As summer ends and fall begins, it’s about time for all the green foliage to change to a stunning array of reds, yellows, and oranges — well, at least in some parts of the country. If you’re in the Southwest or deep South, you’re not likely to see much change, but the good news is that there are plenty of places you can easily visit to enjoy the fall colors.
Even better news: A lot of these trips are dog-friendly and involve nature walks. Of course, your dog can’t exactly see the colors of the pretty leaves, although it’s a myth that they see in black and white.
Rather, dogs tend to be nearsighted, can’t see differences in brightness as well as we can, and can really only see yellow and blue in color. Don’t worry, though — they make up for it with their ability to see motion and their sense of smell.
So a trip out to see the fall foliage, whether it’s just a day hike in the local forest or a road trip for a mini-vacation, will have plenty in it for your dog to enjoy, too.
Before you go
The most important thing to know, especially if you’re going to travel a long distance, is whether there actually are any changed leaves to see. That’s where this fall foliage map will come in handy. It will let you know what stage the color-changing of the leaves is likely to be at when you arrive.
Next up, be sure to take the proper precautions for your dog, especially if going on an extended road trip. These include things like buckling them up with a dog safety belt or car harness, bringing plenty of food and snacks, keeping your dog on-leash on the trails, and protecting their feet with dog boots, especially if they’re not used to hiking trails.
The same advice applies to dogs as to humans on nature walks: Do not drink standing water no matter how clear it looks. If you’ve run out of your own and must, only drink from sources of clear, running water, like a stream or brook, preferably over a rock bed so that it’s not stirring up silt or mud.
Also, do not eat anything you find growing in the forest, even if you think you know what it is. Lots of people have died this way, including actor Andre Nobel and Chris McCandless, subject of the movie Into the Wild, both of whom wound up ingesting highly toxic plants.
Needless to say, also keep a close eye on your dog to make sure they don’t suddenly try to snatch up something they think might be a tasty treat, whether it’s a mushroom or berry, or the corpse of a recently deceased woodland creature.
Also have a contingency plan in case of injury. Are you physically able to you carry your dog out if you have to? Are you going alone or with other people? Do you know the location of the emergency vet closest to where you’ll be hiking or staying? And what if you have no cell phone service at your destination?
Finally, check conditions ahead of time. Currently, this includes finding out the COVID-19 precautions required where you’re going, as well as any closures of areas due to extreme weather, fire, or other unsafe conditions.
Got all that? Great. Now let’s hit the road.
10 amazing destinations for leaf peeping with your dog
The following are in alphabetical order by name and cover regions of the country that do have fall foliage.
1. Bar Harbor, Maine: This quaint coastal village is full of attractions for you and your dog, including pet-friendly galleries, inns, boutiques, and quaint sidewalk cafés. You can see the leaves on foot, by car or bicycle, or even by boat. While you’re there, visit Acadia National Park, which has 165 miles of pet-friendly trails, or even hop aboard a boat tour that is also dog-friendly.
2. Bend, Oregon: The best autumn leaves also correspond with Bend’s annual Oktoberfest — Bend’s nickname is “Beertown USA,” after all, due the huge number of breweries per capita. Of course, your dog can’t have beer, but they can enjoy the scenic hikes and trails with you, and Bend has a lot of them.
3. Catskills, New York: Famous as a summer resort destination, the real claim to fame of the Catskills is as the birthplace of modern American comedy. From the early to mid-20th century, it was where thousands of tourists flocked to enjoy a respite from city heat as well as to be entertained by an endless parade of comics, many of whom were internationally known laugh riots. But after the summer comes the fall, and the whole area turns into a riot of color, along with a whole lot of other things for you and your dog to enjoy around the area, like farmers markets, harvest festivals, orchard picking, and craft fairs, Just don’t tell your dog that it’s called the Catskills!
