In the realm of outdoor adventures, hiking is a relaxed and straight-forward activity. Special skills and equipment are not required to take a leisurely stroll through the woods. Being joined by your favorite four-legged friend can turn a hike from ordinary to extraordinary.
My dog Keeva is my favorite hiking companion. Although we’ve hiked on trails throughout the Appalachian Mountains, our favorite trails are found right here in the Allegheny Highlands—a region graced by mixed hardwood forests where cool mountain streams meander past moss-covered rocks. These valleys provide a refreshing escape into the outdoors year-round from the bitter chill of winter to the sweltering heat of summer.
Planning is not a strong suite of mine, but I do prepare before hiking with Keeva because I want to keep her safe and happy. When planning for a hike, whether it be a day hike or an overnighter, here are some things to keep in mind:
Distance and Duration
Although we wish we could take them everywhere with us, there are some trails our four-legged friends just shouldn’t hike with us. Aside from rugged trails that aren’t pet-friendly, it’s wise to know which trails are best suited for your pup. When choosing a trail, be sure to understand what you’re getting into before heading out. How long is the trail and how much time will it take to complete? If your pup is new to hiking, try a leisurely loop like the Virgin Hemlock Trail in the WVU Research Forest. Be sure to leave enough time in your plans to explore an interesting rock outcrop, wade around in a stream, or play a game of tag with your pooch in the hemlock forest.
Access to Water
You should always bring enough water for yourself and your pup. When planning for your hike, check a map of the trail to see if there’s a nearby stream along the trail for your pup to grab intermittent drinks. Keeva’s favorite hikes include a swim in the stream to cool off.
Luckily, Appalachia is not a particularly dangerous environment for dogs, but we do need to use caution in some areas of the Highlands.
Timber rattlesnakes and copperheads, while not often seen, are still omnipresent.
When hiking a trail where these sneaky snakes are lurking in rocks or log piles, be aware of the potential for a run-in to deter any mishaps. Ticks are common passengers that can hitch a ride on our dogs. Because Lyme disease is an issue with tick bites, be sure to check yourself and your pup well after a hike.
Even the best-behaved dogs should be kept on leash during a hike, especially on high-traffic trails. It’s best to remember some people don’t love dogs as much as we do, and their opinions (and clean pants) should be respected. We escape to the woods to relax and enjoy the view, so I don’t want anyone to feel nervous about an unleashed 70-pound wolf-like dog like Keeva trotting toward them on a trail.
Planning for a hike can seem unnecessary sometimes, especially when the hike is supposed to be your way to relax and unwind from the busy work week. However, keeping these hiking tips in mind before hitting the trail can keep you and your pup safe and happy during your outdoor excursion.
Hannah Spencer is a West Virginia native and currently resides in Morgantown where she manages a local non-profit, Aurora Lights. On a warm, sunny evening you can find her working in the garden, drinking WV craft beer, or hiking with her dog, Keeva.