DogTrekker | July 20, 2011

The National Forest Advantage

The National Forest Advantage Our national and state parks are tremendous resources for anyone on two legs who loves nature and the outdoors. Unfortunately, they’re not very dog-friendly. With few exceptions, four-legged visitors to these cherished public lands are limited to campgrounds, parking lots and paved walkways. When it comes to trails, beaches and the backcountry, the message is clearly “No, Spot, No!” So what’s a nature-loving DogTrekker to do? Try a national forest, instead. 

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What Do the Rules Say?

Eldorado National ForestWe went to the source to get the official bark on U.S. Forest Service policy regarding canine visitors. “We basically want to be able to provide as much variety of outdoor recreational experience as possible to our visitors, and part of that is allowing people to enjoy our national forests with dogs,” said John Heil, press officer for the  agency’s Pacific Southwest Region. “Canine companions are welcome, but we do have a few rules that we ask visitors to follow.”

The most important one: “No animals in developed swimming areas unless otherwise posted.” The reason, Heil explains, is to avoid social conflict between people and dogs.

Easy enough to understand and obey. Other than that, dogs in national forests must be leashed in developed recreation areas and kept within sight and under voice control when hiking. That’s it.

Isn’t it refreshing to know there are places where you and Fido can go and let common sense and consideration for others rule the day?

North State Havens

Golden in the Nation ForestEighteen national forests encompassing 20 million acres of land are found in the Golden State. In Northern California, national forests blanket the spine of the Sierra, the crest of the Cascades and much of the far north. Forests most accessible to the Bay Area and Sacramento are listed below. To explore the highlights, click on the “special places” or “recreation” tabs found on each forest home page. To reserve your place under the stars, visit

  • The 667,000-acre Eldorado National Forest in the central Sierra Nevada covers portions of Alpine, Amador, El Dorado and Placer counties. Special places include the popular (and dog-friendly) Desolation and Mokelumne wilderness areas.
  • The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, totaling more than 150,000 acres around Lake Tahoe, includes beaches, hiking and biking trails, wilderness, historic estates and developed recreation areas. Rules regarding dogs vary in developed areas.
  • The Mendocino National Forest embraces 913,300 acres of mountains, lakes and canyons just a three-hour drive north of San Francisco and Sacramento. 
Photo: "On The Trail" - Janet Fullwood

Dogs and Wildlife

There’s a reason for the “wild” in wildlife, and precautions DogTrekkers should take while enjoying our federal lands. You don’t want your dog chasing deer or elk, of course, and neither do you want her getting snake-bit, infested with disease-carrying ticks, hunted by mountain lions or coyotes, smacked down by a bear or smacked into by an off-highway vehicle or a mountain biker who comes cruising too fast down a trail. All are good reasons for leashing up, but happily, that’s your personal choice when hiking in a national forest.

The terrain where you hike and camp in a national forest is likely to be vastly different than at home, causing your pooch to tire out fast, so be sure to have plenty of water on hand and take frequent breaks if she’s panting a lot or her feet seem sore (decomposed granite can chew up pads fast). Before you let Buffy go exploring on her own in areas with cliffs and canyons, be aware that many dogs have no concept of heights and might not have time to stop if they encounter an abrupt drop-off, as a dog rescued earlier this year at Yosemite learned the hard way.

Photo Credits:

"Dog at Desolation Wilderness" - Sha Sha Chu (CC)
"On The Trail" - Janet Fullwood
"Lola in the Grass" - Joey Doll (CC)
" Echo Chalet" - Glen Gould (CC)
"Boat Taxi" - Janet Fullwood
"Meadow" and "Longley" -High Sierra Animal Rescue

Yo Lady Oh

There are reasons why the section of the Pacific Crest Trail leading from†Echo Chaletinto Desolation Wilderness(part of theEldorado National Forest†) is so doggone popular: It's easy most of the way, you can take a boat taxi back if you tucker out-and you can grab a cold one at the store by the trailhead. Not to mention that the scenery, from snow-capped peaks to sparkling water to the cute little cabins on the shoreline, is so arresting you'll have trouble keeping your eyes on the trail.

Due to the Sierra snowpack, the popular Echo Lakes summer resort area at Echo Summit on Highway 50 didn't open until July 1 this year, and the upper reaches of Desolation promise to remain deliciously spotted with snow into August. The 2.5 miles of trail from the Chalet to the far end of scenic Upper Echo Lake are free and clear for hiking, however, and the resort's boat taxi goes back and forth all day.

Hit the trail early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day and the crowds that will come later. On weekends, it can seem as if as many dogs as people are making the trek into Desolation, and half the canines are carrying backpacks. If your time is short and your goal is to head up to the beautiful lakes -Tamarack, Lake of the Woods, Aloha-that can be accessed in a day trip, consider taking the boat taxi to or from the dock at the wilderness boundary ($10 per person; dogs free; make arrangements at the Chalet). You'll knock off 90 minutes of dusty hiking either way, and Fido will thank you for getting him to the water faster. If you plan to go past Upper Echo and into Desolation, remember to fill out a (free) wilderness permit at the Chalet.

Photos:  "Echo Chalet" - Glen Gould (CC); "Boat Taxi" - Janet Fullwood

High Sierra Animal Rescue

Founded in 1999, High Sierra Animal Rescue's mission is to rescue homeless, adoptable pets—mainly dogs but some cats—and to provide them with the care they need until they can be placed in permanent, loving homes.

To date the organization has rescued more than 3,000 animals.  Its key focus is managing the local animal population through aggressive spay and neuter programs, humane education and responsible pet ownership. It works through coalitions and formal agreements with other rescue groups to improve the adoption process.

Featured are eight-month-old Husky-Akita littermates Meadow and Longley. They came into High Sierra in mid April, extremely shy and under-socialized, having apparently had little or no contact with humans.  At HSAR, staff and volunteers were alerted to the time and attention that these dogs would require, and a program was implemented immediately to introduce mental, emotional, and physical stimulation along with human contact.  As a result, Meadow, a female, and Longley, a male, have both shown extreme improvement in their ability to connect with humans. Meadow was featured as “pet of the week” at a Reno, Nev. television station. Through dedication to the care and welfare of all animals that come into its shelter, HSAR will continue to work with these dogs until they can be placed into their forever, loving homes.

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