The town of Lee Vining might be small, but it sits at the nexus of an area rich in opportunities for hiking, fishing, photography and bird-watching, which is at its peak in fall. The spic-‘n’-span Murphey’s Motel caters to explorers with dogs in tow. Nearby Mono Lake is unique for its otherworldly tufa towers. Leashed pets can accompany you anywhere in the National Forest Scenic Area, but not on boardwalks in the area designated as a county park. To avoid confusion, check at the visitor center to find out which trails are legally dog-friendly.
Lee Vining is also the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park via seasonably passable Highway 120 and 10,000-foot Tioga Pass. Opportunities for hiking with dogs are limited once inside the park, but you’ll enjoy similar landscapes in Twenty Lakes Basin just to the east of the pass, where the scenery rivals anything on the other side of the border. The Saddlebag Lake Loop Trail skirts the lake of the same name and is especially gorgeous—and uncrowded—in fall. Tioga Road/Highway 120, by the way, will take you on a scenic journey through Yosemite and out the other side, where you can access Highway 99 for the trip back to Sacramento or the Bay Area. It closes for the season when snow starts to fly, so check its status if the weather looks iffy.