Last week, we discussed Moses H. Cone Memorial Park and Julian Price Memorial Park, two of my top recommendations for places in the High Country to “staycation” with your dogs. Here are two more great local hang-outs that you, your family and your pups will all enjoy.
The Pisgah National Forest: While not quite as easy to get to or to navigate as Julian Price Memorial Park or Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, I believe that the Pisgah National Forest near Boone and Blowing Rock — referred to as the Grandfather District — is one of the most underappreciated resources we have here in our own backyards.
Stretching from Mt. Mitchell to Tennessee and down to the Smokies, the Pisgah National Forest encompasses more than 500,000 acres of land, many of which are accessible from Watauga, Avery, Caldwell and Ashe counties in the Grandfather District.
Linville Gorge in Avery County is, perhaps, one of the most visited sections in the district, but there are other areas even closer that have great hiking trails, picnic and camping sites, and are just in general great areas to visit with your family and pups.
Highways 321, 221, 105 and the Blue Ridge Parkway all lead into the Pisgah at some point (if taken in the right direction; consult the link to the map below for specific directions and details). Nearby Wilson Creek is one of the most scenic water systems in the PNF, is famous for its waterfalls and just happens to be a hop, skip and a jump away from Blowing Rock.
One of the easiest ways to reach some of the closest trails in the Grandfather District is to take Globe Road from U.S. 321 South/Main Street in Blowing Rock and just follow it down, down, down until you reach the trailheads at the base of the valley. True to their national forest navigational heritage, these trailheads are not always clearly marked, and Globe Road itself can be a challenge to anyone not used to driving winding, dirt and gravel mountain roads, but it’s a very scenic drive and a great place to spend exploring if you have a day, or several, to learn your way around.
Because of the numerous creeks and streams in the region, it’s also a great place to let your puppies splash around and learn to overcome any fear of water they may have. Be aware, however, that even if your pups tend not to get car sick, this is a serious car ride. Paper towels, cleaning spray and plastic bags are recommended. Just in case.
For more information and to access a good map of the Grandfather District of the Pisgah National Forest, visit www.hikewnc.info/trailheads/pisgah-national-forest/grandfather-ranger-district/.
Downtown Boone and Downtown Blowing Rock: If an urban adventure has more appeal to you and your family than a backwoods hike or drive, why not just spend some time in town? Both downtown Boone and downtown Blowing Rock offer picturesque mountain scenery unique to this region, and although you’ll encounter more people and traffic than you would out on the trail, both towns are a fun place to walk and socialize your dogs — if they have received some basic obedience training and if you are prepared!
Because you’ll encounter more human and automobile traffic in either location than you would in our other staycation spots, be sure that your pups are comfortable walking on leash and that you are comfortable handling them on leash. Be aware that both leashes and puppies can trip people up in crowded situations, so keep your puppies close to you by teaching them a “heel” command prior to your stroll. As always, be sure to have clean-up supplies handy, and bring water for you and the pups, especially if it’s a hot day.
If you plan to do anything other than window shop on your stroll, make sure there are members of the family who are prepared and qualified to handle the dogs while other members of the family shop or visit any of the great local establishments in either town. While there are some pet-friendly business and restaurants in both towns, always ask before bringing your pet inside, and if they do have a “no pet” policy, respect their wishes and local and state laws by either choosing another location, or by restraining your pets appropriately outdoors.
If your puppies have not yet spent time in a congested, noisy area, this will be great exposure for them and a good socialization opportunity, as well. Just be prepared to properly handle a pup that might be frightened by congestion, strangers and/or traffic noise, and be prepared to take them home if they show serious fear or anxiety, which means they may not yet be ready for this type of experience.
While you or other family members are handling the dogs, be sure you can keep them safe from the typical dangers and obstacles present in any urban environment. It’s also a good idea to be sensitive to anyone you meet who has a fear or dislike of dogs and step aside for those who indicate they might not be comfortable around your pups.
I feel I must reiterate how important it is to keep your dogs leashed and under control in any and all of the staycation spots I’ve mentioned here. Although there are times and places for unleashed adventure, it’s important to obey the laws and respect the rights of others any time you have your dogs in public places, and because trails and towns in the High Country are especially busy during the summer months, leashing your dogs becomes perhaps even more important now than at any other time of the year.
Be sure that your dogs are also up to date on all vaccines before venturing into any wilderness area or before hitting any trail; many of the trails I’ve recommended are frequented by people walking their dogs, and unfortunately not all of the other dogs you encounter, nor all of those who may have passed through the area recently, will be healthy or up to date on vaccines. This is especially important for puppies who may not yet have fully functioning immune systems. I usually recommend that puppy owners not frequent trails or other public places until their pups have received the full set of three (or more) puppy boosters, which include a vaccine for parvovirus, a virus that can be fatal for puppies.
And on a final note: Regardless of where you go, what you do, who you are with or who is around (or not around), please be prepared to clean up after your own dog! Being the dog-friendly region that we are, we also accumulate a greater-than-average amount of dog feces in some of the most otherwise pristine, beautiful places in the eastern United States. How disappointing to be ahhh-ing over a view and then oooo-ing over the mess next to you, or, even worse, on your shoes. Don’t rely on anyone else to do it for you or to provide the supplies to do so. If it’s your dog, it’s your responsibility to clean it up, plain and simple.
I hope you thoroughly enjoy your staycation, whatever local destination you choose. Perhaps we’ll run into one another, while my dogs and I are out enjoying a little staycation of our own.
BooneDogs is a weekly column by Melissa Bahleda, certified canine behavior counselor and founder of PARTNERS! Canines, a Boone-based nonprofit shelter dog rescue organization.