reservoir, a popular fishing spot. Highland Springs Recreation Area, a 3,200-acre preserve just outside Lakeport, has a disc (Frisbee®) golf course as well as hiking and equestrian trails. Middletown Trailside Nature Preserve County Park welcomes leashed pets on designated trails, too.
After a long day in the outdoors, you’ll want a comfy place to lay your head. Edgewater Resort on Clear Lake’s Soda Bay is primarily an RV facility but has pet-friendly furnished cabins, too, while the pet-friendly Lodge at Blue Lakes boasts a dog agility course and hosts weekend meets in that discipline.
Photo Credit: @mollylynn21