4. Dog Mountain, Vermont: Located in St. Johnsbury, this is obviously the most dog-friendly location on the list, and perfect if your dog really objects to the “cat” in Catskills. It’s essentially a 150-acre, leash-free dog park, with extensive fields, hiking trails, and ponds where your dog can run and play and meet all the other visiting dogs. One of the highlights of the place is the Dog Chapel. Created in 2000, it is an ever-evolving shrine to peace, love, and remembrance, and visitors are free to place photos and stories of their lost fur-children on its walls. Like the rest of Dog Mountain, it welcomes “All creeds, all breeds, no dogmas allowed.”
5. Duluth, Minnesota: This big little city in the upper Midwest, with a population just shy of 90,000, sits between colorful hardwood forests and the shores of Lake Superior, which is the largest, deepest, and coldest of the Great Lakes, as well as the farthest north, and it has the largest surface area of any freshwater lake in the world. Here, you can enjoy Duluth’s Downtown Lake Walk, which stretches along the shore for four miles, or visit the North Shore for numerous waterfall trails. If your dog likes to swim, don’t miss Park Point Beach, and if you’re in town after nightfall, watch for the numerous lighthouses along the lake’s shore.
6. Eastern Sierra, California: Despite popular misconceptions, California does have seasons other than “Hot,” “Earthquake,” and “Awards.” You just have to go a bit north to find them. The entire area around Mammoth and Lake Tahoe is full of forests that change color in the fall. There are also a wide range of options, with the Mammoth area itself being the most developed, including many dog-friendly accommodations. Or you can visit more rustic areas like June Lake. Please note, though, unfortunately, you will need to check ahead of time for current fire conditions, which can affect whether an area is open or if you can even get to it.
7. Natchez Trace Parkway: The parkway runs from Mississippi through Alabama and Tennessee. Since it covers 444 miles, this might be more of a scenic road trip, although it’s also available for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and camping. There’s a lot to see and do along the trail, so having an interactive guide will help a lot, whether you want to travel the entire route or just bring your fur kids to one particular destination for some fun in the forest.
8. Ozark Mountains: This mountain chain starts at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri and extends all the way down into northern Arkansas, so like Natchez Trace, there’s a lot of ground to cover, with many dog-friendly places and activities to enjoy along the way. If you’d like something a little less rural, be sure to visit Branson, Missouri, where there are plenty of leaf-peeping opportunities and dog-friendly accommodations. Or, if you’re looking to get back to nature, visit one of the two national parks on the Ozark River, or one of the many hiking trails.
9. Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania: Once known as the Honeymoon Capital of the World, that’s no longer the case. However, even though the honeymoon is over, the romance of the autumn leaves is still there, with plenty to see and do. This includes a lot of dog-friendly activities, like canoeing, hiking along the Delaware river, camping, and even shopping. And don’t miss out on visiting small towns like Jim Thorpe, Milford, and Stroudsburg.
10. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado: The Rockies are the longest mountain range in the U.S., although it misses out on having the tallest mountain in the Continental United States by just 45 feet (14 meters). You can’t take your dogs onto the hiking trails or back country in the park, but they are allowed anywhere that’s accessible by vehicle. Don’t despair, though, because there are lots of available and dog-friendly hiking trails in and around nearby Estes Park, as well as plenty of dog-friendly business and accommodations.
There and back again
Whether you take just a quick day-trip for some hiking with your best friend or have a more elaborate road-trip and scenic vacation in another state, autumn is a great time to enjoy the great outdoors with your dog.
It’s neither too hot nor too cold, the changing leaves and nature’s preparation for winter will give your dog all kinds of interesting things to smell, and getting away from civilization and out into the wild is always a needed refresher for humans and pups alike.
Just remember to plan carefully and check conditions, accessibility, and the rules before you go anywhere. Because a lot of these locations are in forests or mountain valleys, they can be highly susceptible to unexpected circumstances, like fire, flooding, road-closing rockslides, or early snow.
With proper planning, though, you and your fur-kids can have an exciting and pawsitive experience together and greet the changing of the seasons.
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