State parks and national parks are notoriously unaccommodating when it comes to dogs. With few exceptions, four-paw visitors aren’t allowed outside developed campgrounds or off of paved roads and paths. But on public lands administered by the USDA Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, as well as some tracts overseen by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, your pup is welcome to accompany you with only a few important rules.
The main ones: stay leashed up in developed areas and at swimming beaches, stay within sight and under voice control when hiking, stay away from wildlife (chasing is verboten), and steer clear of equestrians, cyclists and other hikers.
A few of our favorite paw-tested places to hike without a leash before the snow flies:
• Hope Valley Wildlife Area: This gorgeous, 3,000-acre tract off Highways 88/89 south of Lake Tahoe is thick with aspens and one of the most photographed areas in the state for fall foliage. Well-behaved dogs can hike with you on miles of old logging roads and other trails that are groomed for cross-country skiing in winter. Just please be aware of hunting regulations, and don’t let your dog chase the wildlife!
• Cronan Ranch Regional Hills Park: This lovely parcel near the Placer County town of Auburn is managed by the BLM, glows golden in fall and is blanketed by wildflowers in spring. Trails wander over hill and dale, converging on an untamed section of the American River. Arrive early, and know that you’ll share the path with mountain bikers and equestrians.
• Garland Ranch Regional Park, Carmel Valley: You can unclip and let Spot and Sassy run free at this 4,462-acre preserve so long as they stay within sight and under voice control. There are miles of trails to roam, a river and tributary creek with swimming holes to splash in, a stellar visitor center and even specially designed water fountains for dogs.
• Dogs under voice control are allowed off-leash on trails at three beauty spots in Mendocino County: Cow Mountain Recreation Area, 27,000 acres of rugged terrain administered by the BLM near Ukiah; the Snow Mountain Wilderness in the Mendocino National Forest; and Stornetta Public Lands, a 1,132-acre coastal haven near Point Arena.
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Photo Credit: jdehaan (CC)