Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Winning trails for wagging tails

Where a local lopes his Labs


A lament I often hear from visitors to the valley who've seen our paradise of hiking trails for dogs and their owners is that they wished they could've brought their pooches to run with abandon in what we know as our everyday digs.

No one seems to know just how many trails—both official and improvised—snake through the woods and up and down the foothills. Thousands, probably.

Finding the right trails for hiking dogs means considering a few basics, however. Is the hike for rigorous or mild exercising for the master/mistress and dog? Is it mostly for recreation and fun? How much time is available? Any physical limitations for dog or owner?

Dogs are inherently sociable. Some trails are ideal for dogs to interact and play. Other trails that are remote and less frequented by other dogs are ideal for exploration and prolonged exercise.

I've become a creature of habit after all these years, settling on a few favorites that provide me with a modicum of exercise, but mostly are fun trails for my two energetic and playful Labs, Spud and Tater. A third Lab, Murphy, now 14, is not up to much more than a stroll around the neighborhood.

A prime consideration for me is using trails and hiking areas that give me some sense of control over Labs that would chase smells or wildlife until they're exhausted, as well as alternating between trails to give my two Labs some variety.

Trails are ever so more pleasant for everyone when owners carry bags and pick up their animals' poop. The Environmental Resource Center provides free bags at various trailheads, but surplus grocery bags work just as well.


My favorites and why

Lake Creek Road (north of Ketchum)

Though best during snowless seasons, it's a wonderland of smells for dogs—bands of sheep summer there—plus dogs hike the small canyons and leave their tracks for other dogs to inspect. A pond several miles up the dirt road is excellent for swimming. Best for hiking, not playtime with other dogs.

Trail Creek (Sun Valley Road)

Summer or winter, a popular, veritable pooch playground for interaction and play. Plus a fun stream for swimming and diving. Deep snow is a happy bonus for large dogs during the winter.

Corral Creek (a turnoff on Trail Creek Road)

The main road is hiked by many owners and their dogs. But the area has dozens of more interesting side trails for dogs to explore and plenty of old tree limbs on the ground to toss for dogs to chase. Several parking turnoffs have streams for wading and swimming.

Sawtooth National Recreation Area (north of Ketchum)

Best time for hiking is before it snows. Plenty of trails and stream access for swimming dogs.

Graphic by E.B. Phillips and Tony Barriatua

Experience breeds several cautions: Be aware of seasonal hunting in some areas. Steer clear of areas where bands of sheep are grazing and protected by aggressive guard dogs. Leashes are required by the Forest Service at some trailheads; violators can be ticketed and fined. We've also encountered coyotes and wolves at a distance and retreated before my dogs were aware. Remember, if owners need water on the trail, so does the pooch. Carry extra water and a bowl for hikes, even in winter. Snow is a last resort, as it can change a dog's internal temperature and may promote hypothermia.

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